Ayelet Tsabari is an Israeli writer of Yemeni descent who lives in Canada and writes in English, her second language. Her short story, “Say it Again, Say Something Else,” was part of her 2013 collection The Best Place on Earth, which won the prestigious Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in 2015.
“Say it Again” explores questions of identity in contemporary Israel through the character of Lily, a teenage girl who has recently come from Canada to live with her aunt and cousin in Petah Tikva, Israel, after the death of her mother. Lily is of Yemeni descent which, in Israeli society, makes her Mizrahi. “Mizrahi,” Hebrew for “eastern” (plural “Mizrahim”) is a catch-all identity referring to Israeli Jews whose family roots are in Asia, Africa, and the Arabic-speaking regions of North Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian Gulf. Mizrahi culture in Israel has historically been marginalized by the dominant Ashkenazi, or European, elite, and, though Lily speaks Hebrew and “even looks the part,” she “feels like a stranger, an outsider."
Her outsider status is related to her Mizrahi heritage, her having grown up in Canada, and her nascent queer sexuality. All of these identifying characteristics place Lily at the margins of Israeli society in different ways, much as the story itself, as a work of Israeli literature in English published in the diaspora, stands at the margins of Israeli culture. This kit offers resources related to both some of the major themes of the story—Mizrahi and queer identity in Israel—as well as the author’s experience of writing in her second language.
Cover image: Photograph of Ayelet Tsabari by Jonathan Bloom