Art from Distinctions: A Sephardi and Mizrahi Journal, published by JIMENA.
Art from Distinctions: A Sephardi and Mizrahi Journal, published by JIMENA.

How JIMENA is supporting Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews right now

Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews comprise roughly half of Israel’s 7.15 million Jewish population, and many live in economically disadvantaged communities on Israel’s periphery, including communities bordering the Gaza Strip.

JIMENA, or Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, is an international nonprofit headquartered in San Francisco that advocates for the rights of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa and is dedicated to the preservation of Mizrahi and Sephardi culture and history.

In the days after Hamas’ brutal surprise attack by land, sea and air, JIMENA community members in the United States were focused primarily on the safety and well-being of their loved ones in Israel. It seems as if every person affiliated with us knows at least one victim, either directly or indirectly.

Moreover, the violent imagery coming out of Israel has triggered a wave of anxiety and post-trauma among some of our elders who faced antisemitic mobs and ethnic cleansing in the Middle East and North Africa.

Following the attack, JIMENA led two mental-health support circles for members of our community in need of emotional support and a safe space in which to process what is happening in Israel. Not surprisingly, our online support circles were filled with grief, tears and prayers.

Everyone who participated expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share in a space facilitated by a mental health professional.

Due to the program’s success, we will likely hold biweekly mental-health support circles in the coming weeks — some exclusively for former refugees, and some in Hebrew and Farsi.

Next week we are leading support circles for high school and college students. We are also participating in vigils led by Sephardi rabbis from around the world.

In addition, we are aiming to re-establish our buddy system for individuals requiring one-on-one support to navigate the current conflict. JIMENA enacted a similar program during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are also prepared to refer our community members both locally and in Israel to direct-service providers that offer personalized care.

During these challenging times, no one should feel isolated or alone; yet, regrettably, many of us are grappling with trauma, depression, anxiety and fear stemming from the violence.

JIMENA is continuing the work we have always been engaged in — countering antisemitism, offering support to former Jewish refugees, and advocating and educating for the human rights of Jews in and from the Middle East and North Africa.

We remain committed to our current campaigns of countering antisemitism in public education, training and empowering the next generation of Sephardi leaders,  and sharing the histories of and experiences of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews with the public.

We wish to remind every Jewish person in the Bay Area that we are strong, especially when we are united. We come from a lineage of survivors and warriors, and our faith and our love for Israel and humanity will never be defeated, even in the face of unthinkable tragedy. From strength to strength!

Sarah Levin
Sarah Levin

Sarah Levin is the executive director of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, an advocacy and education institution based in San Francisco dedicated to advancing the rights and the heritage of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.