JIMENA’s Mizrahi and Sephardic Speakers Bureau serves as the North American voice of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The Bureau is composed of specially selected and highly trained former refugees, experts and cultural ambassadors who have compelling personal stories and the knowledge to represent Jews from Arab countries. While the experiences of JIMENA Speakers vary, the common thread between them is their passion and desire to empower and educate audiences with their personal stories and the history of Jewish people indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa.

JIMENA takes great efforts to match our speakers with the appropriate audiences and while each presentation is highly personal, speakers promote JIMENA as a resource for more in-depth learning of the subject. JIMENA speakers have presented at over 80 universities and hundreds of organizations nationwide. As the core of JIMENA, JIMENA Mizrahi and Sephardic speakers are up-to-date on current events related to the issue. Many are accomplished leaders in their respective professional fields and their voices have successfully impacted policy and opinion of the Middle East and North Africa.

Some of the venues where JIMENA speakers have presented include:

UN Human Rights Council, US Congressional Human Rights Caucus, British House of Lords, Israeli Knesset, Italian Parliament, Commonwealth Club of California, 92nd Street Y, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Jewish Geneology Conference, JCCs nation-wide, San Jose Public Library, Yale, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, Georgetown, Williams College, University of British Columbia, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, Foothill Community College, Moishe House, Chabad, Tikvah Students for Israel, Hillel houses nation-wide, Write on For Israel, Hadassah Luncheons, Lion of Judah Luncheons, Limmud, Feast of Jewish Learning and many others.

If you would like to join the JIMENA Speakers Bureau and share your story as a Jew from an Arab country, please contact us.

If you represent an organization or group and would like to host a JIMENA Speaker, please contact us.

JIMENA’s volunteer Speakers Bureau serves as the North American voice of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews indigenous to North Africa and the Middle East


Levana Zamir, was born to a wealthy Jewish family of hoteliers and publishers in Cairo, Egypt. Levana and her family were abruptly forced to flee her home to become a stateless refugee in France following Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Levana is the President of the Association for Egyptian Jews, and President of the Israeli Association of Jews from Arab Countries. She also serves as a liaison between the Israeli government and various international organizations campaigning for justice for Jews from Arab countries. Levana has testified before the United Nations and the Israeli Knesset, and her personal story has been featured in PBS.

Levana is also the author of the “The Golden Era of the Jews of Egypt,” and is a leading international activist for justice and redress of former Jewish refugees from Arab countries.


Isaac Cohen was born in Cairo, Egypt in the 1930’s.  In 1956, while attending university in Montpellier, France, he learned that a war had broken out in Egypt. He recalls: “I didn’t know whether my parents were dead or alive. France was an enemy country for Egypt so there were no communications. I was scared to death. Then one day I got a mail from Italy that they had left and they were expelled.”

Cohen, a retired professor of cell and molecular biology at Northwestern University, says: “It is important for Egyptians to know about the population of Egypt that practically disappeared from Egypt. After all, this is part of their heritage.”



Albert Bivas and was born in Cairo, Egypt to an upper-class, Jewish family.

Do to increasing pressure and threats from Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime, Albert’s father–who was a successful stockbroker and textile factory owner–sold his factory at a deflated value in 1956 in order to keep it from being confiscated by the Egyptian government. With little options in store the Bivas family decided to move to France. Upon exiting Egypt, they were forced to sign a Laizee Passé (a one way exit visa saying they would never return), and for eight years after lived as stateless refugees.

Although they spoke French, assimilation into France was difficult, especially for Albert’s father, who at the age of 52 could not find work and had a family of seven to raise. The Bivas family essentially had no financial resources and their extended family was dispersed around the world in Israel, England, the US, and Australia.

Eventually, Albert and his family made their way to the United States. Today he resides in Palo Alto with his wife, Natalie, and two adult children. He remains an outspoken advocate for the one million Jews displaced from their indigenous homelands in the Middle East and North Africa.

Israel Bonan was born in Cairo,Egypt in the mid 1940s. He grew up and lived in Egypt, the country where his parents were born and where the Jewish community dated back to ancient times. Although both his parents and grandparents were born in Egypt, his great-grandfather was born in Tunisia so he was considered a Tunisian citizen by Egyptian nationality laws at the time.

In 1967 Israel was unexpectedly arrested for being Jewish. For six days Israel went from prison to prison until he was just thrown out of the country altogether with only the tattered clothes on his back. Many of his friends and relatives were imprisoned for years in Egypt only because they were Jewish. After he was expelled from Egypt, Israel went from Greece to Germany and then Paris where he was welcomed by the Jewish community and eventually reunited with his family about a month later. He and his family were able to immigrate to the U.S., where Israel currently resides.

Israel is a lecturer at Simmons College, a JIMENA committee member, and a chairman of the Justice and Redress Committee of the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt (http://www.hsje.org).

Mark Levy was born in Cairo, Egypt.

As a boy, following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Mark witnessed mass riots against Cairo’s Jewish population. Soon after, knowing that matters would only get worse, Mark’s father arranged for the family to flee to Marseille, France by cargo ship. Completely dispossessed after having been forced to leave everything behind, Mark and his family had a difficult time assimilating to French culture. A year later, Mark and his family relocated to Israel and lived at the maabara refugee camp.

After serving in the Israeli Army, Mark moved to the United States to pursue his higher education.

Joe PessahJoe Pessah was born in Cairo, at a time when he and his family were among the 80,000 Jews living in Egypt and thriving in their Jewish community.

In the 1950s and 1960s, however, life for Egyptian Jews became increasingly difficult when a poorly written law was enacted declaring Zionism a crime. In 1967 when the Arab states lost the Six-Day War against Israel, many Arab countries took their rage out on their local Jewish communities. In Egypt, Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 55 were arrested–Joe being one of them.

For the first 6 months of his imprisonment, Joe had no contact with his family or fiancé. After six months his fiancé was only allowed to visit him for five minutes once a month. One day, Joe’s fiancé surprised him with a rabbi and two wedding bands.  They were married in prison, yet were not even able to hold each other’s hands.

For three years, Joe was beaten and tortured in prison. In 1970, he and the other prisoners were released due to pressure from outside organizations. After they were released, the Egyptian government revoked their citizenship and deported them. Joe left Egypt for Paris with his wife and later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Today, Joe is a marketing applications manager for a tech company, and also serves as acting “Rav” for the largest Kararite Jewish Community in North America: Congregation B’nai Israel in Daly City, California.



Remy PessahRemy Pessah was born in Egypt in 1947, and lived through the wars of 1956 and 1967.

In the mid 1960’s, Remy met her future husband, Joe Pessah, while learning Hebrew in an after school program. They were engaged in 1966, planned to wed in the summer of 1968, but were forced to postpone their wedding when the Six Day War broke out on June 5, 1967.  During this time, Joe and his father, along with all Jewish men from the ages of 18 to 55, were taken away and imprisoned. Remy and her family did not know whether they were alive or dead or whether they would ever return at all.

For six months she received no word on what had happened to Joe. Finally, one day Remy received a postcard from Joe, and from then on for three years, Remy and Joe’s only interactions were from when Joe was behind bars. Committed, Remy travelled for two and a half hours each way for a visit that was allowed to last for just a few minutes. The imprisonment of nearly all Jewish men in Egypt was extremely difficult for many women. Jewish synagogues attempted to help, but as most women had no income, their entire savings were sometimes depleted within the first year, which is why Joe’s mother was forced to flee Egypt with her youngest children. Remy has a picture of Joe’s mother and her other five children saying goodbye to Joe, Joe’s father and brother.

Remy’s father was the first with news that Joe and the others were to soon be freed. Remy knew that the Jewish people were to be deported with their families. But come 1968, the government had stopped allowing the Jews to leave Egypt, and Remy was not yet Joe’s family. Thus, by 1970, Remy realized her only opportunity to join her fiancé out of Egypt was if they married. Taking matters into her own hands, Remy surprised Joe one visit at the prison when she came with a rabbi and a pair of rings. They married with Joe behind bars. Joe was released from prison on June 24th, 1970 and Remy was able to join him just several days later.

Remy attended Les Sœurs Franciscaines, a French school run by Catholic nuns, and completed her secondary education at the American College for Girls. She studied at the American University in Cairo, majoring in a five-year program in Chemistry and Physics. After college, she left Egypt for the United States and later attended San Jose State University, earning  her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemistry. Since then, Remy has worked as a process engineer in the semiconductor high tech industry. Recently, she has begun to pursue her life long dream of being a fashion designer. Her painted silk and unique garments are sold in many boutiques in San Francisco, Carmel, San Carlos, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park.

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.


Professor Saba Soomekh was born in Tehran and raised in Los Angeles. She teaches Religious Studies, Women’s Studies and Middle Eastern history courses.

She received her BA in Religious Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Her Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and her PhD in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She teaches and writes extensively on World Religions, Women and Religion, and the geo-politics of Israel and Iran. She currently teaches courses on Judaism, World Religions, Women and Religion and the History of Modern Israel and Iran.

Professor Soomekh is the author of the book “From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women between Religion and Culture.” Dr. Soomekh is an Executive Board Member of Loyola Marymount University’s Jewish Studies Advisory Board and a member of the Iran Task Force for the American Jewish Committee. Besides giving numerous scholarly and public presentations on Iran, the Jewish community and women in the developing world, she is also a member of the city of Los Angeles’ Human Resource Commission where she is involved in numerous interfaith and intercultural projects. Dr. Soomekh is currently the Project Coordinator of an exhibition at the Fowler Museum at UCLA entitled: Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews. She was a consultant for the PBS documentary “Iranian Americans,” which aired on Dec. 18, 2012.

Reuben Yeroushalmi, was born in Tehran. Eventually settling in Los Angeles, Reuben went on to become a forceful litigator dedicated to improving the community around him. Through his efforts in citizen enforcement and consumer activism, Reuben Yeroushalmi has achieved environmental measures and changes in business practices that benefit all people, including a victory for the First Amendment in the California Supreme Court in Equilon Enterprises v. Consumer Cause, Inc. Furthermore, his litigation has resulted in financial reparations to consumers and charitable organizations.

His professional affiliations include membership in the State Bar of California, Environmental Section of the State Bar of California, American Bar Association and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Yeroushalmi has appeared on several panels relating to environmental matters. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles and his Juris Doctor from Pepperdine University.

Jacqueline SaperJacqueline Saper, is an Iranian-American writer, translator, and a public speaker.

Jacqueline was born and raised in a Jewish family in Tehran, in an idyllic time during the 1960s and 1970s. She is the daughter of an Iranian father from Isfahan, and an English mother from London. Jacqueline spent the first eighteen years of her life going to school, traveling internationally, and freely attending social activities in an Imperial Iran, governed by a Western leading Monarch or the “Shah.”

Jacqueline lived through the turbulent 1979 upheaval that resulted in the return of Ayatollah Khomeini and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. That same year, on the cusp of the Iranian revolution, she married and relocated to the southern city of Shiraz. She continued to live in the Islamic Republic of Iran as a young mother, until finally immigrating to the United States in 1987.

Saper graduated (Summa Cum Laude) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Northeastern Illinois University and received the designation of Certified Public Accountant from the Board of Examiners of the University of Illinois. She has served as a faculty member at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Active in the community, she has also spent most of her career in synagogue management and as a Jewish educator. Jacqueline is also a graduate of the ‘Hadassah Leadership Academy’ and the ‘Florence Melton School (Morasha)’ for educators. 

Jacqueline began public speaking when she realized that there was an immense interest in her story and unique background. Her primary presentation “From Mini-Skirts to Hijab” recounts personal stories and utilizes family photographs to help the audience understand what life was like in Iran, pre and post revolution, from the point of view of someone who has been an eyewitness to history.   

Ms. Saper’s other lectures, workshops, and seminars, delve into an understanding of the Middle East in general and Iran specifically. Topics covered include but are not limited to: Iran 101, religion, non-fiction, diverse communities, history, and current events. Such presentations provide a fresh perspective and new content on Iran’s rich history, culture, people, and government. Her lively presentations are accompanied with anecdotes that give context to current issues such as US-Iran relations, human rights, and the state of the religious minorities.

Jacqueline’s speaking engagements are fact based and non-partisan. The primary objective of each lecture is to educate the audience members about a topic that is of significant interest and importance.

Elliott Benjamin was born in Iran and moved to London, England at the age of four. Mr. Benjamin is currently a senior legal advisor at the Los Angeles law firm of Parker Shumaker Mills LLP where he focuses on transactional real estate and general business corporate matters.

Mr. Benjamin graduated from Middlesex University in London, England in 1995 with a Bachelor of Laws degree and attained a Masters degree in International Banking Law at the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law at Boston University in 1996.

Mr. Benjamin currently serves on the Immigration and Resettlement Committee and the Caring for Jews in Need Committee of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and the Resettlement Committee of the Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles and has been a director of the Iranian Jewish Center in the United Kingdom since 1994.

During the past 15 years, Mr. Benjamin has served on the Board of Directors and held various positions in a number of organizations, including, the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and the Central British Fund – World Jewish Relief.

Mr Benjamin is a former member of the Board of Directors and various sub-committees (including its domestic operations, international operations and public policy committees) of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a position which he held for more than nine years.

From 1998 to 2012, Mr. Benjamin was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Iranian American Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, and during such time, served on its Executive Board, Immigration Committee, as vice chair of its External Relations Committee, founder and chairman of its Young Leadership Committee and is a past vice president of the organization.

Tabby DavoodiTabby Davoodi was born in Tehran after the Iranian Revolution and fled with her family in 1988. She completed her B.A. in communication from UC San Diego and received her Master’s Degree in public diplomacy at USC in 2010. Tabby has worked for several years in the public diplomacy sector serving as the director of academic affairs at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles for three years, director of campus affairs for StandWithUs, and as the project coordinator for the USC Casden Institute. Currently, Tabby is the Executive Director of 30 Years After, an Iranian-American Jewish civic action organization.

Karmel MelamedKarmel Melamed is an award winning internationally published journalist and attorney based in Los Angeles. Working as a journalist since 2000, he has given a new voice to the emerging and quite successful Iranian community— in particular the vibrant Iranian Jewish community living in the United States. He has also had extensive reporting covering issues relating to human rights abuses committed by the current Iranian regime. His articles have appeared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, the Jerusalem Post, JTA International Wire News Service, Beverly Hills 90210 Magazine, Beverly Hills Weekly, The Forward as well as a whole host of other publications.

Born in Iran at the brink of that country’s Islamic Revolution in 1978, Melamed and his family fled Iran as refugees to the U.S. He is fluent in Farsi and familiar with the Iranian mentality, culture and history. This unique background has enabled Melamed to cover Iran-related stories for English language news media outlets with a greater depth of analysis and in overcoming the language barrier on information flowing from Iran which average non-Iranian journalists have been unable to grasp. As a result, he has successfully interviewed various influential political and social leaders in the U.S., Israel and from Iran. In 2004 he landed an exclusive interview (one of only a few given in the U.S.) with Empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi. Likewise he frequently appears on various radio news programs, including K.I.R.N. Radio Iran 670 AM, (the only Farsi language radio station on the AM dial in the free world) to discuss the contributions of the larger Iranian American community. Due to his expertise in all things Iranian, for more than a decade, Melamed has been interviewed by countless news media outlets and also served a consultant to an array of journalists covering Iran or Iranian related stories at NPR, CNN, CBS News and the Los Angeles Times. During the last several years Melamed has spoken to a number of social and political groups across the U.S. and Canada about the plight of religious minorities, women, children, homosexuals, union members, artists and journalists suffering significant human rights abuses at the hands of Iran regime today.

Melamed currently authors a popular blog online, webcast and podcast programs about the Iranian American community, both featured on jewishjournal.com.

Melamed has also received a number of journalism awards during the course of his career.

Video page: http://www.youtube.com/user/karmelmelamed

Jaleh Pirnazar is a professor of Persian studies from the University of California, Berkeley.

Her research interests include Iranian history, literature, ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. She has taught in the department of Near East studies at UC Berkeley since 1980. She teaches Modern Persian Language and Literature as well as Iranian Cinema. Her publications include “A Voice of Exile” in The Literary Review: Iranian Diaspora Literature Since 1980 (1996); “Iranian Jews, National Identity and Journalism 1915-1979” in The History of Contemporary  Iranian Jews (2000), “The Image of the Iranian Jew in the Writings of Three Modern Iranian Writers”, Iran Nameh (1995).


Edwin Shuker was born in 1959 in Baghdad, and lived in a community that numbered more than 200,000 people in the 1940’s, but had been reduced to just 10,000 after years of persecution and flight. By 1970, most of those 10,000 people were gone. Shuker’s family managed to escape to England in 1971, and was among the very last Jews to leave until after the fall of Hussein.

He graduated from Leeds University, and is an international businessman with a wide range of communal and charitable involvement. He is the Vice-President of the European Jewish Congress and a member of the Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

He first returned to his birthplace in 2003 as part of a delegation of 12 refugees who chartered a flight to the newly American-controlled territory.


Carole Basri, born to Iraqi Jews parents, is a graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University and NYU School of Law, where she was a member of its National Moot Court Team. She was an assistant counsel on the United States Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee, and was an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). She is an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is an expert on international relations and Jewish history in the Middle East.

A filmmaker, Basri has served as director of “The Last Jews Of Baghdad: End of an Exile, Beginning of a Journey” (2005), a documentary that presents a historical and personal view of the persecution, torture, escape and flight of over 160,000 Jews from Iraq between the years 1940 and 2003.

Ms. Basri was a member of the US State Department’s Future of Iraq Project. From July 2003 until July 2004, she was a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority working with the Iraqi Reconstruction Development Council (IRDC) for Ambassador Paul Bremer in Baghdad. She worked extensively on doing business in anti-corruption and transparency issues in Iraq. She helped draft legislation on these issues and met with representatives from all of the Ministries in Iraq. In September 2004, she led a conference in Baghdad on transparency and anti-corruption in Iraq and worked as an adviser on these issues with the Iraqi Ministry of Health. In September 2004, she worked with the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the Iraqi Red Crescent on health and legal issues.

In March 2005, Ms. Basri spoke to a conference for Chief Judges and Appellate Judges from Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt on anti-corruption Protocols at Cairo University’s School of Law. Similarly, in April 2005, she spoke on anti-corruption strategies at the Dead Sea in Jordan at a conference for 150 Iraqi women leaders sponsored by the US Department of Defense and US State Department. In July 2006, she spoke at the Iraqi Constitutional Convention in Southfield, Michigan, with a direct hook-up to Iraq, on constitutional issues. In October 2005, she met with Iraqi women leaders at the United States State Department to discuss leadership issues in the December 15, 2005 election.

Click here to read The ‘taboo history’ of the Jews of Iraq, an interview with Carole from 2011

Linda Menuhin serves as a commentator in Middle East Affairs both in Israeli and Arab media. Entrenched in the Arab culture, she reinvented herself in Israel, rising from an Iraqi refugee to a senior journalist. Her unique background, accentuated by a worldwide network, provides her with an unprecedented scope of understanding both Arab and Israeli cultures. Having positioned herself on the seam line, between Israel and the Arab world, she provides a new perspective, often ignored by the media, yet indispensable for understanding the misconception between Arabs and Israelis. Her writings are essential for policy makers aiming at resolving the conflict. She has won a media prize from the Next Century Foundation for outstanding contribution for peace in the media.

Throughout her career, Linda had the opportunity to influence public policy, primarily through her work at the Ministry of Public Security and the Union of Local Authorities where she served as a spokeswoman. Previously, she had worked as a Senior Journalist working with The Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and eventually she embarked on a mission to educate both Israelis and Arabs on the conflict and one another. She writes tri-lingual opinionated columns and articles in the Arab and Israeli press.

Linda fled from Iraq to Israel when she was in her 20s. Her father, an Iraqi Jew was a highly respected attorney in Baghdad when he was abducted in 1972 by the notorious Iraqi State police or Mukhabarat, never to be heard from again. Despite her personal tragedy, she became a relentless activist for peace. She gained her B.A in Islamic Culture, Arabic and English Literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Linda is the recipient of a prestigious scholarship from the Wexner Foundation and holds two masters degrees, one from the Kennedy School of Government in Public Administration and the other in Mass Communications from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Semha AlwayaSemha Alwaya was born in Iraq and grew up in Turkey, Iran and Israel. Her parents were among 125,000 Iraqi refugees whose citizenship was revoked and their property confiscated by the Iraqi government in the middle of the 20th century.  Her family left Iraq in 1951, and like many other Jewish refugees, lived in temporary refugee camps in Israel known as maabarot.

Alwaya speaks 5 languages: Arabic, English, Farsi, French and Hebrew.  She has a master’s degree in Near Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley and has taught Arabic and Farsi at UC Berkeley and Stanford. Currently, Alwaya is an attorney in her own law firm inEmerville,Californiawhich she began in 2003.

Semha is a co-founder of JIMENA where she has dedicated  herself to Israel advocacy and sharing her family’s story of exile– a similar story shared by nearly one-million other Jews who were made refugees from Arab countries. In addition to her commitment to JIMENA, Semha is also a member of Amnesty International USA, the World Affairs Council, and JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council).

“I want to thank JIMENA for organizing Semha’s visit to Williams College. Semha is extremely knowledgeable, bright, down-to-earth, an overall great speaker, and an excellent representative of Jews from Arab countries. I am very grateful Semha was able to speak at Williams.”
-Mara Shapero, Williams College Undergraduate Student

“Semha Alwaya’s presentation was both captivating and educational. The story Semha and JIMENA speakers tell is an important one which Jews and non-Jews alike should hear. Semha is helping keep 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.”
-Brian Maissy, UC Berkeley Undergraduate Student in reaction to JIMENA’s Presentation at Israel Peace and Diversity Week

We encourage you to read Semha’s piece, The vanishing Jews of the Arab world from San Francisco’s Chronicle.


Aaron Matityahu was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1931. He lived there with his parents, four brothers and four sisters. When Aaron was a young child, life was made difficult for Jews living in Iraq. Anti-Semitism was so rife in the country that one day while in math class his teacher was taken by the police and publicly hung in the middle of the street a week later. Often, when Aaron and his cousin were walking together they were attacked by Muslim boys around their age. In June 1941, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Jews in Iraq were raped and killed in a devastating, two day anti-Jewish riot known as the Farhud. Luckily for Aaron and his family they were sheltered by a righteous Muslim neighbor who hid 50 to 60 members of Aaron’s family in his basement until things settled down.

Soon after the Farhoud, Aaron’s parents decided to leave Baghdad for the southern town of Basra. At the time, all of Aaron’s family worked to support themselves and at the age of 10 Aaron was working, selling all kinds of goods. Aaron and his family lived in Basra for two years until they went back to Baghdad.  In 1950 his family left Iraq with the assistance of the American government.

Settling in Israel, Aaron served in the army and studied at the Vinget Institute for Physical Education in Israel. Shortly after he met his wife Nadine who was from Egypt and they had three sons together. Aaron was a physical education teacher in Israel for many years as well as an owner of a very successful summer camp. He and his wife eventually moved to the U.S. where their children and grandchildren had already migrated to. In the United States, Aaron had an equally successful career in Real Estate. He now lives in Los Altos, California.

Joseph (Yusuf) Samuels was born in Taht El Takia, the Jewish quarter of the old city of Baghdad, Iraq in 1930 to a family who could trace their ancestry to the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E..  One of eight children in a household of six brothers and one sister, Joseph grew up in a family of textile traders whose business spanned India, England and Italy. He attended Rachel Shahmoon primary school, and later graduated from Al A’adadia High School.

On June 1st and 2nd, 1941–at the age of 11–Joseph witnessed the Farhud. He vividly recalls Iraqi Muslim mobs looting, ransacking and burning Jewish homes and businesses in the Jewish quarter of Baghdad. Hundreds of Jews were murdered, and numerous homes were robbed. Inspite of this blatant anti-semitic attack, Joseph and his family survived the Farhud and remained in Baghdad.

After graduating high school in 1948, Joseph’s dream of continuing his studies in America were shattered. The failed Arab war against Israel led Iraq to turn its war against its own Jewish population, and instead of going to America, Joseph had to flee for his life. He traveled from Baghdad to Basra by train, and was smuggled out to Iran and then to Israel.

A homeless, penniless refugee, he arrived in Israel in 1950. During that time, Joseph (Yusuf) spent time on a kibbutz and took different jobs until he joined the Israeli Navy. After serving in the Navy for 3 years, he left for Montreal, Canada in pursuit of a higher education.

Immigrating to Canada was no easy task. Once again he was an immigrant, and had no profession or higher education. Tenacious and hardworking, Joseph (Yusuf) went into real estate, and became successful. He got married in 1959 to Rebecca (Ruby), and together they had three children: Sharon, Lisa and Jeffrey.

Joe and his family moved to Santa Monica, California in 1978. The hardships and the many difficult experiences he faced in Iraq made Joe appreciative and grateful to God for the freedom he enjoys and the good life he shares with others. He likes warm weather and being in the company of upbeat people. His hobbies still include traveling and gardening.

Maurice ShohetMaurice Shohet was born in Iraq. On September 2nd, 1970 Maurice left Baghdad seeking freedom from a country that had over the past few decades made life for the Jews living there difficult and frightening. The Ba’ath party had come to power in Iraq and more than 20 Jews were either publicly hanged or disappeared from Iraq without a trace. He traveled with a group of 13 other Jews to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. With the help of some Kurdish smugglers, Maurice and the others he was traveling with escaped to Iran by foot.

After staying in the Iranian capital of Tehran for three weeks, Maurice was finally able to immigrate to Israel. Since then, more than 2,600 Iraqi Jews have immigrated to Israel. You can read Maurice’s personal account of escaping Iraq here.

In 2005, Maurice participated in Iraq’s Out-of-Country Voting Program, which was organized and conducted by the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly Election for Iraqis living abroad. On March 29th, 2005 Maurice and eight other Iraqis living in the United States met with President Bush to share their experiences. As the only Jewish person in the group, Maurice told anecdotes of what life was like for Iraq’s Jewish community when the Ba’thist regime came to power. Maurice also expressed his concern for the minorities remaining in Iraq. Maurice received the ASF, American Sephardi Federation leadership award in 2006. Today he is the President of Congregation Bene Naharayim in New York. You can read Maurice’s personal account of the meeting with President Bush here.

Pearl Sofaer was born and grew up in Bombay, India until she was 17 years old. She lived there with her parents, two younger brothers, and younger sister. Her family originated from Baghdad and Kirkuk, Iraq, before migrating to Burma and eventually to India. Growing up Pearl and her siblings spoke Hindustani and English; they were barely taught any Arabic as that was the language her parents chose to keep their own. The Jewish community in India was nearly one million people strong during the time Pearl lived there and most of them had originated from Baghdad.

Pearl was educated in India and England (where she attended a boarding school) and earned her master’s degree in mediation in the United States. Pearl is an accomplished writer, visual artist and singer. Her book From Baghdad to Bombay weaves the threads of a vital family into a rich tapestry of good food and tradition. She has shown her paintings and sculptures in art exhibitions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and has performed at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle, Southern Oregon University, and elsewhere. In addition, she served as a cantor for the Barah Congregation for more than 10 years. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area near her children and grandchildren.

You can visit Pearls personal website and buy a copy of her book, Baghdad to Bombay, here.

Joe Shamash was born in Baghdad,Iraq in 1948. He lived there with his parents, five brothers, and two sisters; his family was very well off and they lived in a large house. In the 1940s there were nearly 150,000 Jews living in Iraq. During the 1960s life became very difficult for the Jews.

Joe and his immediate family were fortunate to leave Iraq in late 1957 when he was 10 years old and move to New York. Unfortunately, Joe’s oldest brother was not allowed to leave the country, so once Joe’s parents saw the rest of their children safely settled in New York they went back to Iraq. They were not allowed to leave again until 1960 and so Joe and his siblings had to survive on their own for more than two years.

Joe attended Temple University in Philadelphia and graduated with a degree in economics. After he graduated, Joe left for California and fell in love with the Bay Area. Joe is an entrepreneur and has started five of his own companies. Joe lives in the Bay Area with his three children.

Carmella Pardo was born to an Iraqi family in Bombay, India and returned to Basra, Iraq as a small child with her parents and brother. In 1948 her father Salim was arrested by the Iraqi authorities and charged with being a communist and Zionist. He was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years of hard labor in a desert prison. Upon Salim’s imprisonment, her parents agreed that her mother should escape to Israel with Carmella and her brother. For more information on Carmella’s mother, please visit her website, recipesbyrachel.com

Carmella later immigrated to the United States as a student where she received her BA from Fordham University and an MA and ABD in Islamic Studies. At NYU she taught biblical Hebrew and Arabic. After Israel’s 1973 Yom Kippur War she decided to do work on behalf of Israel. She was appointed Director of Program Development for the American Zionist Federation. Two years later in 1976 she became the organization’s National Executive Director.

In 1981 Carmella resigned her position with the American Zionist Federation to work in in Los Angeles as a management consultant for “Global Management Assistance.” Later she was a general contractor for 22 years.

Carmella is a past President of Kehillat Maarav and has been active with the JCRC, Bnai Brith, the LA- Tel Aviv partnership and the Family Readiness Committee for the assistance of families of mobilized US Military Reservists.

“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, USC Undergrad Student

“JIMENA’s Mizrahi Shabbat really opened my eyes to the life of Jews in the Middle East. Our speaker, Carmella Pardo, eloquently stated the facts and the audience was so moved by her experience; she had our undivided attention. Her history of hardship honestly made me take a minute for gratitude to God for my blessings.”
-Joseph Cohan, USC Undergrad Student

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.

Lebanon and Syria

Bio from Vanessa’s website, hebrewmamita.com

Native New Yorker Vanessa Hidary, AKA The Hebrew Mamita, grew up on Manhattan’s culturally diverse Upper West Side, graduating from LaGuardia High School of the Arts and Hunter College. Her experiences as a Sephardic Jew with close friends from different ethnic and religious backgrounds inspired her to write “Culture Bandit,” the nationally toured solo show that chronicles Vanessa’s coming of age during the golden age of Hip-Hop and her dedication to fostering understanding and friendship between all people.

“Culture Bandit”, was originally produced by LAByrinth Theatre Company (Artistic directors: Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz). It has since played as part of The Roar Theatre Festival at Nuyorican Poets Café, as part of The Downtown Urban Theater Festival, The Los Angeles Women’s Theater Festival, The Hip Hop Theatre Festival in NYC, The Revolutions Theatre Festival in Albuquerque, The Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Makor Arts Center in the “Hip-hop without Borders” festival and the Comedy Central Stage in Los Angeles.

She has aired three times on “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam” on HBO, and is featured in the short film, “The Tribe,” which was selected for the Sundance Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and the Jewish Motifs International Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland where Vanessa attended as the film’s representative.

Vanessa was chosen as one of the 50 speakers to appear at the “2010 IdeaCity- Canada’s Premiere Meeting of the Minds.” She appeared at the 2009 Limmudfest in the UK, the 2012 Limmud Conference in South Africa, and is soon on her way to the Limmud Conference 2012 in the UK. In November 2010, Vanessa performed at the opening reception for the “Lion of Judah” conference at the Jewish Federation’s General Assembly convention in New Orleans.

Other performances include: Central Park’s Summerstage representing NBC’s 9/11 tribute “Concert for America,” B.A.M. Cafe, and was a Grand Slam Poetry Finalist at The Nuyorican Poets Cafe. She frequently tours colleges and Universities.

Some of her press includes: The New York Post, Time Out New York, The Jewish Week, The Forward, URB, BUST, Beyond Race, The Los Angeles Times, The Jerusalem Post and Lilith Magazine.

Vanessa has conducted poetry and racism workshops with Bnai’ Brith Youth organization and was the director/developer of “MONOLOGUES” – an evening of solo performances by 15 young adults exploring their Jewish identity, inspired by a 10-day trip through Israel, produced by Birthright Israel NEXT.

From the Bronx to Tel Aviv, Vanessa can be found at high schools, Universities, Jewish Federations, poetry lounges  and cultural centers performing and speaking about Jewish identity – tackling stereotypes and dissecting the complicated question of “What does Jewish look like to you?”

Vanessa received an M.F.A. in acting from Trinity Rep theater Conservatory. She lives in Manhattan, where she recently published her first collection of poems and stories titled “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega.”

Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie comes from a long and distinguished rabbinical lineage dating back to fifteenth century Spain and Provence. Following the expulsion of Jews from Spain, and later Provence, his family migrated throughout the ages through Italy, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon.

Rabbi Abadie was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and grew up in Mexico City, coming to the United States to attend Yeshiva University. Rabbi Abadie is the founding rabbi of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue. He is also the Director of the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University and is a scholar and college teacher of Sephardic Judaism, history, philosophy, and comparative traditional law.

Rabbi Abadie follows in the footsteps of the greatest Jewish scholar and philosopher Moses Maimonides, as he is both a rabbi and a physician. Rabbi Abadie maintains a practice in internal medicine and gastroenterology.

Natalie ZeitunyNatalie Zeituny was born in Beirut, Lebanon to an indigenous Jewish Middle Eastern family. In 1975, the year the Lebanese Civil War started, her family fled their home. Natalie lived in Israel for over 20 years, during which she was an honor graduate of the “Technion” Engineering University and a part of an MBA Program at Ben-Gurion University in Beer’sheva. Natalie served in the Israel Defense Forces in the intelligence unit. She is fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, English and some French.

Her current endeavor is Conscious Business Transformation- which guides businesses ready to harness their true power to change the world– to become environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, embrace a humane and socially just set of values in addition to being financially profitable and technologically innovative. Natalie had been working and living in San Francisco since 1998.

Natalie previously served as a board member of JIMENA, where she was dedicated to advancing awareness, bridging the gap between the Arab and the Jewish worlds, and providing a more profound understanding about the conflict in the Middle East. As an enthusiastic and dynamic speaker who engages her audience- she also is a service leader at Congregation Shaa’r Zahav in San Francisco.


Pnina Meghnagi Soloman was born in 1949 in Tripoli, Libya. In 1967, with the break out of Israel’s Six-Day War, Pnina was one day suddenly instructed to leave school and go home. The radio had been announcing that there was a war in Israel, and Libyans turned their rage towards Israel against their fellow Jewish Libyan citizens. Due to the dangers of being Jewish, Pnina went into hiding, and relied on her neighbors to bring her family kosher food.

One day, a crowd armed with machetes descended on her neighborhood looking for the Jews. Her local Sheikh came out on the street and told the crowd “mafich Yehud, no Jews here.” The Sheikh’s lie caused the mob to leave, saving the lives of the Jews still hiding throughout the neighborhood.

Eventually, the government gave Jewish citizens an ultimatum: Either live in a government-run camp, or leave the country and relinquish Libyan citizenship. With those options at hand, Pnina’s mother chose to immigrate to Italy. On June 30th, 1967 at 4:30am a government-issued Jeep came and took the family to the airport with only one suitcase and 20 Libyan Sterling.

Leaving Libya shattered the dynamic in Pnina’s family. Pnina was the oldest in a family of five children, and served as a second caretaker to her siblings after her grandmother had moved to Israel in 1951. Pnina’s mother decided it would be better for the older children to get out of the refugee camp and settle into a normal life in Italy. As a result, the older children learned to speak Italian and not Hebrew, and the younger children learned to speak Hebrew and not Italian. With a new language gap to overcome, the family eventually learned to communicate with one another using in Judeo-Arabic.

Doris Nachum was born Libya. Her family’s native language was Arabic although they also spoke Italian. In the 1940s Doris and her family were among the 38,000 Jews residing in Libya. Though the Jews were restricted in many areas of life because of tradition and Muslim law, they still had a vibrant and thriving community in Libya during this time.

In the 1960s life became a lot more challenging for the Jews of Libya. On May 24th, 1961, a law was announced which provided that only Libyan citizens could own and transfer real property. Since only six Jews were purported to have received Libyan citizenship in the community this law was the beginning of a series of anti-Semitic decrees that made life increasingly difficult for Doris and her family. After this law passed the Libyan Jews were also increasingly restricted in employment opportunities. They were prohibited from working for the government, owning their own businesses and attending university.

In 1967, Doris and her family witnessed the riot that had broken out in Tripoli after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War. Because the Arab armies had lost the war, in many Arab countries angry mobs took much of their anger out on their local indigenous Jewish communities. Doris and her family hid as they heard and saw an a mob approaching their home and the homes of their Jewish neighbors. They were able to hide in their neighbors’ attic. They begged the downstairs neighbor who was Muslim to protect them when the mob came through and thankfully he did. However, Doris’ home as well as the homes of many other Jews and her community’s synagogue were destroyed and burnt down.

King Idriss wanted to protect the Jews in 1967 and he was able to send out secret police to gather all the Jews and hide them in an old British military base in the desert eventually giving them safe passage to Italy. Doris and her family were flown toRome. From Rome, Doris and her family moved to Israel. Doris moved to the U.S. in 1989 and is currently a real estate agent working all over Silicon Valley. She is married and has two daughters.

Dalia Sirkin was born Dalia Bokhobza in Tripoli, Libya. She grew up speaking Italian as her first language, though she also knew some Arabic and Hebrew. She remembers her home country as an aesthetically pleasing place with beautiful sandy beaches, Italian architecture, gardens and date palms.

However, her childhood always contained fear of persecution since she was Jewish. Walking down the street usually exposed her to the risk of being harassed as Libya had become a hot-bed of anti-Jewish hatred. One of her saddest memories was loosing a childhood friend to anti-Jewish violence. Murders of Jews occurred which went unpunished.

In 1967 the Libyan government confiscated her family’s assets as they fled Libya to Rome with one suitcase per person. Daliya spent 11 years in Rome thriving there and later studied English Literature at Oxford University. She is now a lecturer of English Composition at San Jose State University.

To read, “Once in Arab Lands” a J Weekly feature on Dalia, please click here.

Gina Waldman is a survivor.  Born Gina Malaka Bublil in Tripoli to a family that had lived in Libya for centuries, she was persecuted, nearly murdered and brutally expelled from her homeland in 1967, all because she is Jewish.  She is one of nearly a million Jews who were forced to flee their homes in Arab lands from 1948-1970. As a young child she recalls the adversity she faced in going to school in an Arab country.  As the hatred accelerated, a dozen years later, in 1967, Regina and her family fled to Italy, and she eventually immigrated to the United States, where for the past 35 years she has dedicated herself to the cause of freedom and the defense of human rights.

Waldman’s accomplishments are legendary and include winning the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award and testifying in front of the UN Human Rights Council.  Gina has also testified before the US Congress Human Rights Caucus as an expert witness. As Director of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jewry, Waldman was instrumental in winning freedom for thousands of Soviet Jews like Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky. Regina worked closely with Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights champion, Andrei Sakharov. Waldman also fought human rights abuses in Argentina and Chile, during Augusto Pincohet’s regime. In the early 1990’s she also helped in the resettlement of Muslim refugees from Bosnia to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Together with Joseph Abdel Wahed and other committed Mizrahi activists, Waldman co-founded JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) in 2002 to bear witness to the suffering of other Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Her own personal story adds much needed perspective to any discussion of the Middle East.

Mrs. Waldman speaks of her own experiences and about Jewish life under Islam. In English punctuated with Arabic, Waldman exposes and calls for an end to the injustices that still plague and polarize the Middle East. And, with a deft touch, she exhorts her audience — often bitterly divided — to find common ground and to seek reconciliation. Waldman’s constant message is that “love is stronger than hate.”


Sylvain Abitbol2Sylvain Abitbol was born in Casablanca, Morocco. His family immigrated to Canada following Israel’s Six-Day War in 1967 when Sylvain was a teenager.

Upon arriving in Canada, Sylvain adopted well to his new community and graduated in 1973 from Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique in Industrial and Mechanical Engineering.

An accomplished engineer in the telecommunications industry, Sylvain is the former CEO of NHC Communications.

Sylvain has dedicated much of his time and energy to philanthropic Jewish causes. He is the past chair of the Sephardic Campaign for the Montreal Federation. In 2004 he became the President of the Montreal Jewish Community’s Combined Jewish Appeal, the funding body for 22 local Jewish agencies in his community.

From 2007-2009 he was the co-President of the Canadian Jewish Congress. He currently serves as the co-President of JJAC, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and the 1st Vice President of the Sephardic Community in Montreal. He speaks English, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic.

Marcel TheboulMarcel Theboul was born in Morocco. During the time Marcel and his family were living in Morocco many of the Jews there were moving to Israel because the push to move came from the Jewish community. Although the Moroccan government never directly pushed the Jews out of Morocco once the state of Israel was created there was some friction that began in Morocco but not nearly as much tension as there were in other North African and Middle Eastern countries towards the Jews there. Many of the Jews in Morocco decided to keep a low profile especially during this time and in 1967 most of the Jews ended up leaving Morocco for Israel.





Luci Cohen ZimeringLuci Cohen Zimering was born in Tunis, Tunisia to a family who had lived there for many generations. The neighborhood in Tunis where Luci and her family lived was mostly inhabited by Jews, Italians and some French. Overall, Luci grew up feeling very safe and happy living as a Jew in the city of Tunis. However, one evening in November 1942 those feelings changed for Luci, because the Germans had just invaded Tunis.

Luci’s unmarried uncles were sent to hard labor camps and a few young men were able to hide in the countryside. During this time there was also a food shortage and Luci’s father would often rent a truck with some friends, drive to Algeria, and come back the same day with sacks of potatoes. The German army was also planning to build concentration camps in Tunisia, luckily there was a lack of railroads to transport masses of people to them. Luci and her family witnessed bombs falling around them, very close to their home. Like Jews in Europe, they were required to give their radios and some other belongings to the Germans.

Finally, the English and eventually the Americans liberated Tunis and the rest of North Africa. The Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba returned from exile in France. Luci worked as a secretary for Mr. Bechir Ben Yahmid who was the Minister of Communications in President Habib Bourguiba’s cabinet until 1962 when she decided to join her brothers in Geneva, Switzerland. She met her future husband in Geneva and moved with him to Ohio in 1968 where he was offered a job.

Luci and her husband had two sons together. After her husband passed away in 1995, she decided to follow her youngest son to Palo Alto. Luci continues to keep her Tunisian culture and she stays in contact with other Tunisians through a website called Harissa.com.

Marilyn Crystal-Uzan was born in Tunisia where her family had lived for generations and she grew up in the capital, Tunis. Marilyn and her family lived in Tunis very happily and in peace until she was 17 years old. Her favorite memories of her childhood in Tunis involved playing on the clear Mediterranean beaches in the Northern suburbs of Tunis. However, in 1985 before graduating from high school Marilyn left Tunisia for France due to the Israeli attack on PLO headquarters in Tunis, which led to a time of great uncertainty for Tunisian Jews.

Luckily Marilyn already knew French fluently which allowed her to settle into French society a little easier. Uzan lived in France and briefly in England for the next 15 years until she moved to California with her American husband. Marilyn now lives in Palo Alto with her three children. Marilyn is passionate about preserving the culinary traditions of Tunisian Jews and has led Tunisian cooking classes in her community.


Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom is the son of Ovadiak Ben-Shalom, the founder and president of The Association for Yemenite Society, Culture, Research and Documentationan Israeli organization which promotes and preserves the culture and history of Yemenite Jewry. The 30,000 member organization is headquartered in a Yemenite museum and meeting complex in Netanya, Israel. Today, Yigal serves as its president.

Dr. Shalom received his Ph.D. from the University of Haifa and previously served as the Director of Israel’s National Insurance Institute and as the Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. He was a senior lecturer in social policy at universities throughout Israel and served as the Director of Welfare in JDC’s Israel chapter. He was a Senior Research Fellow at the Minerva Center for Youth Studies at Haifa University and served as the Executive Director of M.B.S Systems Company, which deals with strategic planning, consulting and management systems.

Ben-Dror Yemini was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel to a Yemenite Jewish family. He studied Humanities and History in Tel Aviv University, and later on he studied Law. After his university studies, he was appointed advisor to the Israeli Minister of Immigration Absorption and then became the spokesman of the Ministry.

After a short term in the public service, as the advisor of the Minister of Immigration and the spokesman of the Ministry, Yemini began his career as a journalist and essayist. In 1986 Yemini published the book “Political Punch” which is a critique of politics and society in Israel. He worked as a lawyer and was a partner in a law firm.

In 2003 he became the opinion-editor of the daily newspaper Maariv and also published many articles and essays in other journals. In recent years Yemini researched and published many articles about the “industry of lies” – the endless publications against the State of Israel and its Jewish character, which he considers false. 
In this framework, he published a series of research articles about the Israeli-Arab conflict in which he examined the issues of genocide, refugees, human rights violations, the status of Israeli Arabs, Multiculturalism, and the status of women. All these articles included a comparative study about each topic.

According to Yemini, “the modern Anti-Zionism is a politically correct Anti-Semitism.” He has argued that the same way Jews were demonized, Israel is demonized, the same way the right of Jews to exist was denied, the right for Self-determination is denied from Israel, the same way Jews were presented as a menace to the world, Israel is presented as a menace to the world. In his comparative studies, he presents the huge gap between the myths against Israel, from one hand and the real facts on the other hand.

Yehuda TassaYehuda Tassa was born in Jerusalem in 1936 to parents who had emigrated from Yemen in 1920. His parents lived in Tel Aviv until 1929 when they decided to move to Jerusalem, their holy city. Yehuda’s father built a synagogue in Jerusalem and opened up a jewelry store as he had previously made jewelry in Yemen. Yehuda grew up with his three brothers and two sisters. At the age of six Yehuda’s father taught him to work in Yemenite filigree jewelry and he continued working for his family’s jewelry business for the next 16 years.

Yehuda revitalized his ‘lost art’ of jewelry making recently and began prolifically producing both ancient and modern filigree designs. He creates jewelry and teaches at several locations in Northern California, incorporating both ancient and modern tools and techniques into his filigree and granulation workshops.