Rachel Wahba was born on March 19th, 1946 in Bombay. Her father Maurice, had come from Mansura, Egypt and her mother from Baghdad. Maurice had escaped from Egypt, although his family had lived there for centuries in 1939 leaving to Iraq where he met his wife, Rachel’s mother. He subsequently fled Iraq in 1943 leaving for India where Rachel was born. When Rachel’s parents arrived in India the Jewish community of Bombay was thriving. However, in 1948 when India gained its independence from Britain, it became harder for foreigners like Rachel’s father to do business there, so Rachel’s father decided to go to Japan and take over his brother’s business.
Because Rachel’s mother was stateless, it took a great deal of effort on her part for them (Rachel, her mother, and her younger brother) to be able to move to Japan as well. Finally in 1950 after a year of Rachel’s mother going back and forth between the Egyptian and Iraqi consulates as well as the Red Cross, they were finally able to get the necessary papers to move to Japan. Life in Japan was very difficult for Rachel especially in the beginning as she experienced a lot of prejudice and was harassed for being dark skinned and she spoke English with an Indian accent. Rachel had a terrible experience in the Catholic missionary school she attended as she was constantly ridiculed, pressured to convert, and felt ashamed for being Jewish. Although for high school Rachel went to a non-missionary Protestant school which she loved and was also able to be among other Jewish classmates.
The Jewish community in Japan where Rachel grew up was very tight knit and many of the Jews there were also displaced from their homelands in the Middle East. Most of them were focused on immigrating to America one day. Rachel always knew that this was going to be a reality for her and in 1964 her parents sent her to California. For many years Rachel resented her Mizrahi culture until living in the U.S. for several years she saw how ignorant people were of the history of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Because of this, she decided to become active in the Mizrahi community. Rachel’s wish is for people to understand that Jews are a multicultural mix of people. They have lived everywhere in the world and are a truly global people.