On college campuses revisionist history of the Middle East conveniently excludes the fact that half of Israel’s Jewish population are there not because of European atrocities during World War II, but because Anti-Jewish Arab governments dispossessed and displaced their native Jewish populations following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Adopted narratives of the Arab-Israeli conflict are designed to appeal to western guilt and fail to address the fact that Israel has been the largest and most successful refugee camp in the Middle East, providing safe haven to some 650,000 dispossessed Middle Eastern and North African Jewish refugees whose ancestors had a continuous presence in the region for over 3,000 years. Now more than 52% of the Israeli population is either from or descended from peoples who are native to the Middle East and North Africa. Most of the discussion about Israel on American college campuses and even in Israeli educational institutions conveniently leaves out the rich history and story of Jews native to the region.
Through incorporating the Sephardic and Mizrahi experience into the widely adopted European Jewish narrative on college campuses, JIMENA’s student engagement programs strengthen student’s knowledge of Israel, bridges gaps between Jewish and Arab students and enriches Jewish student life by engaging campus communities in programs which emphasize Jewish multi-culturalism and Jewish entrenchment in the Middle East.
Since 2001 JIMENA has brought the Sephardic and Mizrahi experience into over 150 college campuses throughout North America, engaging students in authentic Middle Eastern culture and empowering them with the narrative of the Jewish people’s multi-millennia ties to the Middle East and North Africa that is balanced, accurate, and adds legitimacy to the status quo of on-campus dialogue regarding Israel and the Middle East. Our long-standing partnerships with Hillel, Chabad, Tikvah Students for Israel, ICC, Stand With Us, and the David Project are helping to educate tens of thousands on the story of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
JIMENA’s Young Adult and College Campus Programs
JIMENA Student Internships
JIMENA student interns serve as informed JIMENA ambassadors on college campuses nation-wide, responsible for developing and implementing a JIMENA themed project relevant to their course of study. In addition to carefully designing an academic project, interns are responsible for engaging and empowering their peers in an on-campus JIMENA event such as an advocacy training, Mizrahi Shabbat and country themed evening. JIMENA students will expose their campus community to the personal and communal stories of former Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, serve as an example of Jewish diversity on college campuses, effectively use the JIMENA narrative for Israel advocacy purposes, and develop a deeper understanding and inspired desire to preserve and share Mizrahi and Sephardic history and culture. Select students will receive a stipend for their internship. JIMENA interns are expected to work with an on-campus pro-Israel student group and the JIMENA internship is promoted by Hillel, CAMERA, Chabad, Tikvah Students for Israel, and the Israel on Campus Coalition.
JIMENA Israel Advocacy Trainings
Since 2001, JIMENA Speakers have empowered thousands students with Israel advocacy tools that incorporate the narrative of Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. Our Advocacy Training leaders rely on unique methods and incredibly powerful talking points that help cultivate informed, engaged, and prepared Israel advocates. Training sessions incorporate the personal testimony of a JIMENA Speaker, a 15-minute screening of the Forgotten Refugees film, discussion, instruction and extensive role-playing exercises. Students are given a platform to discuss their personal experiences of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric on their college campuses and are given an opportunity to role-play their experience using the new advocacy tools they have received during the training. Each participant receives a JIMENA Advocacy Kit and students are encouraged to utilize JIMENA as a resource and support system.
Presentations by JIMENA’s Speakers
JIMENA’s volunteer Speakers Bureau is composed of specially selected Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews who serves as the voice of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Most members of JIMENA’s Speakers Bureau have undergone extensive public speaking training and are able to articulately advocate for Israel while sharing their personal and communal story of Jewish life and displacement from the Middle East and North Africa. JIMENA Speakers engage a diversity of student audiences in the culture of their Mizrahi community and 95% are multi-lingual. Their presentations promote JIMENA as a resource for more in-depth learning and engagement.
Mizrahi and Sephardic Cultural Engagement
Each year JIMENA engages thousands of students and young adults in immersive Mizrahi and Sephardic cultural programs such as Mimouna, Mizrahi Shabbat dinners, Middle Eastern cooking classes, concerts and other cultural events. These programs help engage audiences in Jewish programming that exemplifies the diversity and of the Jewish people. Our cultural programs give unaffiliated, and sometimes marginalized, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews an opportunity and platform to build community and share their heritage with larger audiences. By offering events that are uniquely Mizrahi and Sephardic we effectively create cultural continuity between Israel and North America.
JIMENA Henna Gatherings
This program provide an opportunity for our speakers and staff leaders to educate and discuss, with students, complex issues related to Middle Eastern refugees and Jewish diversity, in a neutral, non-political, on-campus setting that fosters intimate conversation and the opportunity to hear directly from Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews and Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The henna gatherings engage students who are unfamiliar with Jewish culture and may even embrace hostile attitudes towards Israel. At our most recent henna a couple of self-identified Palestinian students were able to bridge communication divides with Jewish students by recognizing shared elements of their respective cultures. Photo gallery from 2016 Henna Gathering at San Francisco State University
“As an educator I am impressed by JIMENA’s ability to impact students understanding of the conflict by effectively reframing the conversation, in a more naunaced, indepth manner, which also respects the history and plight of Jewish refugees to Israel from throughout the Middle East region. Amazingly, these Jewish refugees from the region and thier decendents, which comprise the largest group of Israelis, have been largely ignored. This despite the central role they play in the history of the conflict, and the profoundly rich culture and heritage they developed over the thousands of years living in the region.
JIMENA’s talented and insightful speakers provide crucial first hand accounts of life and the exodus from the Middle East and North Africa. This is a powerful tool in helping to shape public opinion of the conflict in a more balanced manner. JIMENA fills an important gap in the discourse, especially on college campuses, by challenging the widely adopted revisionist history of the Middle East, which ignores the plight of Jewish refugees and mistreatment of minorities.”
– Charles Asher Small (D.Phil). Director, Institiute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) and Koret Distinguished Scholar, Stanford University
“Members of JIMENA’s Speakers Bureau tell a remarkable story that needs to be told and retold. The plight of Palestinian refugees is a tragic story that has been seared into the minds of every student in the world. Why then, has the history of nearly one million Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands disappeared so quickly from our collective conscience? JIMENA’s message and the re-telling of their speakers personal histories, make the forgotten story of Jewish refugees come alive. Their message is helping to balance the inaccurate adopted history of the Middle East, which only recognized the plight of the Palestinians and fails to tell the story of oppression and displacement of Jews from Arab lands. In order to have peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Jews, the issue of Jewish refugees had to also be addressed.”
– Aaron Tartakovsky, Tufts Undergraduate Student
“JIMENA’s presentation was both captivating and educational. The story they tell is an important one which Jews and non-Jews alike should hear. JIMENA keeps this narrative alive both for the sake of the memory of the Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa which were destroyed, and to support Israel, the home and the future for many of these communities’ descendants. It is an important part of Jewish history and of the Zionist narrative today.”
– Brain Maissy, UC Berkeley Student. In reaction to JIMENA’s Presentation at Israel Peace and Diversity Week
“I want to thank JIEMNA for coordinating Semha Alwaya’s visit to Williams. Semha, who is a member of JIMENA’s Speakers Bureau, is extremely knowledgeable, bright, and down-to-earth, an overall great speaker and excellent representative of the Forgotten Refugees.”
-Marah Shapero, Hillel Student Leader. Williams College
“The feedback that I have received from students regarding JIMENA’s presentation has been tremendous. Many students shared feelings of incredulity about not having been taught about the terrible plight of Jews in Arab countries. Others noted that the situation in the region was far more complex than they ever realized.”
-Professor, Harvard School of Government
“We look to JIMENA’s Speaker Gina Waldman, as an inspiration and hope that we can work side-by-side to end hatred.”
-University of Michigan, Muslim Student’s Association
“JIMENA’s speakers gave so much to us – her story, her wisdom, her teaching, and her modeling of how the world could be. JIMENA’s visit made it possible to present the voice of Jews from Arab lands, which is rarely heard in our area; it also gave a boost to our Israel activist students. I really appreciate what you and the David Project are doing for our students. Thank you so much.”
-Rabbi Saul Perlmutter, Director of Hillel at University of Massachusetts
“The JIMENA event with Carmella Pardo at Chabad of USC showcased a speaker whose stories definitely made an impact and hit close to home. As a student whose family comes from a similar background and situation, getting to hear another immigrant’s story about her struggle to reach a place of religious freedom left a lasting impression. Carmella Pardo was engaging, telling stories of her past in a way in which students our age and from our background could understand and attempt to relate to. Hearing of our speaker’s time in Israel and success in education and profession after leaving Iraq was most inspiring, showing students that even in light of adversity, anything can be accomplished. Her story reminded me to appreciate where I come from, what I have, and the journey that lies before me in life.”
-Tanya Benham, University of Southern California Undergrad Student
“JIMENA’s Speakers show incredible selflessness, dedication to their culture, and a responsibility towards their citizenship. They have been able to transform negative and ugly experiences into productive and create helpful tools that are exactly what we need to solve the problems that continue today.”
-Rebecca Sutner, Columbia University Undergrad Student