Make a distinction

JIMENA launches new journal to focus on Sephardi, Mizrahi identity

Distinctions will be a quarterly publication; first issue looks at antisemitism with mostly female contributors

Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa has launched a new quarterly journal dedicated to the history and culture of Sephardi and Mizrahi people and communities, releasing its inaugural issue last week. 

The issue focused on the topic of antisemitism, with articles looking at both contemporary issues and historical cases of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa facing violence and hatred. The contributors to this first edition were primarily, and deliberately, women.

“Sephardi and Mizrahi women hold many influential leadership positions within the Jewish communal professional workforce, so we decided to devote this inaugural issue of Distinctions to them by elevating the voices of several outstanding women who are fighting antisemitism,” Sarah Levin, executive director of JIMENA, wrote in her publisher’s note.

Levin also explained the decision to start the journal, saying it was driven by what JIMENA saw as a lack of Sephardi and Mizrahi voices in conversations about their own communities, histories and identities. The journal is financially supported by the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund.

“As this unique lens is lacking in contemporary discourse, JIMENA has launched Distinctions, a quarterly online journal that shares the ideas and talents of our communities’ diverse scholars, thought leaders, activists, rabbis, and artists on a range of contemporary subjects,” she wrote.

U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt wrote a special introduction for the issue, reflecting on her visit to the El Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba, in Tunisia, a day before a deadly shooting attack took place at the synagogue during a pilgrimage festival for Lag B’Omer, which killed two Jewish visitors and four Tunisian security officers. 

“This appalling tragedy at El Ghriba is yet another reminder of why it is as critical as ever to heighten awareness and strengthen education about antisemitism in all its ugly and dangerous forms, both historic and contemporary,” Lipstadt wrote.

The first issue also includes pieces by Sharon Nazarian, president of the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Family Foundation and a former board member of the Anti-Defamation League; Rena Nasar First, executive director of campus affairs at StandWithUs; Regina Sassoon Friedland, regional director of American Jewish Committee Seattle; and journalists Tabby Refael and Rachel Benaim-Abudarham. The Iraqi artist Nessim Zalayet also contributed paintings about the Farhud, the deadly pogroms in Iraq in 1941, which his family survived. His daughter, Irit Dallal Zalayet, wrote an accompanying text about her father’s art.

Distinctions is designed to push our community forward, to uncover people and perspectives on issues that for too long have been ignored,” Ty Alhadeff, JIMENA’s director of education, who also appears on the Distinctions’ masthead, said in a statement. “JIMENA believes that to genuinely change internal Jewish narratives and attitudes — and to become more inclusive and respectful of Sephardi and Mizrahi people and communities — we need this new platform.”

Stuart Eskenazi serves as editor of the journal. Neomi Assiabanha-Rapoport is its art director, and Yehuda Rapoport is its website developer.