Semha 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 Her parents were among 125,000 Iraqi refugees whose citizenship was revoked and their property confiscated by the Iraqi government in the middle of the 20th century.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.