In this session fellows explored the current revival and reclamation of Mizrahi and heritage in Israel. The session was facilitated by Barak Loozon, director of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation’s (SFJCF) Israel office. In this capacity Barak has helped to elevate and support the voices and work of many Mizrahi scholars, artists, activists, and organizations in Israel.
Prior to his work with the SFJCF Barak worked at the Institute for Democratic Education in Israel and led the implementation of the “Bat-Yam Model for Personalized Education,” a model which was adopted by the Ministry of Education and became the National Education Reform called “New Horizons.” Barak also worked as the National Education Director & Deputy Director-General of the Israeli Scouts (Tzofim) and as the movement emissary to the United States. He holds a B.A. from Bar Ilan University in Criminology and Political Science, a Master’s in Education Policy and Administration from Tel Aviv University, as well as a Master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Wexner Israel Fellow. Barak and his wife Keren are the proud parents of five boys, living in Kibbutz Einat, Israel.
“Mizrahi Jews as an intersectional bridge.” This session presented an opportunity for fellows to explore how Mizrahi Jews can serve as a bridge between the American Jewish communities we serve and diverse Middle Eastern populations in and from North America and in the Middle East. By highlighting the work of communications experts whose focus is elevating Jewish heritage and narratives in Arabic, fellows were able to begin thinking about how the diverse intersectional identities of Mizrahi Jews can provide opportunities for peace-building and normalization between Jews, Arabs, and Israelis.
Our hope is that fellows will begin to think about and engage their own Mizrahi communities in interfaith initiatives and in efforts to build Jewish communal cultural competency and continuity with Israel and the larger Middle East. Fellows were introduced to JIMENA’s Arabic Outreach initiative and other projects in the Middle East that are bringing Jews and Arabs together through shared culture and language.
This session was facilitated by Linda Menuhin Abdel Aziz, an Arabic language communications expert who currently serves as the senior Arabic Digital Media Consultant at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Linda is an award winning journalist who left her native country of Iraq in the 1970s and has been an instrumental figure in international initiatives to pursue recognition of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
The session was co-led by Hadeel Ouies who serves as JIMENA’s Arabic Outreach manager. Hadeel Oueis is a writer and journalist focusing on the Middle East. She majored in political studies and in 2011, at the age of 18, was arrested by the Assad regime for playing a key role in the early days of Syrian protests. In 2012, the United States delegation in Geneva met with Hadeel and helped her relocate to the United States. She currently analyzes U.S. policies in the Middle East for major Arabic networks.
During this session fellows explored how the experiences of former Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa shapes current Sephardic attitudes and approaches to contemporary manifestations of antisemitism. By learning about the experiences of Iranian Jews in particular, fellows gained a deeper understanding of how antisemitism is connected not only to white supremacy, but to a history of state-sanctioned anti-Zionism in the Middle East. Fellows began to understand that current Jewish communal conversations on antisemitism are incomplete without the participation of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.
This important and timely conversation was led by Dr. Sharon Nazarian. Dr. Nazarian is the President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation and the founder of the Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at (UCLA). The Center is housed in the International Institute at UCLA in order to provide a systematic and academic study of Israel.
Sharon previously served as the vice chair of the West Coast Board of the American Society of the University of Haifa, sat on the Board of Governors of Haifa University, and was a member of the Chairman’s Circle of the National Democratic Institute. She also sat on the boards of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and Center of Middle East Public Policy at RAND Corporation.
In 2017, The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) appointed Sharon as Senior Vice President of International Affairs. Sharon heads ADL’s work fighting anti-Semitism and racial hatred globally and also oversees ADL’s Israel office.
Adam Eilath introduced our fellows to Sephardic Pedagogy and the application of Sephardic Studies into contemporary Jewish Day School classrooms and Jewish learning spaces. Focusing on contemporary trends and issues impacting middle and high school aged Jewish students, his talk was grounded in the fundamental question facing Jewish students today which is, “why be Jewish?”
Adam Eilath has been the Head of School at Ronald C Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City since 2019. At Wornick Jewish Day School he leads a dedicated team of creative educators who are committed to developing the next generation of leaders steeped in Jewish values. Prior to joining Wornick, Adam was the Dean of Jewish Studies and Hebrew and the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. Adam holds degrees from McGill University and Tel Aviv University. He holds educational certifications from Yeshiva University, the Shalom Hartman Institute, The Jewish Theological Seminary and M2. He is also currently a Wexner Field Fellow.
Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Rabbi/Director at the Sephardic Education Center introduced fellows to Classic Sephardic Judaism and examples of how Sephardic sages and leaders have created equitable, inclusive, and adaptive communities through the ages. He grounded his talk in lessons articulated by Rabbi Yitshak Chouraqui, a Sephardic Scholar from Jerusalem who noted the following:
” Faced with the social, cultural, and technological upheavals of the past two centuries, Sephardi rabbis in Muslim lands did not withdraw from modern society, and did not choose to create a strict, isolationist Orthodoxy. Instead they faced modernity exhibiting a spirit of openness and flexibility. Attention to the dynamic sources of human life is a central element in Classic Sephardi and North African jurisprudence. To put this approach into practice as a factor in halakhic decision making, a sage must exhibit love for those affected by his decision, and sympathy for their needs and circumstances.”
Rabbi Bouskila provided a detailed source document to benefit all fellows and those visiting this website
Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is widely known in the Jewish community for his dynamic lectures, thought-provoking sermons and creative articles on a wide variety of Jewish topics. His 26-year rabbinic career represents a unique blend of spiritual leadership, intellectual pursuits and Jewish communal professionalism.
From 1993-2009, he was the rabbi of the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Los Angeles, during which he was also an instructor in Jewish Studies at Shalhevet High School (fun fact: he coached the Shalhevet Girls Varsity Basketball Team to back-to-back national tournament championships).
In 2009, he assumed the leadership of the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC), an international educational and cultural organization with its own historic campus in the Old City of Jerusalem. Under his leadership, the SEC has become a world renowned Sephardic think tank that translates and teaches the moderate halakhic approach and tolerant worldview of Classic Sephardic Judaism’s major rabbinic figures.
In this talk fellows explored a series of challenging moments in American Jewish history from the 18th to 20th centuries that reveal the ways in which Jews of different kinds have simultaneously been targets and beneficiaries of racism and discrimination. Fellows learned the ways in which the laws of the country, which have provided or deprived people of rights based on their race, have shaped Jewish institutional practices over the generations. The laws of the land have influenced how American Jewish institutions have provided greater legitimacy and representation to certain Jews over others while also shaping Jews’ relationships with other vulnerable communities. The recognition of the ways that Jews have been implicated in systems of oppression even while remaining vulnerable provides the historical context for action in the present.
Dr. Devin E. Naar is the Isaac Alhadeff Professor in Sephardic Studies, Associate Professor of History, and faculty at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. From New Jersey, Dr. Naar graduated summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis and received his Ph.D. in History at Stanford University. He has also served as a Fulbright fellow to Greece.
His first book, Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece, was published by Stanford University Press in 2016. The book won the 2016 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Research Based on Archival Material and was named a finalist in Sephardic Culture. It also won the 2017 Edmund Keeley Prize for best book in Modern Greek Studies awarded by the Modern Greek Studies Association. It was translated into Greek by Alexandria Press in Athens in 2018.
This session helped fellows build foundational language and knowledge around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and Sephardic Jewish Americans. Fellows began to untangle some of the ideas and language about how Sephardic Jews are defined and the limitations many Sephardic Jewish Americans face in DEI spaces. During Mijal’s talk she shared research from a variety of scholars including: Aviva Ben Ur, Daniel Elazar, Zvi Zohar, Nissim Leon, and Nissim Mizrachi.
Dr. Mijal Bitton is a Scholar in Residence at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, and the Rosh Kehilla (communal leader) and co-founder of the Downtown Minyan in New York City. Mijal received a BA from Yeshiva University and earned her doctorate from New York University, where she conducted an ethnographic study of a Syrian Jewish community with a focus on developing the field of contemporary Sephardic studies in America. She is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and is a recognized national and international scholar and leader of Sephardic Jewish communities.