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This week marks the second anniversary of the normalization of relations between Israel and Morocco as part of the Abraham Accords. Building on this peace, three young adults hailing from Israel, Morocco, and the U.S. join us to discuss their visit earlier this year to Israel and Morocco. The first-of-its-kind tour was part of the Michael Sachs Emerging Leaders Fellowship, sponsored by AJC and the Mimouna Association, a Muslim nonprofit in Morocco devoted to preserving Jewish-Moroccan heritage.  Hillary Jacobs, ACCESS Global and ACCESS NY President, Reda Ayadi, Program Director of Muslim-Jewish dialogue for the Mimouna Association, and Itiel Biran, Head of Operations in the Mayor's office for the municipality of Rahat, Israel, talk about what they learned about Morocco, Israel, and each other, what impact the Abraham Accords have had, and what progress they hope to see continue. __ Episode Lineup: (0:00) Aaron Bregman (2:05) Hillary Jacobs, Itiel Biran, and Reda Ayadi __ Show Notes: If you’re alarmed by rising antisemitism, you can take action right now by supporting AJC: visit, or text AJC DONATE to 52886. Music credit: Humanity by Scott Holmes Music is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Listen to our latest podcast episode: What Lessons Can We Learn From the Past to Fight Antisemitism Today? Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Episode Transcript Manya Brachear Pashman:  Two years ago, Morocco normalized relations with Israel becoming the sixth Arab country to do so. Earlier this year, a group of 22 young Americans, Israelis and Moroccans toured Morocco together, a first of its kind experience for everyone involved. The tour was part of the Michael Sachs Emerging Leaders Fellowship. The fellowship is sponsored by AJC, and the Mimouna Association, a Muslim nonprofit in Morocco devoted to preserving Jewish Moroccan heritage. The first cohort included members of Morocco's parliament, as well as civic, business, and technology leaders in Israel and the United States. With us to talk about this unprecedented venture are three members of that cohort: Hilary Jacobs, president of AJC’s young professionals group ACCESS Global, Reda Ayadi, Program Director of Muslim Jewish Dialogue for the Mimouna Association, and Itiel Biran, Head of Operations in the Mayor's office, for the municipality of Rahat, Israel. Welcome to all of you.  Hilary Jacobs:  Thank you.  Itiel Biran:   Thank you, hi. Reda Ayadi:  Thank you. Manya Brachear Pashman:  So Hilary, I will start with you. How did your involvement in the Sachs Fellowship come about? Was it a curiosity about Morocco, curiosity about Israel, or just an opportunity to continue pursuing better Jewish-Muslim relations? Hilary Jacobs:  I think all of the above for those. And in addition to that, one, I love traveling, and I love getting to know and experience other cultures, from the people who are from there, and who live there, so less on vacation, and where I can really understand the culture, the geopolitics of the region. And this seemed like a great opportunity. It also felt like a way that, we talk a lot about in the US and in the different activities with AJC about the Abraham accords and about these different relationships, it felt like a real chance for me to do something actionable, and really learn about what that meant. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Itiel, had you been to Morocco?  Itiel Biran:   No, no, this was my first time. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Okay, had you even wanted to go? And just could not? Or did this plant the idea in your head?  Itiel Biran:   To be honest, I don't think it was in my radar,, in my point of view, or thinking. Mostly, I think because even my background in the army and you look outside, you don't really look at it, until the last couple of years don't really look and say like, I'm going to visit whatever, Egypt or Morocco or something like that. We need to be frank and say that a lot of Israelis visited Morocco in the last decade. A lot of them. But for me personally, it wasn't like an opportunity until it became more real in the area, in the region. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And Reda, had you been to Israel? because that was part of this as well, right, a trip to Israel? Reda Ayadi:   That's correct. The second part, right after Morocco, we flew from Casablanca to Tel Aviv, for the second part of the trip. Before that I had been to Israel, it was almost 10 years to the day, so 2012 was the first time I went, before the Abraham Accords and the situation was a little different than it is today. Manya Brachear Pashman:   How so? I mean, was it different for you as a traveler? Personally or geopolitically in the broader scope?  Reda Ayadi:  It was different, more geopolitically was different. And also as a traveler, I'll explain both sides. 2012 there were no Abraham Accords, there was no open dialogue between the countries in the region. So it was a purely civil society kind of grassroots organization talking to each other. So we didn't have the necessary framework within which we can operate. On a personal level, as a traveler it's also quite different, back then I remember in 2012 I had to fly to Istanbul and meet someone from Israel to give me my Israel visa, but now you can just go to the Israeli office in Rabat and submit your application and get your visa to travel. So, quite a different situation. Manya Brachear Pashman: So, let's summarize for our listeners kind of the Jewish history of Morocco, there has always been a kind of a quiet connection. Excuse me, there's always been kind of a quiet connection between Israel and Morocco, particularly the Moroccan diaspora in the Jewish state and then kind of the new kind of 21st century approach there in Morocco to celebrating interfaith relations, celebrating its Jewish history. Reda Ayadi: Morocco had the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world, and the largest outside of the Ashkenazi world, with almost 300,000 Jews, up until the 60s, quite a large flow migration started one way, and I guess, yes, there was definitely a strong connection that were maintained between Moroccan monarchy and heads of state in Israel. Some of it was indeed behind closed doors. But others were more in the open, like the trip to Shimon Peres to Morocco or Yitzchak Rabin, and others. So, I think, the 21st century as you said, there are two things: Morocco's approach, and its relationship with its Jewish community, like the 2011 constitution that finally recognized it as an essential component of Moroccan identity, its Jewish part, its Jewishness. But at the same time, Abraham Accords now that gave a new kind of strong impetus to go beyond what you said, you know, those kinds of closed door connections, usually between security officials, that now it's, you know, accorded across the whole spectrum of agricultural, technology, lots of people to people relations. So it's, yeah, it's a very significant change that we're seeing now. Hilary Jacobs:   Unlike most other countries, Jews were never kicked out of Morocco. In fact, originally, during the Spanish Inquisition, they were asked to come to Morocco. And were wanted to be there. And the people that we met and spoke with felt the loss of the Jewish community there when they migrated to Israel. And so I think that's something that's really special. And I'm the granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors, and then Russian on the other side, so a lot of persecution and to think about Jews being in a country in a region, and especially we don't think about in the Arab world, as one that is welcoming to Jewish people, and beyond welcoming, to really see them as their fellow citizens, Manya Brachear Pashman:   Itiel, did you have something to add? Itiel Biran:   Yeah, I want to add two things. One, and I think, from Israel’s society point of view, there's some interesting collision of the vector of what happened in Israel, to the Moroccan Jews in Israel, in the last seventy years, that I think relates very much to what happened these days between Morocco and Israel. And I think we should speak and when we look at the history of Israel, the Moroccan Jews a lot of the Mizrahim, a lot of the people from Africa, and not the Ashkenazi people were pretty much pushed aside from the decision-making places. And there's some big changes in Israel in the decades that follow, that I think influenced a lot of how not only Moroccan but also the whole society in Israel, look at the heritage, the big and amazing heritage that Moroccan Jews bring to Israel.  And I think these days, what we've seen is a combination between what Israels look up and look on the history of themselves. You know, the Moroccan Jews in Israel are a half a million people. There's a lot of people, the heritage is enormous, amazing, a lot of culture. And for decades Israeli society looks at them and the very good foods or something like that. And I think this change impacts a lot. And it's very helpful. This is the first thing I want to say, of course, to relate to what Reda said, the Abraham Accords is the peak of process. I think in Morocco, not in other countries. In other countries, I think it's the start of a process. In Morocco and in the relationship between Morocco and Israel is, it's some kind of a peak, because there was an ongoing relationship for a lot of the time. But there was never, from up-down, always from down to up, only from top to bottom. This is a point of view that will really help you understand why this peak of relationship between Morocco and Israel is so strong, and why the changing of how many Israelis come to Morocco, it changed in two, three years from 50,000 to 200,000 a year. I think because it's a peak, not a start. Manya Brachear Pashman:   That's a really interesting point. In other words, you're saying that the renewed interest in the Jewish history of Morocco plus the renewed look at how Moroccan Jews are treated in Israel, both of those paved the way toward this normalization. Itiel Biran:   Yes, with all of the other things, the business opportunities, etc. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Right. That is, that's really a very good point, Itiel, I appreciate you making that. I'm curious, both of you, Itiel, Hillary, what did you learn about the Jewish community in Morocco, and the efforts on behalf of both Jewish and Muslim communities there to better understand each other. Itiel Biran:   First of all, for sure what I mentioned before, for me is the continuous process of my friend for me, there is not a good translation for this, but I'm very a fan of the Arabs in Morocco, and the identity, and I'm looking at myself as Israeli, as a combination of a lot of identities. And a lot of them are more like an African identity. And I think there's a continuous process in a lot of Israelis to embrace this identity, even more. And I think when I went to Morocco, it was a big, strong feeling of this heritage and how it’s related to me. And to be honest, the absence of similar heritage from my own places I'm from. I'm Ashkenazi, from Poland and from Germany, etc. And there's nothing there. There's nothing there left, there's nothing there to see what my ancestors were talking about, and what this big proud communities were. When you go to Morocco, you see all the stories in real life. It's blown my mind. It's amazing.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   And Hillary, what did you learn about the Jewish community in Morocco, when you went? Hilary Jacobs: You know, it's very humbling. I also grew up in a very Ashkenazi centric world, or around Sephardic Jews, mostly from Iran, and there was maybe like one or two, you know, Moroccan Jews, and I never really got to learn about any of their traditions at all, and so on this trip, getting to see those and also seeing how our Moroccan counterparts were as excited about participating in those cultural traditions. I mean, the Mimuna Association is called the Mimouna Association for a reason, after one of those specifically Moroccan holidays after Pesach. So, that was kind of amazing. I think the fact that an organization that started out simply as an on campus group that has blossomed into an NGO, would go around and preserve Jewish sites and culture. Manya Brachear Pashman:   What is the Mimouna Association?  Reda Ayadi:   The Mimouna Association is now a Moroccan NGO. It started in 2007 at my university, as Student Club, right. Just a group of students decided that they want to learn more about Moroccan Jewish heritage. So 10 of them got together and created the club and started pretty small. Just once a month or once every other month, they will do an event, like Moroccan Jewish days, or something of the sort where they would turn the whole campus Jewish for a day, you know, like Moroccan Jewish food within the the cafeteria, the library would show books from Moroccan Jewish writers or scholars, and things of the sort. And I guess it evolved quite a bit from 2007 until 2012, when a lot of us graduated, and we registered what was then a student club into a Moroccan NGO that exists outside of the university, present in a few cities.  And also we started different tiers, student branches in other universities besides the one where it started. The big chunk of the work that's done is education, really working in universities and high schools with students to learn more about their own history that most people are not very much aware of. That's one. Two, we work on Holocaust education as well. The Holocaust is not necessarily a chapter that Moroccans are very familiar with. But with partners in the US and others we developed a Holocaust curriculum specifically for an Arab audience. So we focus on that. And also we work on Muslim-Jewish relations with both the Jewish community in Morocco and outside, in the US, Israel and other countries. So that's just a few of the things that we focus on. Now it's been more than 15 years doing the work. And we continue, there is plenty that needs to be done. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Since Israel and Morocco did establish diplomatic relations, I think more than 30 agreements have been brokered having to do with a variety of things: water management, renewable energy, security. I'm curious if there were any particular collaborations that you explored during this fellowship that intrigued you or or kind of struck you as particularly beneficial for the region? And Reda, I'll start with you.  Reda Ayadi:   I think a critical issue is really the water management in both. Morocco right now is suffering from a very heavy drought that's been ongoing for a long time. And both the well-being of everyone in the country depends on water resources. So like cooperating in that space, I think it is excellent. And I think could be a good platform for both Morocco and Israel to pursue similar agendas in other countries, because water scarcity is not just an issue for Morocco, it's an issue for the whole region. So I think it could be a way to work with countries that are also in such a need. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Hilary, I'll pose the same question to you. Hilary Jacobs:   From what I experienced, there's so many different opportunities. Tourism is something that we talked a lot about as it being something very immediate that we could do as individuals, encouraging people to go there, we met with the tourism office. And so how we can encourage Israelis and Americans to go there. Also, one of the things that I learned that was really helpful in terms of thinking about the region as a whole, and as Morocco as a gateway to Africa, and that being so essential and important for the future of Israel, and there's a lot of contention often in African countries, and its relationship to Israel. Like, considering the vote of the African Union to potentially kick out the delegates from Israel. And so to really be championing these new sorts of relationships in Morocco, I think is an excellent starting point to open up a whole new region of possibilities. And so, there's just kind of endless opportunities that can come through, starting with Morocco and moving out all over Africa. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And Itiel, are there particular collaborations that you find very beneficial?  Itiel Biran: For me myself, to be honest, what's very unique, look at governmental, municipality and governance. And I think I told this to my friends from Morocco. I was very surprised and very interested about the way of managing and the way of handling pretty much the same issues in a different country with different rules and different government, and I think there's a lot of potential there. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So these past couple of weeks, we've been watching the first World Cup hosted in the Arab world in Qatar, yet it was quite an ordeal to arrange for Israelis and Palestinians to fly directly from Israel. And since some of the Israeli journalists have arrived there, they've been harassed simply because of where they're from. And I'm curious if your participation in this program, your engagement in these these kinds of relationships, if it changed how you view tensions like this? Itiel Biran:   Every experience that we experience as an Israeli comes across Arab  people all around the world or in Israel, or in Morocco, or you come across Israelis, or what you're facing back home. And when you speak on your relationship or what your projects are. I think most of this experience speaks pretty much the same language. And the same language is: peace is coming from people, from face to face, from long relationships, from knowledge, from understanding, from business and actions, and not from papers and not from anything else.  And you can say from the point of view of Israel: yeah, we have a peace agreement with some countries – is there any peace with them? Yeah, peace agreement, there is. But has there been peace with them? And for my personal view, I came to Morocco with my arms up, ready to argue, ready to defend my point of view as an Israeli. Ready to, whatever. And I was blown away by the fact that I didn't have to do it. That some some root or some foundation of coexistence, even though there's a lot of misunderstanding. There's a lot of mania. There's a lot of things that people on both sides think and hear and don't understand. When you have some foundation of warmth, there's something to build on. And when you don't have it--whatever agreement you're going to do, and whatever speaking you're going to do is going to stay in the area of speaking, of talking. Enough.  And I think this statement that I just said, it's going through our delegation, and our friendship, and continuing after this program to, to do things together and speak together and discuss. Because I think all of us, when we met in this delegation, it wasn't something for one time and meeting. All of us felt, I think, and agreed without talking about it, that when you do this day to day speaking and working and action, you make with your own hands, the warm peace, that you can actually build on. Manya Brachear Pashman: Have you encountered pushback from others for participating in this program? And if so, how do you respond to that kind of pushback? Reda Ayadi: Trust is very hard, if we have learned for generations to mistrust, to distrust each other. It's hard to just like one day wake up and be, ‘Oh, you know, it's all good, it's easy to go back and forth without any issue.’ If we would just give up after any pushback after any, being stopped at the checkpoint or at an airport for two hours, nobody would be doing anything, you know. Since my first trip and my second trip and my third trip to Israel, every time I would spend at least two hours in a room waiting for someone to come question me. But I understand that it takes this many times and this many years for the other to become less other, to become something someone that's familiar. And  I hope that both Israelis and Palestinians go into the World Cup and everyone else traveling back and forth between these countries, to not give up after the first difficult experience trying to travel and build bridges between these peoples. And to continue doing. Manya Brachear Pashman: Excellent. Well, thanks to all of you for making the trip, for participating in this fellowship, and for coming and sharing your experience with our listeners. Itiel Biran:   Thank you for the opportunity.  
Before, during, and after the Holocaust, antisemitism spread throughout American society. AJC’s innovative multimedia campaign to counter this rising hatred is the subject of “Confronting Hate: 1937-1952,” an exhibit at the New York Historical Society. With posters, comic books, newspaper advertisements, radio spots, and television cartoons, that, since 1952, have not been seen by the public, join Charlotte Bonelli, Director of AJC's Archives and Records Center, and Debra Schmidt Bach, Curator of Decorative Arts and Special Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society, for a behind-the-scenes tour, recorded live from the exhibit. Hear original radio clips: “Uncle Don’s All-American Contest,” “Dear Adolf,” and a historic, moving 1944 NBC Radio broadcast in cooperation with AJC, which aired the first Jewish religious broadcast from Germany since the rise of Hitler, straight from a battlefield in Aachen, Germany. __ Episode Lineup: (0:00) Dana Steiner (2:00) Charlotte Bonelli and Debra Schmidt Bach __ Show Notes: If you’re alarmed by rising antisemitism, you can take action right now by supporting AJC: visit, or text AJC DONATE to 52886. Visit the New York Historical Society to see “Confronting Hate 1937–1952” open through January 1, 2023.  Interested in bringing “Confronting Hate 1937–1952” to your museum or institution, free or charge? Contact Emily Croll, Deputy Museum Director at, or (212) 873-3400 x527. AJC’s William E. Wiener Oral History Library: listen to the oral histories of Milton Krents, Richard Rothschild and Ethel Phillips, which helped inform the exhibit. AJC Archives Uncle Don's All American Contest Broadcasting from the Battlefield  Music credit: Lille by johnny_ripper is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 (Will Not Appear in Vimeo Music Store) License. Listen to our latest podcast episode: From “Chopped” to the White House: TikTok Chef Eitan Bernath on Being a Loud and Proud Jew Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
Too few people know that parts of the Arab world and Iran were once home to large Jewish communities. This Mizrahi Heritage Month, let’s change the story, with the final episode of the first season of The Forgotten Exodus, the first-ever narrative podcast series devoted exclusively to the rich, fascinating, and often-overlooked history of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewry. Thank you for lifting up these stories to celebrate Mizrahi Heritage Month. If you enjoy this episode, be sure to listen to the rest of The Forgotten Exodus, wherever you get your podcasts.   __ Home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, the story of Jews in Iran has been one of prosperity and suffering through the millennia. During the mid-20th century, when Jews were being driven from their homes in Arab lands, Iran assisted Jewish refugees in providing safe passage to Israel. Under the Shah, Israel was an important economic and political ally. Yet that all swiftly changed in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which ushered in Islamic rule, while chants of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” rang out from the streets of Tehran.   Author, journalist, and poet Roya Hakakian shares her personal story of growing up Jewish in Iran during the reign of the Shah and then Ayatollah Khomeini, which she wrote about in her memoir Journey From the Land of No. Joining Hakakian is Dr. Saba Soomekh, a professor of world religions and Middle Eastern history who wrote From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women between Religion and Culture. She also serves as associate director of AJC Los Angeles, home to America’s largest concentration of Persian Jewish immigrants.  In this sixth and final episode of the season, the Hakakian family’s saga captures the common thread that has run throughout this series – when the history of an uprooted community is left untold, it can become vulnerable to others’ narratives and assumptions, or become lost forever and forgotten. How do you leave behind a beloved homeland, safeguard its Jewish legacy, and figure out where you belong? __ Show notes: Listen to The Forgotten Exodus and sign up to receive updates about future episodes.  Song credits:  Chag Purim · The Jewish Guitar Project Hevenu Shalom · Violin Heart Pond5:  “Desert Caravans”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI), Composer: Tiemur Zarobov (BMI), IPI#1098108837 “Oud Nation”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI); Composer: Haygaz Yossoulkanian (BMI), IPI#1001905418 “Persian”: Publisher: STUDEO88; Composer: Siddhartha Sharma “Meditative Middle Eastern Flute”: Publisher: N/; Composer: DANIELYAN ASHOT MAKICHEVICH (IPI NAME #00855552512), UNITED STATES BMI Zarobov (BMI), IPI#1098108837 “Sentimental Oud Middle Eastern”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI), Composer: Sotirios Bakas (BMI), IPI#797324989. “Frontiers”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI); Composer: Pete Checkley (BMI), IPI#380407375 “Persian Investigative Mystery”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI); Composer: Peter Cole (BMI), IPI#679735384 “Persian Wind”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Sigma (SESAC); Composer: Abbas Premjee (SESAC), IPI#572363837 “Modern Middle Eastern Underscore”: Publisher: All Pro Audio LLC (611803484); Composer: Alan T Fagan (347654928) “Persian Fantasy Tavern”: Publisher: N/A; Composer: John Hoge “Adventures in the East”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI) Composer: Petar Milinkovic (BMI), IPI#00738313833. ___ Episode Transcript: ROYA HAKAKIAN: In 1984, when my mother and I left and my father was left alone in Iran, that was yet another major dramatic and traumatic separation. When I look back at the events of 1979, I think, people constantly think about the revolution having, in some ways, blown up Tehran, but it also blew up families. And my own family was among them.  MANYA BRACHEAR PASHMAN: The world has overlooked an important episode in modern history: the 800,000 Jews who left or were driven from their homes in Arab nations and Iran in the mid-20th century. This series, brought to you by American Jewish Committee, explores that pivotal moment in Jewish history and the rich Jewish heritage of Iran and Arab nations as some begin to build relations with Israel. I'm your host, Manya Brachear Pashman. Join us as we explore family histories and personal stories of courage, perseverance, and resilience. This is The Forgotten Exodus.  Today’s episode: Leaving Iran MANYA: Outside Israel, Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East. Yes, the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2022. Though there is no official census, experts estimate about 10,000 Jews now live in the region previously known as Persia.  But since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Jews in Iran don’t advertise their Jewish identity. They adhere to Iran’s morality code: women stay veiled from head to toe and men and women who aren’t married or related stay apart in public. They don’t express support for Israel, they don’t ask questions, and they don’t disagree with the regime. One might ask, with all these don’ts, is this a way of living a Jewish life? Or a way to live – period?  For author, journalist, and poet Roya Hakakian and her family, the answer was ultimately no. Roya has devoted her life to being a fact-finder and truth-teller. A former associate producer at the CBS news show 60 Minutes and a Guggenheim Fellow, Roya has written two volumes of poetry in Persian and three books of nonfiction in English, the first of which was published in 2004 – Journey From the Land of No, a memoir about her charmed childhood and accursed adolescence growing up Jewish in Iran under two different regimes.  ROYA: It was hugely important for me to create an account that could be relied on as a historic document. And I did my best through being very, very careful about gathering, interviewing, talking to, observing facts, evidence, documents from everyone, including my most immediate members of my family, to do what we, both as reporters, but also as Jews, are called to do, which is to bear witness. No seemed to be the backdrop of life for women, especially of religious minorities, and, in my own case, Jewish background, and so I thought, what better way to name the book than to call it as what my experience had been, which was the constant nos that I heard. So, Land of No was Iran. MANYA: As a journalist, as a Jew, as a daughter of Iran, Roya will not accept no for an answer. After publishing her memoir, she went on to write Assassins of the Turquoise Palace, a meticulously reported book about a widely underreported incident. In 1992 at a Berlin restaurant, a terrorist attack by the Iranian proxy Hezbollah targeted and killed four Iranian-Kurdish exiles. The book highlighted Iran’s enormous global footprint made possible by its terror proxies who don’t let international borders get in the way of silencing Iran’s critics.   Roya also co-founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, an independent non-profit that reports on Iran’s human rights abuses.  Her work has not prompted Ayatollah Khameini to publicly issue a fatwa against her  – like the murder order against Salman Rushdie issued by his predecessor. But in 2019, one of her teenage sons answered a knock at the door. It was the FBI, warning her that she was in the crosshairs of the Iranian regime’s operatives in America. Most recently, Roya wrote A Beginner's Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious about the emotional roller coaster of arriving in America while still missing a beloved homeland, especially one where their community has endured for thousands of years. ROYA: I felt very strongly that one stays in one's homeland, that you don't just simply take off when things go wrong, that you stick around and try to figure a way through a bad situation. We came to the point where staying didn't seem like it would lead to any sort of real life and leaving was the only option. MANYA: The story of Jews in Iran, often referred to as Persia until 1935, is a millennia-long tale. A saga of suffering, repression, and persecution, peppered with brief moments of relief or at least relative peace – as long as everyone plays by the rules of the regime. SABA SOOMEKH: The history of Jews in Iran goes back to around 2,700 years ago. And a lot of people assume that Jews came to Iran, well at that time, it was called the Persian Empire, in 586 BCE, with the Babylonian exile. But Jews actually came a lot earlier, we’re thinking 721-722 BCE with the Assyrian exile which makes us one of the oldest Jewish communities.  MANYA: That’s Dr. Saba Soomekh, a professor of world religions and Middle Eastern history and the author of From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women between Religion and Culture. She also serves as associate director of American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles, home to America’s largest concentration of Persian Jewish immigrants. Saba’s parents fled Iran in 1978, shortly before the revolution, when Saba and her sister were toddlers. She has devoted her career to preserving Iranian Jewish history.   Saba said Zoroastrian rulers until the 7th Century Common Era vacillated between tolerance and persecution of Jews. For example, according to the biblical account in the Book of Ezra, Cyrus the Great freed the Jews from Babylonian rule, granted all of them citizenship, and permitted them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their Temple.  The Book of Esther goes on to tell the story of another Persian king, believed to be Xerxes I, whose closest adviser called Haman conspires to murder all the Jews – a plot that is foiled by his wife Queen Esther who is Jewish herself. Esther heroically pleads for mercy on behalf of her people – a valor that is celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Purim.  But by the time of the Islamic conquest in the middle of the 7th Century Common Era, the persecution had become so intense that Jews were hopeful about the new Arab Muslim regime, even if that meant being tolerated and treated as second-class citizens, or dhimmi status. But that status had a different interpretation for the Safavids. SABA: Really things didn't get bad for the Jews of the Persian Empire until the 16th century with the Safavid dynasty, because within Shia Islam in the Persian Empire, what they brought with them is this understanding of purity and impurity. And Jews were placed in the same category as dogs, pigs, and feces. They were seen as being religiously impure, what's referred to as najes. MANYA: Jews were placed in ghettos called mahaleh, where they wore yellow stars and special shoes to distinguish them from the rest of the population. They could not leave the mahaleh when it rained for fear that if water rolled off their bodies into the water system, it would render a Shia Muslim impure. For the same reason, they could not go to the bazaars for fear they might contaminate the food. They could not look Muslims in the eye. They were relegated to certain artisanal professions such as silversmithing and block printing – crafts that dirtied one’s hands.  MANYA: By the 19th century, some European Jews did make their way to Persia to help. The Alliance Israélite Universelle, a Paris-based network of schools founded by French Jewish intellectuals, opened schools for Jewish children throughout the Middle East and North Africa, including within the mahalehs in Persia.  SABA: They saw themselves as being incredibly sophisticated because they were getting this, in a sense, secular European education, they were speaking French. The idea behind the Allianz schools was exactly that. These poor Middle Eastern Jews, one day the world is going to open up to them, their countries are going to become secular, and we need to prepare them for this, not only within the context of hygiene, but education, language.  And the Allianz schools were right when it came to the Persian Empire because who came into power was Reza Pahlavi, who was a Francophile. And he turned around and said, ‘Wow! Look at the population that speaks French, that knows European philosophy, etc. are the Jews.’ He brought them out of the mahaleh, the Jewish ghettos, and said ‘I don't care about religion. Assimilate and acculturate. As long as you show, in a sense, devotion, and nationalism to the Pahlavi regime, which the Jews did—not all Jews—but a majority of them did. MANYA: Reza Pahlavi took control in 1925 and 16 years later, abdicated his throne to his son Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. In 1935, Persia adopted a new name: Iran. As king or the Shah, both father and son set Iran on a course of secularization and rapid modernization under which Jewish life and success seemed to flourish. The only condition was that religious observance was kept behind closed doors. SABA: The idea was that in public, you were secular and in private, you were a Jew. You had Shabbat, you only married a Jew, it was considered blasphemous if you married outside of the Jewish community. And it was happening because people were becoming a part of everyday schools, universities.  But that's why the Jewish day schools became so important. They weren't learning Judaism. What it did was ensure that in a secular Muslim society, that the Jewish kids were marrying within each other and within the community. It was, in a sense, the Golden Age. And that will explain to you why, unlike the early 1950s, where you had this exodus of Mizrahi Jews, Arab Jews from the Arab world and North Africa, you didn't really have that in Iran.  MANYA: In fact, Iran provided a safe passage to Israel for Jewish refugees during that exodus, specifically those fleeing Iraq. The Pahlavi regime considered Israel a critical ally in the face of pan-Arab fervor and hostility in the region. Because of the Arab economic boycott, Israel needed energy sources and Iran needed customers for its oil exports.  A number of Israelis even moved to Tehran, including farmers from kibbutzim who had come to teach agriculture, and doctors and nurses from Hadassah Hospital who had come to teach medicine.  El Al flew in and out of Tehran airport, albeit from a separate terminal. Taking advantage of these warm relations between the two countries, Roya recalls visiting aunts, uncles, and cousins in Israel.  ROYA: We arrived, and my mom and dad did what all visiting Jews from elsewhere do. They dropped to their knees, and they started kissing the ground. I did the same, and it was so moving. Israel was the promised land, we thought about Israel, we dreamed about Israel. But, at the same time, we were Iranians and, and we were living in Iran, and things were good.  This seems to non-Iranian Jews an impossibility. But I think for most of us, it was the way things were. We lived in the country where we had lived for, God knows how many years, and there was this other place that we somehow, in the back of our minds thought we would be going to, without knowing exactly when, but that it would be the destination. MANYA: Relations between the Shah and America flourished as well. In 1951, a hugely popular politician by the name of Mohammad Mosaddegh became prime minister and tried to institute reforms. His attempts to nationalize the oil industry and reduce the monarchy’s authority didn’t go over well. American and British intelligence backed a coup that restored the Shah’s power. Many Iranians resented America’s meddling, which became a rallying cry for the revolution. U.S. officials have since expressed regret for the CIA’s involvement.  In November 1977, President Jimmy Carter welcomed the Shah and his wife to Washington, D.C., to discuss peace between Egypt and Israel, nuclear nonproliferation, and the energy crisis.  As an extension of these warm relations, the Shah sent many young Iranians to America to enhance their university studies, exposing them to Western ideals and values.  Meanwhile, a savvy fundamentalist cleric was biding his time in a Paris basement. It wouldn’t be long before relations crumbled between Iran and Israel, Iran and the U.S,. and Iran and its Jews.  Roya recalls the Hakakian house at the corner of Alley of the Distinguished in Tehran as a lush oasis surrounded by fragrant flowers, full of her father’s poetry, and brimming with family memories. Located in the heart of a trendy neighborhood, across the street from the Shah’s charity organization, the tall juniper trees, fragrant honeysuckle, and gold mezuzah mounted on the door frame set it apart from the rest of the homes.  Roya’s father, Haghnazar, was a poet and a respected headmaster at a Hebrew school. Roya, which means dream in Persian, was a budding poet herself with the typical hopes and dreams of a Jewish teenage girl.  ROYA: Prior to the revolution, life in an average Tehran Hebrew Day School looked very much like life in a Hebrew Day School anywhere else. In the afternoons we had all Hebrew and Jewish studies. We used to put on a Purim show every year. I wanted to be Esther. I never got to be Esther. We had emissaries, I think a couple of years, from Israel, who came to teach us how to do Israeli folk dance. MANYA: There were moments when Roya recalls feeling self-conscious about her Jewishness, particularly at Passover. That’s when the family spent two weeks cleaning, demonstrating they weren’t najes, or dirty Jews. The work was rewarded when the house filled with the fragrance of cumin and saffron and Persian dishes flowed from the kitchen, including apple and plum beef stew, tarragon veal balls stuffed with raisins, and rice garnished with currants and slivers of almonds.  When her oldest brother Alberto left to study in America, a little fact-finding work on Roya’s part revealed that his departure wasn’t simply the pursuit of a promising opportunity. As a talented cartoonist whose work had been showcased during an exhibition in Tehran, his family feared Alberto’s pen might have gone too far, offending the Pahlavi regime and drawing the attention of the Shah’s secret police.  Reports of repression, rapid modernization, the wide gap between Tehran’s rich and the rest of the country’s poor, and a feeling that Iranians weren’t in control of their own destiny all became ingredients for a revolution, stoked by an exiled cleric named Ruhollah Khomeini who was recording cassette tapes in a Paris basement and circulating them back home.  SABA: He would just sit there and go on and on for hours, going against the Shah and West toxification. And then the recordings ended up in Iran. He wasn't even in Iran until the Shah left. MANYA: Promises of democracy and equality galvanized Iranians of all ages to overthrow the Shah in February 1979. Even the CIA was surprised.  SABA: I think a lot of people didn't believe it. Because number one, the Shah, the son, was getting the most amount of military equipment from the United States than anyone in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf. And the idea was: you protect us in the Gulf, and we will give you whatever you need. So they never thought that a man with a beard down to his knee was able to overthrow this regime that was being propped up and supported by America, and also the Europeans. Khomeini comes in and represents himself as a person for everyone. And he was brilliant in the way he spoke about it. And the reason why this revolution was also successful was that it wasn't just religious people who supported Khomeini, there was this concept you had, the men with the turbans, meaning the religious people, and the you know, the bow ties or the ties, meaning the secular man, a lot of them who were sent by the Shah abroad to Europe and America to get an education, who came back, saw democracy there, and wanted it for their country.  MANYA: Very few of the revolutionaries could predict that Tehran was headed in the opposite direction and was about to revert to 16th Century Shia Islamic rule. For almost a year, Tehran and the rest of the nation were swept up in revolutionary euphoria.  Roya recalls how the flag remained green, white, and red, but an Allah insignia replaced its old sword-bearing lion. New currency was printed, with portraits bearing beards and turbans. An ode to Khomeini became the new national anthem. While the Shah had escaped on an Air France flight, corpses of his henchmen graced the front pages of newspapers alongside smiling executioners. All celebrated, until the day one of the corpses was Habib Elghanian, the Jewish philanthropist who supported all of Iran’s Hebrew schools. Charged and convicted as a Zionist spy.  Elders in the community remembered the insurmountable accusations of blood libel during darker times for Iran’s Jews. But younger generations like Roya’s, who had not lived through the eras of more ruthless antisemitism and persecution, continued to root for the revolution, regardless of its victims. Meanwhile, Roya’s Jewish day school was taken over by a new veiled headmistress who replaced Hebrew lessons with other kinds of religious instruction, and required robes and headscarves for all the students.  ROYA: In the afternoons, from then on, we used to have lessons in a series of what she called: ‘Is religion something that you inherit, or is it something that you choose?’ And so I think the intention, clearly, was to convince us that we didn't need to inherit our religions from our parents and ancestors, that we ought to consider better choices. MANYA: But when the headmistress cut short the eight-day Passover break, that was the last straw for Roya and her classmates. Their revolt got her expelled from school.  Though Jews did not universally support Khomeini, some saw themselves as members of the Iranian Communist, or Tudeh Party. They opposed the Shah and the human rights abuses of his monarchy and cautiously considered Khomeini the better option, or at least the lesser of two evils. Alarmed by the developments such as Elghanian’s execution and changes like the ones at Roya’s school, Jewish community leaders traveled to the Shia holy city of Qom to assure the Supreme Leader of their loyalty to Iran.  SABA: They did this because they wanted to make sure that they protected the Jewish community that was left in Iran. Khomeini made that distinction: ‘I am not against Jews, I'm against Zionists. You could be Jewish in this country. You cannot be a Zionist in this country.’  MANYA: But that wasn’t the only change. Right away, the Family Protection Law was reversed, lifting a law against polygamy, giving men full rights in divorce and custody, and lowering the marriage age for girls to nine. Women were banned from serving as judges, and beaches and sports events were segregated by gender.  But it took longer to shut down universities, albeit for only two years, segregate public schools by gender, and stone to death women who were found to have committed adultery. Though Khomeini was certainly proving that he was not the man he promised to be, he backed away from those promises gradually – one brutal crackdown at a time. As a result, the trickle of Jews out of Iran was slow.  ROYA: My father thought, let's wait a few years and see what happens. In retrospect, I think the overwhelming reason was probably that nobody believed that things had changed, and so drastically. It seemed so unbelievable. I mean, a country that had been under monarchy for 2,500 years, couldn't simply see it all go and have a whole new system put in place, especially when it was such a radical shift from what had been there before. So I think, in many ways, we were among the unbelievers, or at least my father was, we thought it could never be, it would not happen. My father proved to be wrong, nothing changed for the better, and the conditions continued to deteriorate. So, so much catastrophe happened in those few years that Iran just simply was steeped into a very dark, intense, and period of political radicalism and also, all sorts of economic shortages and pressures. And so the five years that we were left behind, that we stayed back, changed our perspective on so many things. MANYA: In November 1979, a group of radical university students who supported the Iranian Revolution, took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, seized hostages, and held them for 444 days until President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on January 20, 1981. During the hostages’ captivity, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. The conflict that ensued for eight years created shortages on everything from dairy products to sanitary napkins. Mosques became distribution centers for rations. ROYA: We stood in line for hours and hours for eggs, and just the very basic things of daily life. And then it became also clear that religious minorities, including Jews, would no longer be enjoying the same privileges as everyone else. There were bombings that kept coming closer and closer to Tehran, which is where we lived. It was very clear that half of my family that was in the United States could not and would not return, because they were boys who would have been conscripted to go to war. Everything had just come apart in a way that was inconceivable to think that they would change for the better again. MANYA: By 1983, new laws had been passed instituting Islamic dress for all women – violations of which earned a penalty of 74 lashes. Other laws imposed an Islamic morality code that barred co-ed gatherings. Roya and her friends found refuge in the sterile office building that housed the Jewish Iranian Students Association. But she soon figured out that the regime hadn’t allowed it to remain for the benefit of the Jewish community. It functioned more like a ghetto to keep Jews off the streets and out of their way. Even the activities that previously gave her comfort were marred by the regime. Poetry books were redacted. Mountain hiking trails were arbitrarily closed to mourn the deaths of countless clerics.  SABA: Slowly what they realize, when Khomeini gained power, was that he was not the person that he claimed to be. He was not this feminist, if anything, all this misogynistic rule came in, and a lot of people realize they, in a sense, got duped and he stole the revolution from them. MANYA: By 1984, the war with Iraq had entered its fourth year. But it was no longer about protecting Iran from Saddam Hussein. Now the Ayatollah wanted to conquer Baghdad, then Jerusalem where he aspired to deliver a sermon from the Temple Mount. Meanwhile, Muslim soldiers wounded in the war chose to bleed rather than receive treatment from Jewish doctors. Boys as young as 12 – regardless of faith – were drafted and sent on suicide missions to open the way for Iranian troops to do battle.  SABA: They were basically used as an army of children that the bombs would detonate, their parents would get a plastic key that was the key to heaven. And the bombs would detonate, and then the army would come in Iranian army would come in. And so that's when a lot of the Persian parents, the Jewish parents freaked out. And that's when they were like: we're getting out of here.  MANYA: By this time, the Hakakian family had moved into a rented apartment building and Roya was attending the neighborhood school. Non-Muslim students were required to take Koran classes and could only use designated water fountains and bathrooms.  As a precaution, Roya’s father submitted their passports for renewal. Her mother’s application was denied; Roya’s passport was held for further consideration; her father’s was confiscated.  One night, Roya returned home to find her father burning her books and journals on the balcony of their building. The bonfire of words was for the best, he told her. And at long last, so was leaving. With the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Roya and her mother, Helen, fled to Geneva, and after wandering in Europe for several months, eventually reunited with her brothers in the United States. Roya did not see her father again for five years. Still unable to acquire a passport, he was smuggled out of Iran into Pakistan, on foot.  ROYA: My eldest brother left to come to America in the mid-70s. There was a crack in the body of the family then. But then came 1979, and my two other brothers followed. And so we were apart for all those very, very formative years. And then, in 1984, when my mother and I left and my father was left alone in Iran, that was yet another major dramatic and traumatic separation. So, you know, it's interesting that when I look back at the events of 1979, I think, people constantly think about the revolution having, in some ways, blown up Tehran, but it also blew up families. And my own family was among them.  MANYA: While her father’s arrival in America was delayed, Roya describes her arrival in stages. She first arrived as a Jewish refugee in 1985 and found her place doing what she had always done – writing in Persian – rebuilding a body of work that had been reduced to ashes.  ROYA: As a teen I had become a writer, people were encouraging me. So, I continued to do it. It was the thing I knew how to do. And it gave me a sense of grounding and identity. So, I kept on doing it, and it kind of worked its magic, as I suppose good writing does for all writers. It connected me to a new community of people who read Persian and who appreciated what I was trying to do. And I found that with each book that I write, I find a new tribe for myself.  MANYA: She arrived again once she learned English. In her first year at Brooklyn College, she tape-recorded her professors to listen again later. She eventually took a course with renowned poet Allen Ginsberg, whose poetry was best known for its condemnation of persecution and imperial politics and whose 1950s poem “Howl” tested the boundaries of America’s freedom of speech.  ROYA: When I mastered the language enough to feel comfortable to be a writer once more, then I found a footing and through Allen and a community of literary people that I met here began to kind of foresee a possibility of writing in English. MANYA: There was also her arrival to an American Jewish community that was largely unaware of the role Jews played in shaping Iran long before the advent of Islam. Likewise, they were just as unaware of the role Iran played in shaping ancient Jewish life. They were oblivious to the community’s traditions, and the indignities and abuses Iranian Jews had suffered, continue to suffer, with other religious minorities to keep those traditions alive in their homeland.   ROYA: People would say, ‘Oh, you have an accent, where are you from?’ I would say, ‘Iran,’ and the Jews at the synagogue would say, ‘Are there Jews in Iran?’ MANYA: In Roya’s most recent book A Beginner’s Guide to America, a sequel of sorts to her memoir, she reflects on the lessons learned and the observations made once she arrived in the U.S. She counsels newcomers to take their time answering what might at first seem like an ominous or loaded question. Here’s an excerpt: ROYA: “In the early days after your arrival, “Where are you from?” is above all a reminder of your unpreparedness to speak of the past. You have yet to shape your story – what you saw, why you left, how you left, and what it took to get here. This narrative is your personal Book of Genesis: the American Volume, the one you will sooner or later pen, in the mind, if not on the page. You must take your time to do it well and do it justice.” MANYA: No two immigrants’ experiences are the same, she writes. The only thing they all have in common is that they have been uprooted and the stories of their displacement have been hijacked by others’ assumptions and agendas. ROYA: I witnessed, as so many other Iranian Jews witness, that the story of how we came, why we came, who we had been, was being narrated by those who had a certain partisan perspective about what the history of what Jewish people should be, or how this history needs to be cast, for whatever purposes they had. And I would see that our own recollections of what had happened were being shaded by, or filtered through views other than our own, or facts other than our own. MANYA: As we wrap up this sixth and final episode of the first season of The Forgotten Exodus, it is clear that the same can be said about the stories of the Jewish people. No two tales are the same. Jews have lived everywhere, and there are reasons why they don’t anymore. Some fled as refugees. Some embarked as dreamers. Some forged ahead without looking back. Others counted the days until they could return home. What ties them together is their courage, perseverance, and resilience–whether they hailed from Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, or parts beyond. These six episodes offer only a handful of those stories–shaped by memories and experiences. ROYA: That became sort of an additional incentive, if not burden for me to, to be a witness for several communities, to tell the story of what happened in Iran for American audiences, to Jews, to non-Iranian Jews who didn't realize that there were Jews in Iran, but also to record the history, according to how I had witnessed it, for ourselves, to make sure that it goes down, as I knew it. MANYA: Iranian Jews are just one of the many Jewish communities who in the last century left their homes in the Middle East to forge new lives for themselves and future generations.  Many thanks to Roya for sharing her family’s story and for helping us wrap up this season of The Forgotten Exodus. If you’re listening for the first time, check out our previous episodes on Jews from Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and Sudan. Go to where you’ll also find transcripts, show notes, and family photos. There are still so many stories to tell. Stay tuned in coming months. Does your family have roots in North Africa or the Middle East? One of the goals of this series is to make sure we gather these stories before they are lost. Too many times during my reporting, I encountered children and grandchildren who didn't have the answers to my questions because they never asked. That's why one of the goals of this project is to encourage you to find more of these stories.  Call The Forgotten Exodus hotline. Tell us where your family is from and something you'd like for our listeners to know such as how you've tried to keep the traditions and memories alive. Call 212.891.1336 and leave a message of 2 minutes or less. Be sure to leave your name and where you live now. You can also send an email to and we'll be in touch. Tune in every Friday for AJC’s weekly podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens, People of the Pod, brought to you by the same team behind The Forgotten Exodus.  Atara Lakritz is our producer, CucHuong Do is our production manager. T.K. Broderick is our sound engineer. Special thanks to Jon Schweitzer, Sean Savage, Ian Kaplan, and so many of our colleagues, too many to name, for making this series possible. And extra special thanks to David Harris, who has been a constant champion for making sure these stories do not remain untold. You can follow The Forgotten Exodus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, and you can sign up to receive updates at The views and opinions of our guests don’t necessarily reflect the positions of AJC.  You can reach us at If you've enjoyed the episode, please be sure to spread the word, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review to help more listeners find us.
Jewish chef and content creator Eitan Bernath joins us this week to explain why he wears a Star of David necklace in public and how he uses his platform of seven million followers to fight anti-Israel bias and antisemitism. Named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and the author of the cookbook "Eitan Eats The World," the 20-year-old also discusses attending last year’s White House Hanukkah Party, interviewing Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, the Jew-hatred normalized by celebrities like Kanye West, and why it’s so important to be a loud and proud Jew. Finally, Eitan tells us what Thanksgiving and Hanukkah recipes he’s whipping up this holiday season.  ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Eitan Bernath ___ Show Notes: Eitan Eats the World: A Cookbook / Free Books for Non-Profits Recipes mentioned in the episode: Vegetarian Wellington with Green Peppercorn Gravy / Tahini Honey Glaze Donuts With Halva Celebrate Mizrahi Heritage Month with The Forgotten Exodus Listen to our latest podcast episode: U.S. and Israeli Election Results: What American Jews Need to Know Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
This week’s episode focuses on the Israeli and U.S. elections, their implications, and what impact they could have on U.S.-Israel ties, the spread of antisemitism, and advancing democratic values.  We start in the U.S., where razor-thin margins left control of Congress still up in the air at the time of recording. But as the votes continued to be counted, Marc Rod, Capitol Hill correspondent for Jewish Insider, joined us to discuss some of the unexpected results and those that are still pending, along with the implications for American Jews.  Then, in Israel, after five elections in the last four years, former and future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently ended the political gridlock through a victory for the right wing-religious bloc and is now in the process of assembling a coalition. Here to provide her perspective on the Israeli election and what it means for the Jewish state and U.S.-Israeli relations is Lahav Harkov, the Senior Contributing Editor at The Jerusalem Post. __ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Marc Rod (14:15) Lahav Harkov __ Show Notes: Listen to our latest podcast episode: Why Auburn Basketball’s Trip to Israel Was Personal for Coach Bruce Pearl Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.  
Basketball coach Bruce Pearl is on a mission both on and off the court. This summer, Coach Pearl, who is Jewish, took his Auburn University men’s basketball team to Israel on a first-of-its-kind “Birthright for College Basketball” trip to play against Israeli national teams, and visit sites across the country, from the Mount of Olives to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As the college basketball season gears up, Dov Wilker, Regional Director of AJC Atlanta, sat down with Coach Pearl to talk about being a passionate pro-Israel Jew at a large Southern university, what it was like being in Israel with his team during the conflict in August, and the reaction he received from the trip. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Bruce Pearl ___ Show Notes: Photo credits: Auburn Athletics. AJC’s Call to Action Against Antisemitism Listen to our latest podcast episode: Pittsburgh's Response to the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting: An Oral History Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
Today marks four years since America’s deadliest antisemitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 dead and wounded six others. Over the last few weeks, the appalling antisemitic conspiracy theories and threats from rapper Kanye West serve as a reminder of the normalization of antisemitism in America and how hate can be translated into action or violence. Listen to former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on what it was like to witness the pain inflicted on a community, a city, the country when a stranger walked into a prayer service, declared "All Jews must die," and ended 11 lives that Shabbat morning. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Bill Peduto ___ Show Notes: Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting: 4th Anniversary video 5 of Kanye West’s Antisemitic Remarks, Explained Music credit: Sad Child by Dee Yan-Key is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Listen to our latest podcast episode: Campus Antisemitism – What’s Happening at UC Berkeley? Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
Controversy erupted at the UC Berkeley Law school this fall over the decision by a handful of student groups to adopt bylaws that would ban Zionist speakers. In response, American Jewish Committee (AJC) united with 35 other Jewish organizations to condemn the ban as a “vicious attempt to marginalize and stigmatize the Jewish, Israeli, and pro-Israel community… This is unabashed antisemitism.” This week, Dr. Ethan Katz, Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Berkeley, and co-founder of the Antisemitism Education Initiative, and Charlotte Aaron, a Berkeley Law student and board member of the Jewish Student Association (JSA), sat down with Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman, AJC's Senior Director of the Alexander Young Leadership Department, to discuss the situation on campus, how it has affected their work as Jewish activists, and why they remain hopeful for the future of Jews on campus. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Ethan Katz and Charlotte Aaron ___ Show Notes: Exclusive: Pro-Israel Groups Release a Statement on Berkeley Controversy Listen to our latest podcast episode: Unpacking the Origins of Kanye’s Antisemitism Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. ___ Episode Transcript Manya Brachear Pashman: At the start of this academic year, members of Law Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California’s Berkeley campus persuaded nine student groups to adopt a bylaw banning speakers who support Zionism. 35 Jewish organizations, including AJC, wrote an open letter to the university pointing out this discrimination and demanding action. When Jewish student leaders expressed their gratitude to AJC earlier this week, CEO Ted Deutch assured them that AJC’s efforts would not end there. For this week’s episode, we invited a Berkely educator and law student to discuss what the controversy means for them and their fellow Jewish faculty and students on campus. They sat down with my occasional co-host Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman, AJC's Director of the Alexander Young Leadership Department. Take it away, Meggie. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman: Joining me today on People of the Pod: Dr. Ethan Katz, Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at UC Berkeley. And Charlotte Aaron, who is a second year law student at UC Berkeley. Ethan & Charlotte, thank you for joining me. Ethan Katz: Thanks for having us.  Charlotte Aaron: Thank you. Meggie: So, in the last few weeks, there has been significant coverage about events at UC Berkeley Law School, and particularly about what appears to be exclusionary, anti Israel adoptions made by a handful of student groups. So for our listeners who may not have the full story, Ethan, can you paint a brief picture for us of what has unfolded? Ethan: Sure. So in August, I believe it was actually on the first day of classes. There was a decision by several student clubs, eight, I believe, at UC Berkeley Law to adopt a set of bylaws that had been proposed to them, by Students for Justice in Palestine, at the law school, the SJP chapter at the law school. Now that was a proposal made to dozens of clubs at Berkeley law. So it was a relatively small number who adopted these bylaws, but the bylaws were very discriminatory in that they said, these clubs would not invite any speaker who had expressed, continue to express support for Zionism, or what the bylaws referred to as the apartheid regime in Israel, or the occupation of Israel, occupation of Palestine, excuse me, what they clearly mean by that last clause is not what many observers refer to as the occupation of the West Bank, it is just the presence of Israeli sovereignty, in portions of the historical plan of Israel-Palestine. So these were met with tremendous concern by not only many Jewish law students, but many others of us who were involved in efforts on campus to support Jewish students, I co-run an antisemitism education program at Berkeley, Berkeley Law has a very large Israel studies program.  And the dean of Berkeley Law came out very strongly to say that he found these to be very problematic, to be against the principles of community of the university, you know, say that every club has the right to free speech, but that becomes very concerning when students are excluded. And he said, I thought, forcefully that, you know, himself, if these bylaws were to be followed to the letter, would not be able to speak at these clubs as someone who himself is a Zionist. He also reminded clubs of the fact that the Chancellor of the University has come out in writing multiple times against the BDS movement. We were sort of waiting to see what was going to happen next in terms of what was going to be the full impact of these and also what was going to hopefully be the impact of the Dean's response, in curbing this or maybe making some groups reconsider. We did not hear a lot more about this controversy after the initial week or so that it came out until an editorial published in the Jewish Journal of LA almost exactly three weeks ago, claiming in its headline and in its content that Berkeley was developing so-called Jewish free zones.  This quickly ignited a firestorm in the media and major controversy. And it brought the issue much more into focus not only on campus but off. That had various impacts on campus. One of them was that we felt the need to try to explain what had happened, what we already have in place, which is considerable, to try to support your students and raise awareness about antisemitism. And also to try to better understand where things stood for the Jewish students. and figure out ways that we have not sufficiently met their needs.  I also think it's important to note that many Jewish undergraduate students who had been unaware or vaguely aware of the initial bylaws became very nervous and concerned in ways that they had not been before about Jewish life on campus. So, the impact of the article was also to create a great deal more anxiety and fear among many students on campus, despite the fact that Jewish life on this campus, generally speaking, is very robust, and in many ways thriving in terms of the success of Hillel and student Chabad, and the number of student clubs and Jewish Studies and Israel studies. So that's sort of a rough timeline. Meggie: Charlotte, anything to add there? Charlotte: I think I'll just add the way I felt when I found out what had happened. I arrived at the library Monday morning, first day of school and sat down and five minutes into reading for class, I got a text message from my friend screenshotting the fact that the women of Berkeley Law organization had passed this bylaw.  And I think it was a mix of heartbreaking and frustrating. I was heartbroken because I spoke to a lot of people on these boards after this happened. And they acknowledged that they themselves didn't really know much about this issue. And wanted to be supportive to their Palestinian classmates, which is incredibly important, and I so support that. But it was heartbreaking to me that we're at a place where people think that this is how you do that, which is just an indication of a lot of misinformation. And, you know, I for the last decade, almost, I've been worried about social media, and it's especially ramped up in the last five years, and how information is spread and shared. And I think, particularly with this issue, there's a lot of misinformation. And this was a clear demonstration of that, and the impact of that. That law students who, theoretically are pretty informed of what's going on in the world, and what issues are complex and which ones are not, and how to handle those types of issues, weren't even able to take a moment and recognize like, oh, maybe, maybe we should, like do a little bit of research or engage in this issue before we take such an extreme stance, which is what that bylaw was. So I think that that was heartbreaking. And I was frustrated, because the Jewish students weren't contacted about this. I would have hoped that they would have reached out or somebody would have reached out or I would have heard about it, and I didn't, and a lot of my Jewish friends didn't. And I think that was really frustrating that we weren't being included in this conversation. And it could have been a really great opportunity to engage before creating harm. And that didn't happen. But hopefully, it's a learning experience for everyone. Meggie: So Charlotte, I want to focus in more on that. You mentioned that heartbreak. And I think sadly, that is something that certainly in different scenarios and other campuses, there have been instances where Jewish students do feel that, that that exclusionary, I guess, kind of heartbreak. I want to focus in on kind of the timeline that Ethan painted of this initially, kind of being adopted months ago, and then having greater coverage brought in recent weeks. So as a student, as a member of the Jewish Law Students Association at Berkeley, what did students feel, what are they feeling now? Or did they even know about it initially months ago, when this was passed. Can you kind of talk about those two stages? Charlotte: Yeah, so I will say that it was initially really challenging for the Jewish Student Association, because we work, and continue to work really, really hard to be an organization that is welcoming of all Jewish students, regardless of their perspectives on this issue. We issued, the board of the Jewish student organization, published a letter, we first send it to our members, and then to the organizations, to all the student organizations who are invited to add the bylaws to their constitutions, basically saying: Look, this hurts Jewish students, because it forces them to choose between either, you know, denying a part of who they are, or, to be part of an organization or to, you know, exclude themselves. And we're not asking our members to do that. And we hope that you guys also don’t ask your members to do that. After that, the Jewish student organization kind of stepped back, mostly because we don't want to be an organization about Israel. And that's not our purpose. Our purpose is to be there for all Jewish students. So that organization stopped engaging in this issue. As individuals, there are four of us who still were very concerned about what happened. And we're continuing to work behind the scenes on how to best address this, because it's a really challenging issue. And we wanted to make sure – three out of four of us are board members, how are we going to do this in a way that doesn't make it look like our organization is taking a stance. That was a really big concern to the other board members who, you know, don't want our organization to take a stance, which none of us do. But the optics of that were very challenging.  So we are navigating that? Do we start a new organization? You know, are we trying to write a letter? Are we directly reaching out to these students? How do we do that? The Dean has been super supportive and offered to help us, but what can he actually do? Like, what do we want him to do? These were really hard questions.  And so even before the article came out, the four of us were thinking about these things, and meeting and talking and we went to the Palestine 101 event that was put on, and we had students coming up to us at Jewish events, not at Jewish events, saying that they were individually concerned about what had happened. And this was even before the article came out. So yes, it drew public attention. But I do think that students were still quite concerned about what was going on. It just wasn't vocalized. Meggie: So I want to get to some of those responses once that article came out, and there was greater coverage. So Ethan, you wrote a piece that has been widely shared that in a very eloquent way, expressed your frustrations with how some of these incidents are being portrayed in the broader media. What led you to pen that piece? Ethan: In the most basic sense, I think the claims made as a headline of that article are false. I share the deepest concerns about what's happened at the law school. And we're doing a lot and we're trying to do more. And, Charlotte, as you know, we're having a meeting this afternoon. There’ve been a lot of meetings. And so there's no question that what's happened needs to be addressed in the most effective way possible.  We're not on a campus where the administration or large numbers of students are trying to ban Jews from large portions of the campus, which I believe was the implication of such a headline. And so we wanted both to express the fact that we were really disgusted by these bylaws and that they are unquestionably, nakedly discriminatory and many of us believe antisemitic. But to say that this kind of coverage, that it paints a false picture of the campus, and that it's fundamentally unhelpful in the end. We started the antisemitism education initiative that I helped to run three years ago, we put on a lot of programs on campus, we do trainings, we respond to incidents, we created a training module, a training video, a lot of other campuses use the resources that we created. And we do that to support students. And we do that based on conditions on the ground. If people from outside want to support Jewish students here, that's fantastic. But part of what we're trying to say is, we have this program already in the system, we have this Israel studies program, we have Jewish studies, we have really strong community organizations, come talk to us and say, How can you best support our efforts, rather than effectively throwing a grenade from the outside?  And I have to say, I mean, you know, what happened most recently, last week on campus, which I think many people have heard about by now was a truck going around the campus with a hologram on it, of Adolf Hitler, saying something like, you know, if you believe that Jews should be banned from Berkeley, raise your right hand. This was done by an organization that claimed to be looking out for Jewish students and to be very concerned. And just like that initial article raised a lot of alarm among Jewish students, both off campus and on campus, this, of course, scared many Jews on campus. And I know that it wasn't the intention of the articles that have been written. But by now five articles have been written continuing to claim there are Jewish free zones at Berkeley. Without those articles, those trucks would never have been circling our campus. So, we remain alarmed by the effect of this, and we don't think it's actually helping us respond the most effectively to what's taking place.  Meggie: So along with the response on campus, there is kind of an inherent issue, or I would say, challenge that is always trying to be examined in situations like this. You had mentioned Charlotte earlier, Dean Chemerinsky, who himself wrote a piece in The Daily Beast. And in it, he acknowledges this tension, he talks about the need to honor free speech, which takes I think, renewed importance at a law school, honor, free speech, but also acknowledge that some of these tactics, including those of banning students who identify as Zionists are indeed at odds with free speech and can fracture student discourse.  So these are tough questions. But my question and maybe Charlotte we'll start with you. And then Ethan, I'd love your perspective. Do you see this manifesting at Berkeley beyond just this incident? And have you seen these trends in academia more broadly?  Charlotte: I do think free speech is an issue. When I was a student at Brandeis, I was the undergraduate representative on a university task force for free expression. And the purpose of the task force was to create a set of policies or principles that the university would abide by, to ensure that every student felt like they could have their voices heard and share their perspectives. And I'm a firm believer that, you know, more speech is how we get to the right answers. And if people have really extreme opinions on the left, the right, up, down, and aren't sharing those, then they can never be addressed. And, I mean, I think that this is, this is a perfect example of that, that, only one narrative is being heard.  Hopefully from this, and I think it's sad that, you know, what I am, Adam, Billy and Noah are trying to do, is being portrayed as silencing Palestinian voices, because what we're trying to do is quite the opposite. And, you know, I went to Law Students for Justice in Palestine events last year, like I want to go to their events. So that A, I know what they're saying, and, you know, know what i might be up against B, maybe there's actually some common ground, which would be great, you know, if we can find common ground, maybe they agree with me on something that I didn't know about. And we can run from there. And C, quite frankly, what a great way to sharpen my tools. I can't possibly prepare to advocate for something I care about if I have no idea what other people are saying.  Meggie: Ethan, I want to turn to you. How are you seeing this issue of a want to safeguard free speech, but be balanced with the reality that for many Jewish and pro-Israel students, they feel like their ability to proudly speak about their views is being limited because of social implications? How are you seeing this manifest within your work, in particularly so as the co-chair of AJS’s Task Force on Antisemitism and Academic Freedom? Ethan: Yeah, I mean, I think Charlotte nailed a lot of it. The fact is, we're living in an age where a whole slew of actors across the political spectrum, and also in our own Jewish community, in different perspectives, have a very hard time with robust debate about issues that are dear to them. And the impetus for the creation of that [AJS Task Force on Antisemitism and Academic Freedom] task force was the feeling among certain of our Jewish colleagues, pretty far to the left, that certain conversations about antisemitism on campus, more from the right, were making them feel they could not be critical of Israel without being called antisemitic.  And I know Palestinian voices are very upset about some of those efforts to shut down conversation. I think, justifiably so. So of course, it is really the height of irony and misfortune to then see the same tactic deployed by pro-Palestinian organizations to say, we can't harbor any kind of real conversation either. I think it's important to note, I mean, we all have, I think some sympathy for the fact that organizations want to create so-called safe spaces for those in solidarity with their causes.  But these bylaws are not bylaws that say, unless you support the right of the Palestinians to a state you won't be allowed to speak, or unless you recognize the Palestinians are a people, you won't be allowed to speak. Those, I think whilst they would be controversial, some people, most Jewish students would not be offended by those. And I think we would all understand those more as really a matter of sort of visceral sense of safety for Palestinian students. This is so much more sweeping than that. And it really is to just silence the vast majority of Jewish students effectively, and to silence any kind of live debate on these issues. And one of the things that I'm concerned about, and I hear Charlotte is concerned, and that many of us are concerned about is that we will become so kind of siphoned off from each other in our own echo chambers. And that doesn't help anyone’s problems. Meggie: I know that there are immense challenges, but there are also, and both of you highlighted these in the articles you wrote, there's a lot of opportunity and a lot of positivity happening on campus. So I want to turn to both of you, Charlotte, you are a budding lawyer. So you see both sides of the coin. And Ethan, given your professional purview, you have a long lens of Jewish history, you have seen the many ups and downs of our people. So I want to pose to both of you: what makes you hopeful about the Jewish student experience at Berkeley today, and more broadly, about Jewish life today? Maybe Ethan, we'll start with you. Ethan: Well, very honestly, I think one of the things that makes me hopeful, and what young Jews today, in many cases, are doing to pursue challenging and complex conversations on these and a host of other issues. We can always find examples of shrill voices and people who don't want to listen to each other. But there are a lot of examples that I think are quite inspiring, brave. You know, I very much appreciated the article that Charlotte and other law students wrote in The Daily Beast, and the clarity with which they have repeatedly said, We're not against Palestinians, we're not against the notion of the rights of Palestinians, what we really want is the opportunity to be engaged in conversation, and to feel that we as Jews, our identities, are able to have a space, there also for their full expression. And I think, you know, there are a lot of people across the country, particularly young, young people who are doing this kind of work, to try to push back on multiple extremes.  Charlotte: The way that, you know, the bylaws have played out on our campus has, for people who don't really know much about the topic made it look really, really bad to be a Zionist, and I think that's really scary. And a lot of students don't want to engage with that, and, you know, identify themselves as somebody who supports Israel, but a lot of students have and, you know, undergraduates, other graduate students, graduate students at the law school, have come out in a really respectful and I guess proud way to engage in this and, and I was feeling bad for myself before Yom Kippur war like, oh, I'm spending so much time on this I'm not having as much time to work on school like, this is such a bummer and and I did some reflecting on the holiday which I suppose is what it's for. And it's like, you know what, what a great group of Jewish students that I have the privilege of working with and great Jewish professors and a fantastic Jewish Dean and, Rabbi Adam at Hillel has been phenomenal. And I feel really lucky and encouraged to be surrounded by and working with really great people who share a common goal to just be good, and make the world a better place. And so that's been, that's been really nice. And then, you know, in terms of Jewish life more broadly, I somehow got swept into the Jewish graduate student initiative last year and did like a six-week Jewish learning, ethical learning class online. And it was amazing. And I just was so blown away by how many young Jewish people there were, who wanted to engage with the texts and debate about what we're supposed to be taking away from these and how we can apply them to our lives. I am learning about an aspect of Judaism that is so rich and meaningful, and I do think is making me a better person. And that feels really good. And I think it's doing the same for other young Jewish people. And I'm, that gives me hope about the future.  Meggie: Thank you both for making time to share your wisdom with our audiences, for the activism and the leadership you're showcasing at Berkeley. And we wish you the best for the rest of the semester. Thank you. Charlotte: Thank you. Manya: If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to listen to my conversation with Holly Huffnagle, AJC’s US Director for Combatting Antisemitism. She helps unpack the origins of Kanye West’s conspiracy theories and stereotypes, and why the rapper’s hateful words matter to all of us.
Rapper Kanye West’s recent antisemitic outbursts during a primetime Fox News interview and on social media to his over 31 million followers have provided another example of the normalization of Jew-hatred in the American public sphere. While his comments elevating antisemitic conspiracy theories, Jewish stereotypes, and threats of violence have been met with outrage and condemnation, they demonstrate the continuing challenge of combating the world’s oldest hatred in the media and online. AJC’s U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism Holly Huffnagle joins us to break down his vile statements and explain how they are part of longstanding rhetoric that targets Jews.   ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Holly Huffnagle ___ Show Notes: AJC resources:  5 of Kanye West’s Antisemitic Remarks, Explained Call to Action Against Antisemitism: A Society-Wide Nonpartisan Guide for America Translate Hate Glossary Listen to our latest podcast episode: AJC CEO Ted Deutch on Building a Brighter Jewish Future Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
After more than 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ted Deutch recently stepped down to become the CEO of American Jewish Committee (AJC), the leading global Jewish advocacy organization. In this special episode, learn about the Jewish values instilled in Ted by his parents, growing up in the working-class town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where he was one of only three Jewish students in his high school. From his summers at Camp Ramah in the Poconos to his Jewish leadership as a student at the University of Michigan – Ted’s experiences as a Jewish leader  inspired him to become a fierce advocate against antisemitism and in support of Israel in the halls of Congress. As he begins this exciting new chapter at the helm of AJC, Ted describes his commitment to enhancing the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel, and how he will help AJC build a brighter Jewish future.  ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Ted Deutch ___ Show Notes: 6 Things to Know About AJC CEO Ted Deutch Listen to our latest podcast episode: Synagogue Security Expert on the Importance of Volunteer-Led Protection Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. ____ Episode transcript MANYA BRACHEAR PASHMAN: This week, American Jewish Committee enters a new chapter with a new CEO. Ted Deutch served seven terms in Congress and during that time emerged as a powerful voice for democratic values and the Jewish people. He also became an outspoken defender of the U.S.-Israel alliance, when that defense was needed more than it ever had been. While Ted has been a guest on our podcast before, he joins us now for the first time as AJC’s CEO. Ted, welcome back to People of the Pod.  TED DEUTCH: Well, thanks. MANYA: So, we have a lot to get to because we want to introduce you to our audience and really let them get to know you. So, let’s launch right into it. Tell us about your upbringing.  TED: I grew up in Bethlehem. I'm the youngest of five. There is an 11 year gap between me and the next closest sibling, my sister and then my three brothers are older still, and 19 years between my oldest brother and me. I am, as my mother eventually came to refer to me, a pleasant surprise.  My father was a painting contractor. They lived in Bethlehem because after he grew up in Chicago, he enlisted in the army after he graduated from high school, was sent by the army to the army specialized training program that was at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.  He met my mother at, I think not surprisingly, at a bagel brunch at the synagogue at the JCC where I grew up, and it's a long story of what happened after. My dad went to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. My mother wound up befriending his family in Chicago and one thing led to another and he wound up moving back to Bethlehem, where he married my mother and raised our whole family.  MANYA: I imagine Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was much like the small town blue collar communities where I grew up. Describe Bethlehem for us. TED: Bethlehem is home to Bethlehem Steel, which was the company that helped make the steel that helped us win World War II, that was the way we always talked about it when I was a kid. And the steel company, it was the largest employer in Bethlehem. So many people, either their families had some connection to Bethlehem Steel or they either worked at Bethlehem Steel. In my dad's case, he was a painting contractor. He painted the offices of Bethlehem Steel, he painted the houses of Bethlehem steel execs. Had an enormous impact on the community.  Over the course of my high school years it started winding down. It was also sort of the end of a great American company which we watched happen in real time. But down Main Street, Broad street downtown, there was one movie theater downtown, there were two actually for a while. And yes, there were little shops and there was a magic shop that I used to ride my bike to after school, when I was little. It was a nice place, a nice community to grow up in. MANYA: Did Bethlehem have a sizable Jewish community?  TED: Not a large Jewish community by any stretch. There was a very close knit Jewish community that had been there for a long time, multiple generations of families. It was the old model where in one building, we had the JCC and our synagogue. So, on the first floor, where you walked in, we actually had the gym and the pool. And then the second floor were the classrooms in the auditorium and the third floor was the sanctuary. So we spent a lot of time there, between Hebrew school and basketball and Shabbat and the rest.  So it was a really nice community but definitely not large. And fortunately for me, it was a community that welcomed a new Rabbi when I was a kid, and one of the first things he decided was that the synagogue needed to send kids to Camp Ramah and it was Rabbi Judah's decision to encourage that.  And I was one of the first, I think it might have been the first to go, and that had an unbelievably significant impact on my Jewish life and the way I view the world and everything else I've done since.  My first year at Ramah, I was 12. I was not quite a Bar Mitzvah, that I know for sure, because I invited camp friends to my bar mitzvah, where I gladly sang Ramah tunes, hoping and expecting that they would all join in and found myself doing a lot of solos during my Bar Mitzvah. My friends didn't quite step up to the moment, but very good memories. MANYA: You mentioned that Bethlehem Steel helped win World War II and your father fought in the Battle of the Bulge, for which he won a purple heart, I believe. Can you talk a little about how he balanced his American patriotism and his Jewish pride?  TED: He went off and fought in World War II and fought the Nazis and, and took with him these two books, both of which I still have. One, a prayer book, the small prayer book, one, a small book of Jewish thoughts that they gave to all of the Jewish members of the armed forces in World War II. The fact that he carried those around with him, still had them and the fact that I have them now is really special.  In the siddur, there's a page where there's a small tear right down the middle. And if you look, and he explained this to me, it was torn down just so that he could have a small sheet that had a Shin on it. And this was what he taped above his bunk when he was in the army, and it was his way of having a little Mezuzah, just to reflect the fact that -- here’s a Jewish soldier who was there, as an American and as a Jew. MANYA: You were telling me earlier about United States Army Specialist Daniel J. Agami, back in 2007. He did something very similar.   TED: There's a family who lost their son in recent combat, who went to war and had an Israeli flag that he hung above his bunk and refused to take down despite the fact that they were fighting in a Muslim country. I think about that some, in that straight line from my Dad's experience to this Jewish soldier and the kind of patriotism that the Jews have shown for the country that we live in for so long. MANYA: You were one of three Jews in a class of more than 2,000 students. Did you encounter antisemitism growing up?  TED: There were neighborhoods in my community that still had deed restrictions, where people weren't allowed to sell their houses to Jews. There occasional experiences I had, with people who made comments that were antisemitic. I, for a lot of people, was the only Jew that they knew. I was the Jewish kid. So it's just something that I dealt with from time to time. Which is when my father would share some of his stories. MANYA: And in addition to sharing his own experiences, what advice did your parents give you about confronting that antisemitism?  TED: That's a really good question, Manya, that I haven't been asked and haven't really thought about in a while. My father's advice was clear. Obviously we’re talking a lot about my dad, but my mother, she was very smart, had a very strong Jewish identity, she was a very strong woman. And the advice from both of them was to always stand up for yourself and never let people get away with it, and to be strong and be proud and to let them know that. That's a hugely important lesson that I've taken with me my whole life. It's frankly, one of the most important things that AJC does, is to help create strong proud members of the Jewish community, who also won't simply back down and let people get away with it. MANYA: You went to the University of Michigan for undergrad as well as Law school, and it’s where you met your wife, Jill. How did you end up going from Bethlehem to Ann Arbor?  TED: It's interesting, my sister went to Penn State, I loved visiting her and the big college experience. I thought I might like to do that. And everybody I talked to had only good things to say about Michigan. It was also by the way, right about the time that The Big Chill came out. Not that my life was guided by fiction, by a movie. But it was literally right at that moment we were making college decisions. And here's his movie about this group of friends that come together for a sad occasion. I don't know if you saw it or are familiar with it, but, boy do they love Michigan. It's when I heard from everyone I talked to, I had friends from my Israel trip the summer before who were going to school there. And it just became the natural destination, and everybody was right. It's an amazing place. And I had an incredible experience there. And met Jill there, which of course makes it the best of all. MANYA: You chaired the University Hillel’s governing board, and you were co-editor of Consider magazine, which was launched by Hillel. And this was a magazine that made it its mission to solicit compelling arguments on multiple sides of an issue. Kind of, stoking conversation, right?   TED: I was proud to do it when I was in college, but thinking about where we are now in this time where everyone has their own social media feed that plays to the things that they're interested in passionate about, criticizes the things that they don't like. Everyone has their own, their own feed, their own cable news channel. They are more and more associated with people who believe the things that they believe we were, I think doing an important service that I don't want to overstate it. But when you look back, we could, I think, benefit from a willingness to engage a little more with people whose views are different than ours. And that's what it was about. It’s interesting to think about the conversations, the debates we have today, where we always want to just make this a black and white issue. You either believe this or you believe that and as you point out, in almost every occasion there are substantially more than two sides and there's nuance and engaging in a sophisticated way, requires a lot more than then simply throwing down the gauntlet and saying I'm right and you're wrong, or as is troubling these days- I'm right and you're terrible or you're an idiot or you're evil or all of the other things that people say now instead of engaging in meaningful debate. MANYA: But I have to ask, how does that jibe with AJC’s advocacy role? I mean, journalists foster conversation. But as an advocacy organization, AJC picks a side.  TED:  There are different sides on different issues. When a conversation is really appropriate, occasionally there are things that are just so clear, that it becomes paramount that you stop trying to look for some competing argument and stand on the side of what is clearly just and right, and in the best interest of a better world.  The best example is when you take the position that we should deny life-saving support to an ally in Iron Dome, the Iron Dome replenishment debate. When you say that you can't support funding for that program, which saves the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, and has prevented conflicts from escalating, and has been used to protect civilians when terrorists from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are sending rockets, aimed indiscriminately, but meant to to kill civilians? If you can't support that, if your position is such that this particular ally, only one ally, Israel, which happens to be the only Jewish nation in the world, that if your position is that you can't even support the kind of program that saves the lives of civilians against terror attacks, then there's only so much I'm going to engage on. MANYA: Of course, you’re talking about the debate about the Iron Dome funding last spring that pitted you against Rep. Rashida Tlaib.  She was actually in your own party. I want to talk about that a little more.  AJC is nonpartisan. And while you were in Congress, you earned a reputation for sometimes bucking party lines. You didn't side with Democrats on the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, you supported the Trump Administration’s Abraham Accords. Why did you break rank like that?  TED: At a time when partisanship rages, fighting antisemitism can't, we can't allow that to fall prey to that to partisanship. And likewise, defending the US-Israel relationship and supporting Israel and in handling Israel's position in the world also shouldn't fall prey to partisanship. And that means being very clear, when people take positions that are for partisan reasons or anything else, are outside of the broad consensus that has existed and continues to exist in Congress and in America, that we should support our allies. And, then when it comes to fighting antisemitism, as we've already discussed, that we should come together for the benefit of security of the Jewish people, but also because we're ultimately protecting much more than that when we fight antisemitism. MANYA: You first went to Israel before your senior year in high school with Camp Ramah and you believe being on the ground there really is important to comprehend its significance, its complexities. I personally have not been, so I’m sincerely looking forward to AJC Global Forum in Tel Aviv next June. Since that first trip as a high school student, you’ve been to Israel countless times now – what memories stick with you? TED: When you have the opportunity, when you go to Israel and you go to Jerusalem and the Kotel and everything that you've done, whatever connection you've had to Judaism, it immediately comes to life. I remember the conversations that we had with Israelis while we were there, which is still something that I think is really important to do every time you visit, that it's not just about looking at sites, but to actually understand the connection that we have as Jews, with people who live in Israel. And to think that this is a place that we're praying about, hoping for, for 2000 years. And every time I go back, I walk into someone's house for Shabbat dinner and some of the shuls and various minyans. Some had already ended, some were ramping down. You could hear from everywhere you walked, people davening. You just think about how unique that is, to be in a Jewish state like that. Every time, I mean, every time that's something that I'm thinking about. MANYA: You introduced a number of your congressional colleagues –both Republican and Democrat – to the Jewish state. But I’d like for you to tell our listeners about one trip in particular that you took with fellow Floridian Ileana Ros Lehtinen – a Republican congresswoman at the time – back in 2014. While you were there, the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found. Kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists linked to Hamas. TED: Ileana and I went on an official trip together. The first time we were there, the timing was such that we were there for Jill's, my wife's cousin's son's Bar Mitzvah. So we went to this bar mitzvah dinner, and celebration. And we were there just after we had all participated in events all over the country all over the world, about the three boys that had been missing, and all these events took place, and everybody was praying for their safe return.  And it was during the bar mitzvah, that all at this one moment, everyone's phones went off. And everybody looked. It was this incredible moment where the news broke that the bodies of the boys had been discovered, and that they had been killed by terrorists, and which is what so many people had feared. And so first, there's this moment where, where people didn't know what to do, but because it's Israel, and most importantly, it's a simcha. There was almost this defiance, that even having just received this terrible news. People were more passionate about dancing the hora, and about celebrating this bar mitzvah. And that was a really powerful moment.  And then we completely rearranged our schedule for the next day, so that we could attend the funeral for the boys. And there was so much that was so powerful about it, when we pulled up and it looked like literally half of the nation of Israel was walking toward this funeral.  And, and Ileana and I had the opportunity, we were privileged to sit in the front. And the funeral itself was so powerful, the whole experience was so powerful, but then we made a shiva call.  And we had the chance, it was a of all the things I've been able to do in Israel, this was a such a powerful moment for me, because we had the opportunity to pay respects, not just because we were on this trip, but we were on an official trip and we could pay our respects, offer our condolences on behalf of the American people, on behalf of the Jewish community that had been that had been praying all over the world. And as I explained to some of the students who were there, the fellow students of those who were killed. And as I explained in the best Hebrew that I could, that I wanted them to understand that it's one thing to say that, you're not alone at this moment. But having participated in these massive events the week before in my community and in Washington. I wanted them to know that I knew exactly what I was saying and that there were people all over the world who were literally mourning with them. MANYA: You did that here as well  in the United States as well, attended shivas I mean, after the school shooting that killed 17 in Parkland.  TED: I haven't ever thought of that parallel. In both cases. I was an elected official. I was in a place that I desperately wanted to avoid, or I would, I desperately would have prayed that, that the circumstances that led me there never happened. And in both instances, and so in Florida, I went to a lot of funerals after February 14, and a lot of them were Jewish funerals. That's a moment when emotion is the rawest that it can possibly be and, in both cases, we did what we're told to do at shiva: we sat and we listened. We listened to stories about, in both cases by the way, the young lives cut short and all the things that these kids had done in their short lives, and all the things that they would have done if they hadn't been killed. There are a lot of similarities. And coming out of both of those is the rededication to the important work. MANYA: So, what’s in store for AJC with you at the helm? Do you have big ideas you want to implement? TED: It's not my plan to come in and, and start to make drastic changes, I'm going to come in and I'm going to listen to everyone, and understand at a deeper level, the work that's done. But the one thing I know for sure, is that that the effort to defend the interests of the Jewish people, to create resilient Jews, wherever they live, to defend all 15 million Jews in the world, by fighting antisemitism, educating people on antisemitism, advocating because ultimately AJC is an advocacy organization, building the relationships that will help to strengthen the community, and speaking out boldly, when it's necessary to make sure people understand what's at stake here.  Those are the things that I look forward to doing. But more than anything else, there is so much work that AJC does to advocate for the Jewish community around the world. And, and to, to enhance Israel's place in the world. And to speak out for human rights, and democracy.  There's so much work that's done that people don't know about. And when you have an organization that's engaged in advocacy, that means you're advocating on a whole host of different issues. And sometimes, we forget that- not we, AJC. But the world forgets that they're all related.  And so when it comes to, to supporting Israel and standing up for the Jewish community,  to be able to know that that we are advocating for the community wherever they live, from Seattle to Chicago, to New York, Buenos Aires, Paris, Jerusalem, and to do it by building the relationships at the local level, at the federal level in Washington, with the ambassadorial corps in Washington and Consuls General around the country. At the UN, where AJC is on the ground every day, at in capitals around the world with with foreign ministers and heads of state, those relationships everywhere in the world that AJC has built that its its volunteers and leaders have spent so much time engaged in, the intergroup work that has come from from that work. All of that strengthens the Jewish community. And, and, and helps to lift up Israel and its place in the world in a way that is unique.  MANYA: You’re coming from a role in Congress in which you fought for measures to slow climate change, curb gun violence, have peace with other countries, balancing the nation’s budget – a plethora of issues. Here, at AJC, you’ll be a little more focused on Israel and the Jewish people. But how are both jobs similar? TED: We talked earlier about Tikkun Olam. And it's important and we're all engaged in that in all of the ways that we choose to be. But when I think about AJC’s work, if I'm looking to if I'm looking to our text, it's really it's it's called Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Bazeh, right - We're all responsible one for another– it's all about Jewish peoplehood and the connections that we have, not just to our fellow Jews in our communities, but everywhere in the world. In the United States, that means making sure that we all understand where we come from, which is both all of the things that our history has provided us –the contributions that we've made to history as a whole, and the impact that history has had on us. MANYA: You are a father of three young’ns in their 20s. Very accomplished, young’ns in their own right, I should add. Why should AJC be paying more attention to their generation?  TED: AJC has this unique opportunity to take the existing program than it does for young people, early in their careers, the programming to create well-educated, passionate advocates, who are and will continue to be leaders in their respective communities, from their schools to their campus, to wherever it is they move when they graduate. That program is so exciting to me and the opportunity to see that continue to grow, so that all of these leaders can then engage in the work that we've just been discussing. For AJC, for everyone, it means not just providing lessons, it means listening, and engaging with young people who have the capacity to lead right now. And we see it on Instagram, with some of the accounts that young people have set up.  We've seen it all over social media, we see it in things that people write, we have to help build that up, meet them where they are, recognize that they're already leaders, contribute to their future growth. That’s an enormous opportunity.  And I think that the way that AJC goes about its work can help do that.  Last thing I'll say is this. There are young people who have been so engaged on their campuses, on social media, sometimes feeling, and I had spoken to a number of them, sometimes feeling like they're on an island, and providing a real home for them to come together to confront these issues that they're facing. To help them understand what we can do to change the narrative by lifting up their voices. That's the moment that we're in that I think we really need to capitalize on. MANYA: After the Parkland shooting, you really raised your voice about addressing the forces and circumstances that led to this horrific act of violence. How will that experience, which I know was life changing for so many including yourself, how will that inform the direction you lead AJC? TED: I think the most important thing I learned during that whole experience was the power of young people, high school kids, who helped to start this whole movement from their dining room table and the leadership role that they play. If we're not talking about the threat, then it's going to make it a whole lot harder for all of us who want to prevent these things from happening to succeed. So, yes, we've got to be clear, as we as we talk about, as we acknowledge this rise in antisemitism, and we have to focus on it wherever it comes from, and we need to be clear that the the threats that rising antisemitism pose are threats to the entire community. I talked about this at the UN several years ago, the the fact is when there's antisemitism in the country that is festering and it affects not just the Jews, it is never just the Jews. The guy who went into that Walmart in El Paso. These are people who, so many of them at their core antisemites, you see it and what they've said and what they've written. So we should all be paying close attention to the rise in antisemitism. And we should be working with everyone we can to help educate them about the threat that it poses.  Yes, to the Jewish community, first and foremost, and so that the Jewish community understands that, that there is this recognition and that they can feel safe and and we can build resilience in the Jewish community. But also, for everyone else to understand that we're by tackling antisemitism, we're also helping to make our country and ultimately this is a worldwide phenomenon, clearly, we're helping to create a safer world for everyone. MANYA: Ted, thank you so much for joining us, in your first week on the job, no less. TED: Thanks. This is really fun by the way. MANYA: Well, it’s been a pleasure getting to know you and I’m sure we’ll have you back on the air again soon. TED: I look forward to it.  
Did you know that Jewish communities outside the U.S. have long viewed security as a communal responsibility and do not solely rely on law enforcement? Is a shift toward this viewpoint emerging in America? This week, amid the High Holiday season, we spoke to Evan Bernstein, CEO and national director of The Community Security Service, a volunteer-led national organization that trains community members to protect their synagogues and events. We discuss the manifestations of antisemitism and hate crimes plaguing all denominations of Jewish life in the U.S. and the growing importance of volunteer security in keeping communities safe. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Evan Bernstein ___ Show Notes: AJC’s Call to Action Against Antisemitism Listen to our latest podcast episode: Ken Burns Explores U.S. Inaction During the Holocaust Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
Filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in conversation with AJC’s Director of Contemporary Jewish Life Dr. Laura Shaw Frank, join us this week to discuss their groundbreaking historical documentary, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” This latest installment from the acclaimed filmmaker, which debuted this past Sunday on PBS, explores America’s reaction – or lack thereof – to the Nazi genocide as it was unfolding in Europe as part of a critical addition to our understanding of the past. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Ken Burns and Lynn Novick ___ Show Notes: Watch “The U.S. and the Holocaust”  How to Combat Holocaust Trivialization Moving Toward Never Again: State of Holocaust Education in the United States Listen to our latest podcast episode: Noa Tishby on the Abraham Accords: The Middle East Realizes Israel is Not the Enemy Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
Israeli-American actress Noa Tishby didn’t set out to be Israel’s first special envoy for combating antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel. But since being appointed by then-Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in April 2022, Tishby has been a powerful voice when it comes to combating hatred against Jews and misinformation about Israel. Amid the paperback release of her book "Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth," Tishby joins us to discuss the impact of the Abraham Accords two years on, how she’s raising her son to love Israel, and why she doesn’t view antisemitism as a “problem to solve.” ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Noa Tishby ___ Show Notes: To register for Global Forum 2023, visit "Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth," By Noa Tishby Listen to our latest podcast episode: Here’s Why All of Society Must Take Action Against Antisemitism Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
It is no secret that antisemitism is on the rise in the United States. American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) 2021 State of Antisemitism in America report revealed that 90% of Jewish respondents believe antisemitism is a problem. Until now, there has not been a single resource for American society to tackle the world’s oldest hatred. In a just-released mobilization tool, AJC’s Call to Action Against Antisemitism in America highlights a path forward for all sectors of society, including government, corporations, the media, college campuses, and more. Listen as Holly Huffnagle, AJC’s U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism, breaks down this resource and explains why addressing antisemitism requires a bold, targeted, and cohesive strategy to understand, respond to, and prevent it. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Holly Huffnagle ___ Show Notes: Learn more about AJC’s Call to Action Against Antisemitism: Check out season 1 of The Forgotten Exodus: Listen to our latest podcast episode: What a Restored Deal with Iran Could Mean for Israel and the Entire Middle East Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has voiced sharp criticism of reports claiming that the final text of a restored Iranian nuclear deal will soon be accepted by Tehran and Washington, reigniting debate about key components of the nuclear deal - sanctions against Iran’s energy exports, IAEA monitoring, unfreezing blocked Iranian assets, among others - and whether the United States should even be negotiating with Iran in the first place. Fresh off a recent escalation with the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, Israel has been vocal with the Biden administration about these concerns as well as Iran’s continued malign behavior. Behnam Ben Taleblu,, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), joins AJC Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer Jason Isaacson to break down the specifics of the emerging deal and explain why the nuclear threat is only one element of the broader danger posed by Iran.  ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Jason Isaacson and Behnam Ben Taleblu ___ Show Notes: For more Iran news and analysis, visit Listen to our latest podcast episode: BDS on Campus: What Should Jewish Students Expect?  Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.  
Natalie Kahn, a Jewish student at Harvard University and editor at The Harvard Crimson, was stunned late last spring when the editorial board of the campus newspaper that had been so central to her college experience had endorsed the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Jeffrey Greenberg, AJC’s Assistant Director of Campus Affairs, said that Natalie’s feelings of betrayal are an increasingly common experience for pro-Israel college students. While BDS has had numerous setbacks and even been outlawed by many states and countries, on campus it has seen more success, where it is framed as a social justice opportunity to fight for an oppressed minority, playing on the emotions of students who aren’t fully informed. Joined by guest host Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman, Senior Director of AJC’s Alexander Young Leadership Department, Natalie and Jeffrey discuss what Jewish and pro-Israel students can expect as they head back to campus this fall. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Natalie Kahn and Jeffrey Greenberg ___ Show Notes: I Am a Crimson Editor and I Stand with Israel - oped by Natalie Kahn Learn more about AJC’s work in Campus Affairs Listen to our latest podcast episode: Walter Russell Mead: Debunking Myths and Misconceptions About the U.S.-Israel Relationship Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
Today, Israel is one of America’s top global allies. How did this relationship develop? Why does this alliance have such widespread support in America? To answer these questions and more, Walter Russell Mead, Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship at the Hudson Institute and columnist for The Wall Street Journal, joins guest host, Melanie Maron Pell, AJC’s chief field operations officer, to discuss his latest book, “The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People.” In their discussion, we delve into what fuels America and Israel’s alliance, debunk myths about the relationship, including antisemitic tropes and memes, and why it’s important not to take it for granted. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Melanie Maron Pell and Walter Russel Mead ___ Show Notes: The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People by Walter Russell Mead Listen to our latest podcast episode: Operation Breaking Dawn: Analyzing and Assessing the Latest Gaza Conflict Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
One of the top Jewish podcasts in the U.S., American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) The Forgotten Exodus, is the first-ever narrative podcast to focus exclusively on Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. In this week’s episode, we feature Jews from Egypt.   In the first half of the 20th century, Egypt went through profound social and political upheavals culminating in the rise of President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his campaign of Arabization, creating an oppressive atmosphere for the country’s Jews, and leading almost all to flee or be kicked out of the country. Hear the personal story of award-winning author André Aciman as he recounts the heart-wrenching details of the pervasive antisemitism during his childhood in Alexandria and his family’s expulsion in 1965, which he wrote about in his memoir Out of Egypt, and also inspired his novel Call Me by Your Name.  Joining Aciman is Deborah Starr, a professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Cornell University, who chronicles the history of Egypt’s Jewish community that dates back millennia, and the events that led to their erasure from Egypt’s collective memory. Aciman’s modern-day Jewish exodus story is one that touches on identity, belonging, and nationality: Where is your home when you become a refugee at age 14? Be sure to follow The Forgotten Exodus before the next episode drops on August 22. ___ Show notes: Sign up to receive podcast updates here. Learn more about the series here. Song credits:  Rampi Rampi, Aksaray'in Taslari, Bir Demet Yasemen by Turku, Nomads of the Silk Road Pond5:  “Desert Caravans”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI), Composer: Tiemur Zarobov (BMI), IPI#1098108837 “Sentimental Oud Middle Eastern”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI), Composer: Sotirios Bakas (BMI), IPI#797324989. “Frontiers”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI); Composer: Pete Checkley (BMI), IPI#380407375 “Adventures in the East”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI) Composer: Petar Milinkovic (BMI), IPI#00738313833. “Middle Eastern Arabic Oud”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI); Composer: Sotirios Bakas (BMI), IPI#797324989 ___ Episode Transcript: ANDRÉ ACIMAN: I've lived in New York for 50 years. Is it my home? Not really. But Egypt was never going to be my home. It had become oppressive to be Jewish. MANYA BRACHEAR PASHMAN: The world has overlooked an important episode in modern history: the 800,000 Jews who left or were driven from their homes in Arab nations and Iran in the mid-20th century. This series, brought to you by American Jewish Committee, explores that pivotal moment in Jewish history and the rich Jewish heritage of Iran and Arab nations as some begin to build relations with Israel. I'm your host, Manya Brachear Pashman. Join us as we explore family histories and personal stories of courage, perseverance, and resilience.  This is The Forgotten Exodus. Today's episode: leaving Egypt. Author André Aciman can’t stand Passover Seders. They are long and tedious. Everyone gets hungry long before it’s time to eat. It’s also an unwelcome reminder of when André was 14 and his family was forced to leave Egypt – the only home he had ever known. On their last night there, he recounts his family gathered for one last Seder in his birthplace. ANDRÉ: By the time I was saying goodbye, the country, Egypt, had essentially become sort of Judenrein.  MANYA:  Judenrein is the term of Nazi origin meaning “free of Jews”. Most, if not all of the Jews, had already left. ANDRÉ: By the time we were kicked out, we were kicked out literally from Egypt, my parents had already had a life in Egypt. My mother was born in Egypt, she had been wealthy. My father became wealthy. And of course, they had a way of living life that they knew they were abandoning. They had no idea what was awaiting them. They knew it was going to be different, but they had no sense. I, for one, being younger, I just couldn't wait to leave. Because it had become oppressive to be Jewish. As far as I was concerned, it was goodbye. Thank you very much. I’m going. MANYA: André Aciman is best known as the author whose novel inspired the Oscar-winning film Call Me By Your Name – which is as much a tale of coming to terms with being Jewish and a minority, as it is an exquisite coming of age love story set in a villa on the Italian Riviera.  What readers and moviegoers didn’t know is that the Italian villa is just a stand-in. The story’s setting– its distant surf, serpentine architecture, and lush gardens where Elio and Oliver’s romance blooms and Elio’s spiritual awakening unfolds – is an ode to André’s lost home, the coastal Egyptian city of Alexandria.  There, three generations of his Sephardic family had rebuilt the lives they left behind elsewhere as the Ottoman Empire crumbled, two world wars unfolded, a Jewish homeland was born, and nationalistic fervor swept across the Arab world and North Africa. There, in Alexandria, his family had enjoyed a cosmopolitan city and vibrant Jewish home. Until they couldn’t and had to leave.  ANDRÉ: I would be lying if I said that I didn't project many things lost into my novels. In other words, to be able to re-experience the beach, I created a beach house. And that beach house has become, as you know, quite famous around the world. But it was really a portrait of the beach house that we had lost in Egypt.  And many things like that, I pilfer from my imagined past and dump into my books. And people always tell me, ‘God, you captured Italy so well.’ Actually, that was not Italy, I hate to tell you. It was my reimagined or reinvented Egypt transposed into Italy and made to come alive again. MANYA: Before he penned Call Me By Your Name, André wrote his first book, Out of Egypt, a touching memoir about his family’s picturesque life in Alexandria, the underlying anxiety that it could always vanish and how, under the nationalization effort led by Egypt’s President Gamel Abdel Nassar, it did vanish. The memoir ends with the events surrounding the family’s last Passover Seder before they say farewell.   ANDRÉ: This was part of the program of President Nasser, which was to take, particularly Alexandria, and turn it into an Egyptian city, sort of, purified of all European influences. And it worked.  As, by the way, and this is the biggest tragedy that happens to, particularly to Jews, is when a culture decides to expunge its Jews or to remove them in one way or another, it succeeds. It does succeed. You have a sense that it is possible for a culture to remove an entire population. And this is part of the Jewish experience to accept that this happens. MANYA: Egypt did not just expunge its Jewish community. It managed to erase Jews from the nation’s collective memory. Only recently have people begun to rediscover the centuries of rich Jewish history in Egypt, including native Egyptian Jews dating back millennia. In addition, Egypt became a destination for Jews expelled from Spain in the 15th Century. And after the Suez Canal opened in 1869, a wave of more Jews came from the Ottoman Empire, Italy, and Greece. And at the end of the 19th Century, Ashkenazi Jews arrived, fleeing from European pogroms. DEBORAH STARR: The Jewish community in Egypt was very diverse. The longest standing community in Egypt would have been Arabic speaking Jews, we would say now Mizrahi Jews. MANYA: That’s Deborah Starr, Professor of Modern Arabic and Hebrew Literature and Film at Cornell University. Her studies of cosmopolitan Egypt through a lens of literature and cinema have given her a unique window into how Jews arrived and left Egypt and how that history has been portrayed. She says Jews had a long history in Egypt through the Islamic period and a small population remained in the 19th century. Then a wave of immigration came. DEBORAH: We have an economic boom in Egypt. Jews start coming from around the Ottoman Empire, from around the Mediterranean, emigrating to Egypt from across North Africa. And so, from around 5,000 Jews in the middle of the 19th century, by the middle of the 20th century, at its peak, the Egyptian Jews numbered somewhere between 75 and 80,000. So, it was a significant increase, and you know, much more so than just the birth rate would explain. MANYA: André’s family was part of that wave, having endured a series of exiles from Spain, Italy, and Turkey, before reaching Egypt. DEBORAH: Egypt has its independence movement, the 1919 revolution, which is characterized by this discourse of coexistence, that ‘we’re all in this together.’ There are images of Muslims and Christians marching together.  Jews were also supportive of this movement. There’s this real sense of a plurality, of a pluralist society in Egypt, that’s really evident in the ways that this movement is characterized. The interwar period is really this very vibrant time in Egyptian culture, but also this time of significant transition in its relationship to the British in the various movements, political movements that emerge in this period, and movements that will have a huge impact on the fate of the Jews of Egypt in the coming decades. MANYA: One of those movements was Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish state in the biblical homeland of the Jews. In 1917, during the First World War, the British government occupying Egypt at the time, issued a public statement of support for the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, still an Ottoman region with a small minority Jewish population. That statement became known as the Balfour Declaration. DEBORAH: There was certainly evidence of a certain excitement about the Balfour Declaration of 1917. A certain amount of general support for the idea that Jews are going to live there, but not a whole lot of movement themselves. But we also have these really interesting examples of people who were on the record as supporting, of seeing themselves as Egyptians, as part of the anti-colonial Egyptian nationalism, who also gave financial support to the Jewish project in Palestine. And so, so there wasn't this sense of—you can't be one or the other. There wasn't this radical split. MANYA: Another movement unfolding simultaneously was the impulse to reclaim Egypt’s independence, not just in legal terms – Egypt had technically gained independence from the British in 1922 – but suddenly what it meant to be Egyptian was defined against this foreign colonial power that had imposed its will on Egypt for years and still maintained a significant presence. DEBORAH: We also see moves within Egypt, toward the ‘Egyptianization’ of companies or laws that start saying, we want to, we want to give priority to our citizens, because the economy had been so dominated by either foreigners or people who were local but had foreign nationality. And this begins to disproportionately affect the Jews.  Because so many of the Jews, you know, had been immigrants a generation or two earlier, some of them had either achieved protected status or, you know, arrived with papers from, from one or another of these European powers. MANYA: In 1929, Egypt adopted its first law giving citizenship to its residents. But it was not universally applied. By this time, the conflict in Palestine and the rise of Zionism had shifted how the Egyptian establishment viewed Jews.   DEBORAH: Particularly the Jews who had lived there for a really long time, some of whom were among the lower classes, who didn't travel to Europe every summer and didn't need papers to prove their citizenship, by the time they started seeing that it was worthwhile for them to get citizenship, it was harder for Jews to be approved. So, by the end, we do have a pretty substantial number of Jews who end up stateless. MANYA: Stateless. But not for long. In 1948, the Jewish state declared independence. In response, King Farouk of Egypt joined four other Arab nations in declaring war on the newly formed nation. And they lost.  The Arab nations’ stunning defeat in that first Arab-Israeli War sparked a clandestine movement to overthrow the Egyptian monarchy, which was still seen as being in the pocket of the British. One of the orchestrators of that plot, known as the Free Officers Movement, was Col. Gamel Abdel Nassar. In 1952, a coup sent King Farouk on his way to Italy and Nassar eventually emerged as president. The official position of the Nassar regime was one of tolerance for the Jews. But that didn’t always seem to be the case. DEBORAH: Between 1948 and ‘52, you do have a notable number of Jews who leave Egypt at this point who see the writing on the wall. Maybe they don't have very deep roots in Egypt, they've only been there for one or two generations, they have another nationality, they have someplace to go. About a third of the Jews who leave Egypt in the middle of the 20th century go to Europe, France, particularly. To a certain extent Italy. About a third go to the Americas, and about a third go to Israel. And among those who go to Israel, it's largely those who end up stateless. They have no place else to go because of those nationality laws that I mentioned earlier, have no choice but to go to Israel. MANYA: Those who stayed became especially vulnerable to the Nassar regime’s sequestration of businesses. Then in 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, a 120-mile-long waterway that connected the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean by way of the Red Sea – that same waterway that created opportunities for migration in the region a century earlier. DEBORAH: The real watershed moment is the 1956 Suez conflict. Israel, in collaboration with France, and Great Britain attacks Egypt, the conflict breaks out, you know, the French and the British come into the war on the side of the Israelis. And each of the powers has their own reasons for wanting, I mean, Nasser's threatening Israeli shipping, and, threatening the security of Israel, the French and the British, again, have their own reasons for trying to either take back the canal, or, just at least bring Nassar down a peg. MANYA: At war with France and Britain, Egypt targeted and expelled anyone with French and British nationality, including many Jews, but not exclusively. DEBORAH: But this is also the moment where I think there's a big pivot in how Jews feel about being in Egypt. And so, we start seeing larger waves of emigration, after 1956. So, this is really sort of the peak of the wave of emigration.  MANYA: André’s family stayed. They already had endured a series of exiles. His father, an aspiring writer who copied passages by Marcel Proust into his diary, had set that dream aside to open a textile factory, rebuild from nothing what the family had lost elsewhere, and prepare young André to eventually take over the family business. He wasn’t about to walk away from the family fortune – again. DEBORAH: André Aciman’s story is quite, as I said, the majority of the Jewish community leaves in the aftermath of 1956. And his family stays a lot longer. So, he has incredible insights into what happens over that period, where the community has already significantly diminished. MANYA: Indeed, over the next nine years, the situation worsened. The Egyptian government took his father’s factory, monitored their every move, frequently called the house with harassing questions about their whereabouts, or knocked on the door to issue warrants for his father’s arrest, only to bring him in for more interrogation. As much as André’s father clung to life in Egypt, it was becoming a less viable option with each passing day. ANDRÉ: He knew that the way Egypt was going, there was no room for him, really. And I remember during the last two years, in our last two years in Egypt, there wAs constantly references to the fact that we were going to go, this was not lasting, you know, what are we going to do? Where do we think we should go? And so on and so forth. So, this was a constant sort of conversation we were having. MANYA: Meanwhile, young André encountered a level of antisemitism that scarred him deeply and shaped his perception of how the world perceives Jews. ANDRÉ: It was oppressive in good part because people started throwing stones in the streets. So, there was a sense of ‘Get out of here. We don't want you here.’ MANYA: It was in the streets and in the schools, which were undergoing an Arabization after the end of British rule, making Arabic the new lingua franca and antisemitism the norm. ANDRÉ: There's no question that antisemitism was now rooted in place. In my school, where I went, I went to a British school, but it had become Egyptian, although they taught English, predominantly English, but we had to take Arabic classes, in sort of social sciences, in history, and in Arabic as well. And in the Arabic class, which I took for many years, I had to study poems that were fundamentally anti-Jewish. Not just anti-Israeli, which is a big distinction that people like to make, it doesn't stick. I was reading and reciting poems that were against me. And the typical cartoon for a Jew was a man with a beard, big tummy, hook nose, and I knew ‘This is really me, isn't it? OK.’ And so you look at yourself with a saber, right, running through it with an Egyptian flag. And I'll never forget this. This was, basically I was told that this is something I had to learn and accept and side with – by the teachers, and by the books themselves.  And the irony of the whole thing is that one of the best tutors we had, was actually the headmaster of the Jewish school. He was Jewish in very sort of—very Orthodox himself. And he was teaching me how to recite those poems that were anti-Jewish. And of course, he had to do it with a straight face. MANYA: One by one, Jewish neighbors lost their livelihoods and unable to overcome the stigma, packed their bags and left. In his memoir, André recalls how prior to each family’s departure, the smell of leather lingered in their homes from the dozens of suitcases they had begun to pack. By 1965, the smell of leather began to waft through André’s home. ANDRÉ: Eventually, one morning, or one afternoon, I came back from school. And my father said to me, ‘You know, they don't want us here anymore.’ Those were exactly the words he used. ‘They don't want us here.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, they've expelled us.’  And I was expelled with my mother and my brother, sooner than my father was. So, we had to leave the country. We realized we were being expelled, maybe in spring, and we left in May. And so, for about a month or so, the house was a mess because there were suitcases everywhere, and people. My mother was packing constantly, constantly. But we knew we were going to go to Italy, we knew we had an uncle in Italy who was going to host us, or at least make life livable for us when we arrived. We had obtained Italian papers, obtained through various means. I mean, whatever. They're not exactly legitimate ways of getting a citizenship, but it was given to my father, and he took it. And we changed our last name from Ajiman, which is how it was pronounced, to Aciman because the Italians saw the C and assumed it was that. My father had some money in Europe already. So that was going to help us survive. But we knew my mother and I and my brother, that we were now sort of functionally poor. MANYA: In hindsight, André now knows the family’s expulsion at that time was the best thing that could have happened. Two years later, Israel trounced Egypt in the Six-Day War, nearly destroying the Egyptian Air Force, taking control of the Gaza Strip and the entire Sinai Peninsula, as well as territory from Egypt’s allies in the conflict, Syria and Jordan. The few remaining Jews in Egypt were sent to internment camps, including the chief rabbis of Cairo and Alexandria and the family of one of André’s schoolmates whose father was badly beaten. After three years in Italy, André’s family joined his mother’s sister in America, confirming once and for all that their life in Egypt was gone. ANDRÉ: I think there was a kind of declaration of their condition. In other words, they never overcame the fact that they had lost a way of life. And of course, the means to sustain that life was totally taken away, because they were nationalized, and had their property sequestered, everything was taken away from them. So, they were tossed into the wild sea. My mother basically knew how to shut the book on Egypt, she stopped thinking about Egypt, she was an American now. She was very happy to have become a citizen of the United States.  Whereas my father, who basically was the one who had lost more than she had, because he had built his own fortune himself, never overcame it. And so, he led a life of the exile who continues to go to places and to restaurants that are costly, but that he can still manage to afford if he watches himself. So, he never took cabs, he always took the bus. Then he lived a pauper’s life, but with good clothing, because he still had all his clothing from his tailor in Egypt. But it was a bit of a production, a performance for him.  MANYA: André’s father missed the life he had in Egypt. André longs for the life he could’ve had there. ANDRÉ: I was going to study in England, I was going to come back to Egypt, I was going to own the factory. This was kind of inscribed in my genes at that point. And of course, you give up that, as I like to say, and I've written about this many times, is that whatever you lose, or whatever never happened, continues to sort of sub-exist somewhere in your mind. In other words, it's something that has been taken away from you, even though it never existed.  MANYA: But like his mother, André moved on. In fact, he says moving on is part of the Jewish experience. Married with sons of his own, he now is a distinguished professor at the Graduate Center of City University of New York, teaching the history of literary theory. He is also one of the foremost experts on Marcel Proust, that French novelist whose passages his father once transcribed in his diaries. André’s own novels and anthologies have won awards and inspired Academy Award-winning screenplays. Like Israel opened its doors and welcomed all of those stateless Egyptian Jews, America opened doors for André. Going to college in the Bronx after growing up in Egypt and Italy? That introduced him to being openly Jewish.  ANDRÉ: I went to Lehman College, as an undergraduate, I came to the States in September. I came too late to go to college, but I went to an event at that college in October or November, and already people were telling me they were Jewish.  You know, ‘I'm Jewish, and this and that,’ and, and so I felt ‘Oh, God, it's like, you mean people can be natural about their Judaism? And so, I began saying to people, ‘I'm Jewish, too,’ or I would no longer feel this sense of hiding my Jewishness, which came when I came to America. Not before. Not in Italy. Not in Egypt certainly. But the experience of being in a place that was fundamentally all Jewish, like being in the Bronx in 1968, was mind opening for me, it was: I can let everything down, I can be Jewish like everybody else. It's no longer a secret. I don't have to pretend that I was a Protestant when I didn't even know what kind of Protestant I was. As a person growing up in an antisemitic environment. You have many guards, guardrails in place, so you know how not to let it out this way, or that way or this other way. You don't speak about matzah. You don't speak about charoset. You don't speak about anything, so as to prevent yourself from giving out that you're Jewish. MANYA: Though the doors had been flung open and it felt much safer to be openly Jewish, André to this day cannot forget the antisemitism that poisoned his formative years. ANDRÉ: I assume that everybody's antisemitic at some point. It is very difficult to meet someone who is not Jewish, who, after they've had many drinks, will not turn out to be slightly more antisemitic than you expected. It is there. It's culturally dominant. And so, you have to live with this. As my grandmother used to say, I'm just giving this person time until I discover how antisemitic they are. It was always a question of time. MANYA: His family’s various displacements and scattered roots in Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, and now America, have led him to question his identity and what he calls home. ANDRÉ: I live with this sense of: I don't know where I belong. I don't know who I am. I don't know any of those things. What’s my flag? I have no idea. Where's my home? I don't know. I live in New York. I've lived in New York for 50 years. Is it my home? Not really. But Egypt was never going to be my home. MANYA: André knew when he was leaving Egypt that he would one day write a book about the experience. He knew he should take notes, but never did. And like his father, he started a diary, but it was lost. He started another in 1969.  After completing his dissertation, he began to write book reviews for Commentary, a monthly American magazine on religion, Judaism and politics founded and published, at the time, by American Jewish Committee.  The editor suggested André write something personal, and that was the beginning of Out of Egypt. In fact, three chapters of his memoir, including The Last Seder, appeared in Commentary before it was published as a book in 1994.  André returned to Egypt shortly after its release. But he has not been back since, even though his sons want to accompany him on a trip. ANDRÉ: They want to go back, because they want to go back with me. Question is, I don't want to put them in danger. You never know. You never know how people will react to . . . I mean, I'll go back as a writer who wrote about Egypt and was Jewish. And who knows what awaits me? Whether it will be friendly, will it be icy and chilly. Or will it be hostile? I don't know. And I don't want to put myself there. In other words, the view of the Jews has changed. It went to friendly, to enemy, to friendly, enemy, enemy, friendly, and so on, so forth. In other words, it is a fundamentally unreliable situation.  MANYA: He also doesn’t see the point. It’s impossible to recapture the past. The pictures he sees don’t look familiar and the people he used to know with affection have died. But he doesn’t want the past to be forgotten. None of it. He wants the world to remember the vibrant Jewish life that existed in Cairo and Alexandria, as well as the vile hatred that drove all but a handful of Jews out of Egypt. Cornell Professor Deborah Starr says for the first time in many years, young Egyptians are asking tough questions about the Arabization of Egyptian society and how that affected Egyptian Jews. Perhaps, Israel and Zionism did not siphon Jewish communities from the Arab world as the story often goes. Perhaps instead, Israel offered a critical refuge for a persecuted community. DEBORAH: I think it's really important to tell the stories of Mizrahi Jews. I think that, particularly here we are speaking in English to an American audience, where the majority of Jews in North America are Ashkenazi, we have our own identity, we have our own stories. But there are also other stories that are really interesting to tell, and are part of the history of Jews in the 20th and 21st centuries. They're part of the Jewish experience. And so that's some of what has always motivated me in my research, and looking at the stories of coexistence among Jews and their neighbors in Egypt. MANYA: Professor Starr says the rise of Islamist forces like the Muslim Brotherhood has led Egyptians to harken back toward this period of tolerance and coexistence, evoking a sense of nostalgia. DEBORAH: The people are no longer living together. But it's worth remembering that past, it's worth reflecting on it in an honest way, and not, to look at the nostalgia and say: oh, look, these people are nostalgic about it, what is it that they're nostalgic for? What are some of the motivations for that nostalgia? How are they characterizing this experience? But also to look kind of critically on the past and understand, where things were working where things weren't and, and to tell the story in an honest way. MANYA: Though the communities are gone, there has been an effort to restore the evidence of Jewish life. Under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Egypt’s president since 2014, there have been initiatives to restore and protect synagogues and cemeteries, including Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria, Maimonides’ original yeshiva in old Cairo, and Cairo’s vast Jewish cemetery at Bassatine. But André is unmoved by this gesture. ANDRÉ: In fact, I got a call from the Egyptian ambassador to my house here, saying, ‘We're fixing the temples and the synagogues, and we want you back.’ ‘Oh, that's very nice. First of all,’ I told him, ‘fixing the synagogues doesn't do anything for me because I'm not a religious Jew. And second of all, I would be more than willing to come back to Egypt, when you give me my money back.’ He never called me again. MANYA: Anytime the conversation about reparations comes up, it is overshadowed by the demand for reparations for Palestinians displaced by the creation of Israel, even though their leaders have rejected all offers for a Palestinian state. André wishes the Arab countries that have attacked Israel time and again would invest that money in the welfare of Palestinian refugees, help them start new lives, and to thrive instead of using them as pawns in a futile battle.  He will always be grateful to HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, for helping his family escape, resettle, and rebuild their lives. ANDRÉ: We’ve made new lives for ourselves. We’ve moved on, and I think this is what Jews do all the time, all the time. They arrive or they’re displaced, kicked out, they refashion themselves. Anytime I can help a Jew I will. Because they've helped me, because it's the right thing to do for a Jew. If a Jew does not help another Jew, what kind of a Jew are you? I mean, you could be a nonreligious Jew as I am, but I am still Jewish.  And I realize that we are a people that has historically suffered a great deal, because we were oppressed forever, and we might be oppressed again. Who knows, ok? But we help each other, and I don't want to break that chain. MANYA: Egyptian Jews are just one of the many Jewish communities who in the last century left Arab countries to forge new lives for themselves and future generations. Join us next week as we share another untold story of The Forgotten Exodus. Many thanks to André for sharing his story. You can read more in his memoir Out of Egypt and eventually in the sequel which he’s working on now about his family’s life in Italy after they left Egypt and before they came to America.  Does your family have roots in North Africa or the Middle East? One of the goals of this series is to make sure we gather these stories before they are lost. Too many times during my reporting, I encountered children and grandchildren who didn't have the answers to my questions because they had never asked. That's why one of the goals of this project is to encourage you to find more of these stories.  Call The Forgotten Exodus hotline. Tell us where your family is from and something you'd like for our listeners to know such as how you've tried to keep the traditions alive and memories alive as well. Call 212.891-1336 and leave a message of 2 minutes or less. Be sure to leave your name and where you live now. You can also send an email to and we'll be in touch. Atara Lakritz is our producer, CucHuong Do is our production manager. T.K. Broderick is our sound engineer. Special thanks to Jon Schweitzer, Sean Savage, Ian Kaplan, and so many of our colleagues, too many to name really, for making this series possible. And extra special thanks to David Harris, who has been a constant champion for making sure these stories do not remain untold. You can follow The Forgotten Exodus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, and you can sign up to receive updates at The views and opinions of our guests don’t necessarily reflect the positions of AJC.  You can reach us at If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to spread the word, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review to help more listeners find us.
On Friday, August 5, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Breaking Dawn in response to days of threats from the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that it would attack Israel. The conflict, which lasted nearly three days, saw over 1,100 rockets launched towards Israel by PIJ. The IDF killed several high-ranking PIJ operatives and destroyed much of the terror group’s military capabilities. Listen to AJC Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer Jason Isaacson, in conversation with AJC Jerusalem Director Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich, analyze the latest conflict and the steps moving forward. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Jason Isaacson and Avital Leibovich ___ Show Notes: Photo credits: Kobi Alkotser/GPO Watch the full discussion: Briefing on the Situation in Israel - AJC Advocacy Anywhere Learn more about The Forgotten Exodus at Listen to our latest podcast episode: Behind the Scenes of AJC’s New Podcast Series The Forgotten Exodus Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: peopleofthepod@ajc.orgIf you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
Hear behind-the-scenes details about AJC’s new podcast series The Forgotten Exodus, featuring its host Manya Brachear Pashman and cartoonist and musician Carol Isaacs, who shares more about her family’s flight from rising antisemitism in Iraq, as depicted in her graphic memoir and animated film, The Wolf of Baghdad. The Forgotten Exodus, which has ranked number one on Apple’s Jewish podcast chart since it was launched on August 1, is the first-ever podcast series focused exclusively on the rich, yet little-known heritage of Jews from Arab nations and Iran. This discussion, hosted by AJC’s Dr. Saba Soomekh, highlights the importance of learning Mizrahi and Sephardic stories to better understand the Jewish experience.  ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Saba Soomekh, Carol Isaacs, and Manya Brachear Pashman ___ Show Notes: Learn more about The Forgotten Exodus at Watch the rest of the discussion: The Forgotten Exodus Leaving Iraq - AJC Advocacy Anywhere Listen to our latest podcast episode: James Carville and Leslie Sanchez on the Battle Between Extremists and Moderates in U.S. Politics Follow to People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
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