Sarah Levin is the Executive Director of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, an advocacy and education institution dedicated to raising awareness to Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Sarah has conceptualized and developed a number of campaigns and projects for Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews to explore, preserve and protect their heritage and diverse identities.
As awareness to the needs and opportunities around issues of Jewish diversity become more visible and prioritized in mainstream Jewish life, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews are ironically left on the margins – understudied and frequently misunderstood. Despite this, we are seeing Sephardic, Mizrahi and Israeli students increase their enrollment in Jewish day schools and their participation in Jewish life, becoming a growing majority at Jewish Day Schools in Los Angeles and New York and the largest ethnic minority at Jewish Day Schools in other major cities. While there is an expressed yearning amongst formal and informal Jewish educators for content, thought-leadership, trainings, and curriculum focused on Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews – there are few resources available and sadly Mizrahi and Sephardic students may never learn about their heritage and histories in Jewish education spaces.
When Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) tasked ourselves with formalizing our educational work by building the Journey to the Mizrah curriculum we dug in deep to find out what the needs of students and educators are that weren’t being met and required the support of Sephardic and Mizrahi thought-leaders, educators, rabbis, scholars and activists. The list was, and is, very long and we see Journey to the Mizrah as a contributing step on a long path towards a Jewish educational paradigm shift that truly embraces and reflects the heritage and needs of ALL students. The irony is that this shift forward is in many ways, a step back towards an age-old Sephardic educational paradigm that is inclusive, participatory, progressive, and open to students of diverse backgrounds and experiences.
The Journey to the Mizrah curriculum was created for formal and informal Jewish educators and was designed and written for middle schools, but can easily be adapted for high schools. The curriculum includes twelve lesson plans that incorporate text study, discussion and immersive Sephardic and Mizrahi activities such as Mimouna, Piyutim, Henna, and storytelling. The Journey to the Mizrah website also includes videos from our educator training workshop and a comprehensive list of resources, including additional Sephardic and Mizrahi themed curriculum.
The rationale for the curriculum includes five key elements: diversity and inclusion; Sephardic Studies as a missing piece; answering contemporary questions; empowerment for all students; and educating the educators. Simply stated – our curriculum was created and designed to provide Jewish educators with tools, background information, and support to teach Sephardic Studies – a missing element of most Jewish day schools. This curriculum was designed utilizing traditional Sephardic pedagogy, which creates space for every single student and teacher – regardless race, ethnicity, level of religious observance, ideological orientation, sexual orientation, and gender.
The Journey to the Mizrah curriculum was created to broaden and strengthen students’ knowledge, understanding and language around issues of Jewish diversity, Jewish and Middle Eastern demographics and values, and contemporary Jewish identities and experiences. It teaches on the vibrant Jewish traditions of tolerance, inclusivity, acceptance, and open-hearted communal participation, which are core components of Sephardic and Mizrahi heritage. These values provide a relevant lens for students to learn and explore contemporary issues covered in this curriculum such as refugee issues, Arab-Jewish relations, Jewish diversity, bullying, human rights, and acculturation. Regardless of family and individual background, all students, but particularly those who identify as the “other”, are given safe classroom space to explore and share their Jewish identities and backgrounds.
Moving forward, our hope is to be able to provide trainings and workshops for educators wishing to integrate Sephardic and Mizrahi heritage in their classrooms. We also hope to provide trainings and workshops for Sephardic and Mizrahi educators to gain tools, leadership skills, and background information to help empower and train their own communities to integrate Sephardic and Mizrahi heritage into their schools and learning spaces. As there is a wealth of curriculum and educational materials available in Hebrew on subjects related to Mizrahi Jews, Sephardic Jews and issues of Jewish diversity we hope to see curriculum and classroom materials from Israel translated to English. And finally, as this curriculum is a fluid document we hope to continuously add lesson plans and resources to this curriculum.