From Israel to America: Sephardi Inspiration for Hanukkah

For many years, I worked in the most special place I could imagine. A radical Beit Midrash (house of study) in Jerusalem- Memizrach Shemesh, the Social Action Beit Midrash, inspired by the traditions of Jews from Arab lands. At Memizrach Shemesh, we used Jewish texts, with a special emphasis on Sephardic and Mizrachi Rabbinic texts, as tools for awareness-raising and social change. We trained leaders, educators and activists in Israeli society with the perspective that good community workers need to learn before taking action. I directed Memizrach Shemesh’s Youth Leadership Department for a decade.

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Towards the end of my time at the Beit Midrash,   I came upon a beautiful text that summarized the purpose of my work. Rabbi Hayim Yosef David Azulay (Born in Hebron, active in North Africa and Italy 1727-1806) tells us that “Everyone in Israel got his or her part at Sinai, and each needs to make efforts to engage in the Torah so that they can bring to light their part, and this is something that can be done by no other…” We all have a responsibility to find our place in the Torah. As a Jewish educator, I want all Jews to feel like a welcome part of this Torah, to realize that the community is incomplete without their voice.

At Memizrach-Shemesh, I was at the center of an important issue, showing Israeli society the significant social, cultural, textual and religious voice of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews in Israeli society. We were not only teaching texts many had not heard of, we were also offering a prism through which to view Jewish and Israeli life: a life where denominations were not needed and all were included, where honoring tradition and taking on the responsibility to make change could go hand in hand.

I relocated to the U.S. a year and a half ago with my family, and although I am no longer a part of Memizrach Shemesh, the spirit and mission has stayed with me. Looking around my new community I often wonder: How can I make change here, on my own, in this context? I want to scream out at injustices I see and read about. But at the same time, I must grapple with raising and supporting my family, teaching my children how to be mensches and readjusting to American life.