Learning Session Guest: Sarah Levin, Executive Director, JIMENA
From the Jim Joseph Foundation, January 15th, 2021
When Israel was founded, 650,000 of the one million Sephardic Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries fled to Israel as stateless refugees and today their descendants comprise more than half of Israel’s Jewish population. The remaining refugees dispersed to countries throughout the world, and their experiences have been ignored and forgotten. Here in California there is an estimated 200,000 Mizrahi Jews, with the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California comprising one of the largest Middle Eastern diasporic communities in the world. Sarah’s feeling of disconnectedness from Sephardic community was shared by many of the children and grandchildren of JIMENA’s founders when they created the organization in 2002. Shortly after 9/11, a group of San Francisco Bay Area Jews from North Africa began to gather for the “purpose of redress and acknowledgement of what was taken from them and destroyed,” Sarah notes.
The mission of JIMENA grew from this history and experience. Today, JIMENA works to achieve universal recognition for the heritage and history of the 850,000 indigenous Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa and their descendants.
Sarah adds, “We can’t talk about JIMENA without acknowledging that Jewish people are indigenous to the Middle East and have had a continuous and ongoing presence in the region for nearly 3,000 years. We must acknowledge that there were periods of time when Jewish communities in Arab and Muslim countries thrived and the experiences of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, now and throughout history, isn’t monolithic whatsoever. There is incredible diversity in the culture, history, and experiences of Jewish people from the Middle East and North Africa.”
JIMENA’s Two Main Areas
JIMENA’s programs and partnerships fall into two main categories:
- Advocacy – This work primarily encompasses efforts to safeguard and restitute confiscated Jewish cultural property in and from the Middle East and North Africa. JIMENA also uses its unique intersectional position on campaigns to protect the American Jewish community from antisemitism.
- Education and Engagement – Core to this work has been sharing personal stories of Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews, and using these stories to educate the Jewish public. These are broad, expansive initiatives, some of which have concluded and are preserved in museums.
The education and engagement efforts also include JIMENA’s reach to about 400,000 individuals in the Arab world every week,
educating people in that region of the world about Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. This is a growing area of work, premised on important relationship. Read more…..