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People and Society, Ethnic Groups

pronunciation of Hebrew, Sephardic Jews, Sephardim, religious rite, Golan Heights

Although Israelís Jewish population shares a common ethnic heritage based on Judaism, it is composed almost entirely of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from all over the world. In 1997 some 38 percent of Israelís Jewish population was born outside of Israel. Foreign-born and native-born Israeli Jews trace their recent roots to more than 100 different countries, providing Israel with extremely diverse cultural influences.

The two main groupings of Jews are Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The Ashkenazim, whose tradition was centered in Germany in the Middle Ages, now include Jews of Central and Eastern European origin. The Sephardim, whose tradition grew in Spain in the Middle Ages, now include Jews with ancestry from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean region. Historically the groups differ in religious rite, pronunciation of Hebrew, and social customs. Ashkenazic Jews, who formed a majority at the time of Israeli independence, continue to dominate political life as well as the upper levels of employment and education. Sephardic Jews immigrated rapidly to Israel in the decades after independence. The new stateís lack of resources to handle this flood, combined with cultural differences between the new immigrants and the Ashkenazic establishment, resulted in separate and usually poorer Sephardic communities. The Sephardim continue to struggle for greater economic and political influence. Beginning in the last years of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the late 1980s and continuing well after its breakup, hundreds of thousands of Ashkenazic Jews immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union.

Arabs, those Palestinians who remained in the region after Israelís independence and their descendants, constitute almost all of Israelís non-Jewish population. Since Israelís occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights in 1967, Arabs in Israel have had increased contact, and an increased sense of identity, with fellow Palestinians in those occupied areas. Despite legal equality and increased integration into Israelís economy, for the most part Arabs and Jews live in separate areas, attend separate schools, speak different languages, and follow different cultural traditions. Although constant tension exists between the two groups within Israel, it has been overshadowed in recent years by conflicts involving Israeli occupation and Jewish settlement in Palestinian areas outside of Israel.



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