Jewish Africa Conference Past, Present, and Future
The American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and Association Mimouna presented their Jewish Africa Conference from Sunday, January 27th through Tuesday, January 29th at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. The event was intended to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, for we are one people. We share in each other’s successes and feel each other’s tragedies.
Opening night was attended by more than 300 people who viewed the exhibitions in the various galleries and were then presented with an Ethiopian feast. The buffet had an ethnic flavor and was quite sumptuous. We would like to give a shout-out and a yasher koach to Jason Guberman, Executive Director of the American Sephardi Federation, for organizing this conference with the Association Mimouna, an organization founded by Moroccan Muslims to educate about Jewish history in their country as well as an increased interest in Africa in the Jewish community. “This idea of Jewish Africa grows out of [our connection with Association Mimouna] and our working together and the recent pivot to Africa of many in the Jewish community, of many in the Moroccan community, of Israel of course, looking to Africa and seeing both some of the oldest and some of the newest Jewish communities,” he said.
Mr. Guberman introduced speakers such as Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Yosef Abramowitz, President & CEO, Energiya Global Capital.We were also graced by the words of Elmehdi Boudra, Co-Founder & President, Association Mimouna and he views the conference as a way to think ahead. “This is the goal of this conference, to bring an emerging circle of leaders to promote and think about the future of African Judaism,” he said. Boudra and Guberman are planning a second conference, which will take place next year in Africa, most likely in Morocco. We were even honored by the presence of several diplomats including the Consul General of Morocco and the UN Representative from Morocco and representatives from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Israel, and Nicaragua and Adama Dieng, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide.
The common theme of the speakers was that we are one nation and we should support our brothers and sisters in emerging Jewish communities in Africa and elsewhere. We were then treated to wonderful entertainment, including the Ethiopian “Shoulder Dance,” which can alleviate back pain, and the Innov Gnawa performance of Moroccan favorites.
Monday’s event schedule included “The Past & Present of African Jewish Communities.” This well attended event included remarks by Dr. Ephraim Isaac, Director, Institute of Semitic Studies, everyone’s favorite Harvard professor. Other topics covered were “Contemporary Life of North Africa Jewish People” and “Contemporary Life of Sub-Saharan African Jewish People.” In the evening, we were treated to two films from the Jewish Africa Film Festival, Gabrielle Zilkakha’s Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana (2016) and David Vinick & Debra Gonshor Vinik‘s Yearning to Belong (2007), two highly recommended films. We are very appreciative to the Kulanu organization for being instrumental in creating an African Jewish Film Festival and we congratulate them on their 25th anniversary. This organization is so vital in supporting isolated and emerging Jewish communities throughout the world.
On Tuesday, the final day of the event, the symposium began with “Encounters between Jews and non-Jews in Contemporary Africa.” An exhibition by the Jono David/ HaChayim HaYehudim Jewish Photo Library was quite moving. The evening ended on a high note with a presentation from the Jewish Africa Film Festival honoring Kulanu’s 25th anniversary. The closing remarks inspired us to feel that special closeness for our Jewish brothers and sisters, no matter where they may live. Looking forward to reporting from next year’s conference in Morocco.
More about the ASF:
The American Sephardi Federation, a partner of the landmark Center for Jewish History, proudly preserves and promotes the history, traditions, and rich mosaic culture of Greater Sephardic communities as an integral part of the Jewish experience. The ASF hosts high-profile events and exhibitions, produces widely-read online (Sephardi World Weekly and Sephardi Ideas Monthly) and print (The Sephardi Report) publications, supports research, scholarship (Broome & Allen Fellows and Scholars), the Institute of Jewish Experience, and the National Sephardic Library & Archives, and represents the Sephardi voice in diplomatic and Jewish communal affairs as a member of the World Jewish Congress and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The ASF partnered with Association Mimouna to celebrate Judeo-Moroccan history, traditions, and culture, as well as the Moroccan culture of co-existence. Since 2014, The ASF and Association Mimouna have done a series of major events in New York City, including the Moroccan-Jewish Caravan, From Casablanca to New York: A Night of Moroccan Culture, the 20th and 21st Anniversary Editions of the NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, and an event with the Muslim World League honoring the heroism of Muslims who protected Jewish communities and/or saved Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. These events have been both well-attended (indeed, the Opening Night of the 20th NYSJFF honoring Mr. André Azoulay, Counsellor to the King of Morocco, and other events at The Center for Jewish History were all sold out) and drew the attention of leading publications, such as Tablet Magazine, CS Monitor, and the Times of Israel. ASF work together preserving Jewish historical sites in Morocco, via a mutual partner, the Diarna Geo-Museum of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Life, that has also been featured in The New York Times.
Association Mimouna is a Moroccan NGO that derives its name from a unique Moroccan Jewish celebration of liberty and community. Moroccan Jews would often invite their Muslim neighbors to join their post-Passover festivities. Association Mimouna was founded in 2007 at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI) by Moroccan Muslim students who take pride in this shared symbol of Moroccan heritage and strive to preserve and promote the history of Morocco’s ancient Jewish community. The New York Times described Mimouna’s conference commemorating Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust and honoring King Mohammed V for his refusal to assent to the persecution of Jews during the Vichy occupation as “the first of its kind in an Arab or Muslim nation and a sign of historical truth triumphing over conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic dogma.”
In September 2011, MIMOUNA organized a conference commemorating Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust and honoring King Mohammed V for his refusal to assent to the persecution of Jews during the Vichy occupation. The conference was recognized in the New York Times as “the first of its kind in an Arab or Muslim nation and a sign of historical truth triumphing over conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic dogma.” MIMOUNA members have continued their activities despite criticism, refusing to give in to ignorance and intolerance, and in fact work to counter both through their activism. MIMOUNA has recently expanded to include new chapters at university in Fez, Rabat, and Marrakesh. In August 2012, these chapters formed the Association MIMOUNA, a Moroccan non-profit umbrella organization.
Austin Rybstein, Editor
New York Jewish Travel Guide and New York Jewish Guide