Yemeni Jewish identity in the works of Simha Zaramati Asta
In this paper, I consider the collection of short stories and photographs Neighborhood Album A by Yemeni Israeli author Simha Zaramati Asta. I argue that Asta contributes to a distinctively Yemeni Jewish literature and identity in Israel. While Asta could be considered a Mizrahi author, I claim that a study of Asta’s text as Mizrahi in fact erases the distinctive Yemeni elements of Asta’s writing. Instead, Asta is purposeful about her inclusion of Yemeni culture and her establishment of Yemeni identity in her text. This Yemeni culture is evident in Asta’s inclusion of the songs of Yemeni Jewish women which constitute an oral tradition of memory within Yemen and Israel. Asta further creates a distinctive Yemeni identity through a sense of place in the Yemeni Quarter of Tel Aviv in both her stories and photographs. Through descriptions of the sights, smells, and traditions of the Yemeni Quarter of Tel Aviv, Asta elevates the neighborhood, claiming it as a place where the divine spirit can be found. While Asta is purposeful in her creation of a distinctively Yemeni Jewish literature and identity, she demonstrates the hybridization of this Yemeni Jewish literature and identity with Israeli literature and identity. By noting the importance of Yemeni Jews to the creation of Israel and the influence of Israel on these Yemeni Jews, Asta claims Israeli identity for Yemeni Jews. She demonstrates the hybridization of the Yemeni Jewish identity and Israeli identity through intertextual references to canonical Israeli poets and authors. Yet while Asta values this hybridization, she uses the characters in her stories to question whether the hybridization of Yemeni Jews in Israel can in fact succeed.