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Symposium explores different meanings of blackness in Israel

Photo for Symposium explores different meanings of

Photo credit: Jeff Daniels/UCLA

A symposium on blackness in Israel drew scholars from the U.S. and abroad to a packed conference room on the UCLA campus.

Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, February 26, 2020  Students, faculty, staff and community members gathered Feb. 24 for a UCLA symposium on different meanings of blackness in Israel.

A connection to blackness holds sway over the imagination of populations in Israel who have embraced aspects of its rhetoric and cultural symbolism to give voice to their perceived identities and everyday life experiences.

One field where the diverse landscape of Israeli society is showcased is in popular music, including in hits from Ethiopian-Israeli musicians like Ester Rada and Gili Yalo. And in a first, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent - Eden Alene - will represent Israel at the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest in the Netherlands. 

The "Blackness in Israel: Political and Cultural Dimensions" symposium was held in the Charles E. Young Research Library. The event, sponsored by the UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, included presentations and a lively roundtable discussion from scholars.

The panel of experts explored the different manifestations of blackness in everyday life and popular culture in Israel, as well as the social and political aspects of blackness for marginalized communities. These include Mizrachi Jews, Palestinians, Ethiopian Jews and non-Jewish asylum seekers and migrants from Sudan, Eritrea, and other African countries.

The symposium was organized by Uri Dorchin, visiting assistant professor at the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for the 2019-20 academic year. Other participants in the event included Sarah Hankins, assistant professor at the Department of Music at UC San Diego; Cheryl Keyes, professor in the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology; Fran Markowitz, professor of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University (Israel); and Don Seeman, associate professor in the Department of Religion and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University.

The event co-sponsors were the UCLA Department of Anthropology, Department of Ethnomusicology, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, Center for Near Eastern Studies, and the African Studies Center.