Mizrahi Jews as Viewed in the Yishuv: The Case of Hannah Helena Thon

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Hannah Helena Thon (1886–1954) was born in Germany and settled in Palestine in the early 1920s. She was a pioneer social worker, an activist in women’s organizations, a journalist, commentator, and lecturer. Thon’s widely disseminated lectures and writings in the Hebrew press won her esteem and influence as an authority on the economic, social, and cultural characteristics of Mizrahi Jews. My analysis of her views is based on her archived articles and private papers, and sheds light on the perception of Mizrahi Jews among Ashkenazi Jews in the Yishuv and its effect the social-ethnic gap.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-168
Number of pages26
JournalIsrael Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thon then lists the measures she and others have taken to change this situation. Her work in Nahalat Ahim, she admits, is “but a drop in the sea.” However, things began to change when a group of teachers and social workers in Jerusalem, under the leadership of senior educator, David Yellin, launched a new initiative87 called the David Yellin Parallel Classes, an institution which received financial support from Va’ad Hakehilah, the communal Jewish body in Jerusalem, and later also from the Mandate administration’s education department as well as from the National Council. To make what were essentially one-room schoolhouses accessible, they were opened in Mizrahi neighborhoods, and were attended by children who worked to support their families. In time, as finances improved, additional classes were opened and meals and medical services were provided, the latter by a school nurse. The number of students increased to 600. But the Parallel Classes suffered from a lack of classrooms and teaching materials. Also, studies were limited to three hours a day, and children ages 8 to 12 learned in the same classrooms. Thon also points to the Brandeis Vocational School, founded by the Hadassah Organization in Jerusalem in 1942, which offered teenage boys, most of them Mizrahim, “technical instruction in a profession close to their hearts—an activity of particular importance, as initial preparation for a future profession.”88 But while this “technical instruction” may have improved the lot of such students in the short run, it also channeled them into professions on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder compared to the students enrolled in regular Yishuv schools.89

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  • Hannah Helena Thon
  • Jerusalem
  • Mizrahi
  • Palestine
  • Yishuv


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