SAN FRANCISCO – On June 23, 2014 the Government of Israel adopted a law to designate November 30th as the annual national Day of Commemoration for the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were displaced from Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century. The law, which is the culmination of several years of hard work and dedication by an international team of Mizrahi Justice advocates, legislates commemoration events and the inclusion of Mizrahi history into Israeli schools’ curriculum.
At the forefront of the North American movement to uphold the Day of Commemoration is the San Francisco-based JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, a nonprofit that seeks universal recognition of the Mizrahi refugee experience and heritage. Expounding on the Day of Commemoration, JIMENA brought forth the Mizrahi Remembrance Month initiative – now in its second year – which entails a range of educational and cultural programs throughout North America during November and December.
Student and young adult engagement is a core component of JIMENA’s Day of Commemoration programming. JIMENA has partnered with Moishe House, a national leader in young adult Jewish community building, to ensure that Moishe Houses will honor the Day of Commemoration/Mizrahi Remembrance Month through activities such as Mizrahi and Sephardic-themed Shabbat celebrations and henna parties which shed light on the ancient Jewish Middle Eastern connection to henna art. Through JIMENA’s Day of Commemoration Micro-Grant program, activities will be taking place at Moishe Houses throughout the US and Israel.
In addition to Moishe House participants, JIMENA is partnering with Students Supporting Israel, Hillel International and Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity to engage and educate college students in the history and culture of Mizrahi refugees and their descendants through the Day of Commemoration initiative. Members of JIMENA’s Speakers Bureau, whom themselves fled to North America as refugees from Arab countries and Iran, will lead presentations at over campuses nationwide including UCLA, Ohio State University, American University and Kent State University. JIMENA educator, Adam Eliath also created a unique curriculum for Mizrahi Remembrance Month, which will be spearheaded at the Jewish Community High School of San Francisco.
JIMENA invites the greater communities of Los Angeles and San Francisco to honor the Day of Commemoration through public events, which will be presented in both cities. On December 6th, a Hanukah-themed Day of Commemoration reception will be held at Magain David Sephardim Congregation in San Francisco, California. The event will feature Ravit Baer, Israel’s Deputy Consul General to the Pacific Northwest, sharing insight into her family’s Kurdish-Jewish experience; remarks by Consul General Andy David; an exhibition of the Israel of Ministry of Foreign Affairs titled, “The Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries;” and a festive candle lighting led by Rabbi Simon Benzaquen, aka the “rapping rabbi of Seattle.”
In Los Angeles, JIMENA is joining forces with 30 Years After, the Sephardic Music Festival, and LA’s Consulate General of Israel to present an evening of dynamic cultural expression on December 9th at Voila! Gallery. Offerings include film, music, and dance rooted in Mizrahi and Sephardic tradition, such as Yemenite and Syrian Jewish hymns performed by the Automatic Toys, and a short film documenting a teenage Persian-Jewish girl’s escape from Iraq.
JIMENA’s Executive Director, Sarah Levin note that “After spearheading the extensive effort to establish the Day of Commemoration in 2014, JIMENA is thrilled and honored to expand the effort to honor Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, whose modern history and culture remains on the periphery of mainstream Jewish life and consciousness in North America. With over half of Israel’s Jews, descended from North Africa and the Middle East, it is essential for North American Jewish communities to honor the history, heritage and invaluable contributions of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. By doing so our Jewish communities will be able to strengthen their understanding, continuity and support of diverse Jewish experiences and the state of Israel.”