Boston, Massachusetts — On November 1st, 2022, CAMERA on Campus will launch the latest iteration of its widely acclaimed Mizrahi Stories campaign that will span the entirety of Mizrahi Heritage Month.
“When CAMERA on Campus first launched the Mizrahi Stories campaign in November 2019, our efforts centered on creating spaces for Mizrahi Jewish students on college campuses to speak freely about their identities, culture, language, tradition, and connection to Israel,” said CAMERA’s director of campus programming and strategic relationships, Hali Spiegel.
“Three years later, our campaign has evolved into so much more. We have invested heavily in creating rich educational initiatives that encourage students to lay claim to their indigeneity to the Middle East, recognize their longstanding connection to Israel, and familiarize themselves with the ancient and contemporary history of the Middle East,” continued Spiegel.
Mizrahi Jews are the descendants of Jewish communities in the Mediterranean Basin, West and Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Many have lived continuously in these areas since antiquity and most spent centuries under Muslim rule.
CAMERA on Campus’s efforts this year include a massive expansion of mizrahistories.com. For the first time, the site will include complete profiles of twelve major Mizrahi communities from across the MENA region, with more resources to come.
These improvements have emerged through collaborative partnerships with Mizrahi and Sephardic advocacy organizations, including JIMENA, Harif, SAMi, Sephardic Community Alliance, and the Institute of Jewish Experience.
This year’s campaign will also feature speaking tours with Mizrahi and Sephardic figures, including influencers, academics, and professionals on college and university campuses across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Israel. “I’m really excited to collaborate with CAMERA this semester to highlight important voices from the Mizrahi Jewish community,” said Abigail Darwish, President of the UCL Friends of Israel Society and CAMERA Fellowship Alumna at the University College, London.
“Providing students with first-hand accounts, lectures from world-class experts and training from influencers is an integral aspect of our campaign. In-person events are just one way we are investing in students,” said Sasha Chernyak, content and campaigns manager for CAMERA on Campus.
“You have to understand your Indigenous relationship with the land,” said Hen Mazzig, senior fellow and cofounder of the Tel Aviv Institute, in a conversation with undergraduate students at UCLA on October 25th, 2022.
“The Hebrew language, the Jewish culture, finds its origins in the land of Israel. It is, and will always be, the Indigenous homeland of the Jewish people. That’s what unites the Jews of Yemen, the Jews of Tunisia, the Jews of Poland, the Jews of America, and the Jews of Iraq…. our origin story started in the Middle East, and our identity is inextricably tied to the land of Israel,” continued Mazzig.
The Mizrahi Stories campaign also encourages students to address the propaganda spread by anti-Zionists who present Mizrahim as “Arab Jews,” vilifying the world’s only Jewish state and pushing an antisemitic agenda. “By co-opting MENA Jewish narratives, groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and If Not Now mischaracterize Israel as a European colonialist endeavor, undermining Zionism as an essential aspect of Jewish identity,” said Tamir Ikan, CAMERA Fellow at Hebrew University.
In 1948, over 800,000 Mizrahi Jews became refugees during and after Israel’s war for independence from countries across the MENA region, including Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, and Iraq. Their stories and heritage have not received the recognition they deserve.
“Regrettably, the hardships that Mizrahi Jews like my grandparents overcame after being forced out of their home countries have often been overlooked and ignored, especially on college and university campuses,” said Alex Adhoot, 2022-2023 CAMERA Fellow at Duke University.
“Students for Justice in Palestine chapters push the insidious canard that Israel is a settler-colonial project. Their baseless accusations starkly contrast with my [millenia-old] Syrian Jewish heritage…. We are indigenous to the Middle East — plain and simple,” said Saul Hakim, board member of the CAMERA on Campus Coalition group Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO).
Mizrahi Jewish history complicates the Palestinian story of victimhood, in which only Arab Palestinians had somehow suffered as refugees during the early years of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In reality, Jewish refugees from Arab-majority countries outnumbered Palestinian refugees. As a result, most of Israel’s Jewish population is Mizrahi.
The campaign is a unique opportunity for students with Mizrahi Jewish ancestry to engage their peers on culture and traditions.
“My #Mizrahistories posts have encouraged people to inquire about my Iraqi-Indian heritage. The majority have not had much prior knowledge about us,” said Jasmine San, CAMERA on Campus UK Campus Associate.
“We have always centered on developing accessible and comprehensive resources; this is always a challenging task. Thanks to diligent efforts from our campus research team and our partners, who have contributed invaluable primary and secondary source material, we are proud to broaden the scope of the campaign to cover additional communities to a degree never seen before,” said CAMERA’s international campus director Aviva Rosenschein.
“It is a privilege to work with many amazing organizations on a groundbreaking campaign to uplift Mizrahi voices. We invite everyone to follow #MizrahiStories on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and to explore mizrahistories.com, where one can find tons of educational content, information on upcoming events, and ways to get involved with our partners,” Rosenschein said.
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