Jewish Journal

JIMENA interviews L.A.‘s Iranian and Sephardic Jews for new websites

by Karmel Melamed

March 31, 2013 | 11:16 am

Earlier this month perhaps one of the most important efforts to document the tragic loss of life and property that Jews from North Africa and the Middle East experienced during the 20th century took placed here in Los Angeles. Members of the San Francisco-based “Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa” (JIMENA) gathered at local Sephardic synagogues to video interview 10 L.A. area Jews who escaped their native lands in North Africa and Iran when those countries had turned violently against their Jewish populations during the last century. While the world has been obsessed with the “right of return for Palestinian Arabs” that were supposedly “exiled” in 1948 and 1967 from Israel, no one seems to care about the near 1 million Jews expelled from Arab lands during the same period. What about the loss of property, finances and life Jews from these Islamic lands and Iran suffered? What about the thousands of Jews who were forced to leave their assets behind in Iran or had their assets confiscated  by the new Islamic regime in Iran after 1979? Who is speaking out on their behalf and speaking up for justice for their right of return? The answer is simple; JIMENA!

JIMENA was founded by Regina Waldman and Joe Wahad, a Jewish woman born in Libya and a Jewish man born in Egypt, after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. The new JIMENA websites tell the stories of Jews from each of the Islamic lands using videos, photographs and written narratives. They also include oral history testimonies of Jews who fled Arab countries for North America.

I recently had a chat with JIMENA’s director, Sarah Levin about her organization’s efforts to document the stories of the injustice Sephardic Jews experienced in their native lands during the 20th century. This was her most compelling statement about the process was; “L.A. has large Mizrahi and Sephardic populations of Jews who come from all over the Middle East and North Africa and their stories of material losses, displacement, and  fractured identities, have not been documented. I think it’s fair to assume that Jews from Arab countries and Iran now residing in Los Angeles had at least hundreds of millions of dollars of property and assets confiscated by Arab governments and Iran. Their losses, both financial and cultural, have never been quantified and acknowledged”.

The information regarding the escapes and experiences of Iranian Jews following the horrific 1979 Iranian revolution can be found on JIMENA’s new site here.

The following are just some photos of those individuals interviewed by Jimena in Los Angeles earlier this month…




(Iranian Jewish immigrant Abe Berookhim interviewed by JIMENA at L.A.'s Kahal Joseph synagogue, photo by JIMENA)




(Moroccan Jewish immigrant Andre Chriqui interviewed by JIMENA at  L.A.'s Em Habanim synagogue, photo by JIMENA)




(Moroccan Jewish immigrant Max Barchichat interviewed by JIMENA at  L.A.'s Em Habanim synagogue, photo by JIMENA)

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Karmel Melamed is an internationally-published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Since 2000, Melamed has specialized in covering the growing influential...

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