Invite one of these advocates for racial and cultural diversity to engage your community.
Beza Abebe was born in Yabello, Ethiopia, a small town close to the border of Kenya. She grew up in Hawassa and received her LLB from Hawassa University. In 2009, at the age of 23, she moved to Israel and officially made aliyah in 2014. For the last 10 years, she worked in Jewish philanthropic organizations in Israel that strive for the integration, empowerment and equality of the Ethiopian Jewish community. She worked at Tebeka, advocating for the Ethiopian community, and The David Foundation, which works on leadership and education for Ethiopian Jews.
Beza holds a masters in government and diplomacy from IDC Herzliya and a masters in law (LLM) from Tel Aviv University. Beza is currently a SJD doctoral student at Golden Gate University in San Francisco specializing on International law.
Ladino Musician & Scholar
Rivka earned her PhD from the University of Toronto in 1990, held post-doctoral fellowships in medical ethics at the Hastings Center and Hebrew University, and has published widely in medical ethics and related fields. She taught at Bar Ilan University for ten years, and also taught at Tel Aviv Medical School, Stanford, Berkeley, and Princeton, and has received several awards for her scholarship and teaching. Since coming to the Bay Area, Rivka has merged her scholarly and musical work both in the United States and Israel.
For years Rivka sang Ladino songs and played the piano informally, and sang in her synagogue choir in Jerusalem. Since moving to the Bay Area, she has dedicated much of her time to researching Sephardic culture and performing traditional Ladino music.
She has developed a program, A Journey Back to Spain, in which she recounts how the Jews of Spain have been able to maintain their identity for five hundred years, long after their expulsion, first from Spain and then from the entire Iberian Peninsula. In this program she mixes historical narrative, accounts of Sephardic culture, and popular Ladino songs. This program unites Rivka’s two halves; her musical half and her scholarly half. Since developing this and other programs, Rivka has performed in Sephardic venues around the Bay Area, the New York Sephardic Festival, and in New Jersey, Florida, Israel, and Adelaide and Melbourne, Australia.
In March 2009 she released Hija Mia, an album of traditional Ladino songs, accompanied by an ensemble of talented musicians. She is planning a second album which will contain more traditional Ladino songs, as well as original compositions of her own in Ladino, Hebrew, and English.
In 2013, Rivka launched a new project, “Sephardic Flamenco Fusion,” which combines Ladino songs with Flamenco rhythms and music. The new group of collaborators includes a flamenco guitarist, a dancer, and a percussionist, all of whom have lived in both Israel and Spain, and blended their interests into a true synthesis of Flamenco and Ladino music.
Ladino Musician & Author
Determined to help bring Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) culture to a new generation, Sarah Aroeste, an international Ladino singer/songwriter, author and cultural activist, draws upon her Sephardic family roots from Greece and Macedonia (via Medieval Spain) to present traditional and original Ladino songs with her unique blend of rock, pop, and jazz.
Since 2001, Aroeste has toured the globe performing and speaking, and has recorded five albums, A la Una: In the Beginning (2003), Puertas (2007), Gracia (2012), Ora de Despertar (2016), the first-ever all-original Ladino children’s album, and Together/Endjuntos (2017) the first bilingual Ladino/English holiday album. In 2014 Aroeste won the Sephardic prize at the International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam, and in 2015 she represented the USA in the International Sephardic Music Festival in Cordoba, Spain. Aroeste is currently directing The Monastir Project, a music collaboration between Israelis and Macedonians to pay tribute to a once thriving Balkan community.
In addition to writing music, Aroeste has published numerous articles and essays about Sephardic cultural preservation, and pens Sephardic-themed books for children. Her most recent book, Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom (Kar-Ben and PJ Library), was published March 2020. Bringing Ladino words and music to young and old, Aroeste has garnered wide critical acclaim for her efforts to introduce Sephardic culture to wider audiences.
Comedian & Podcaster
Alex Barnett’s comedy is about family—specifically his family. As the White, Jewish husband of a Black woman (who converted to Judaism) and the father of a 2-year-old biracial son, he focuses his attention on the challenges of being a parent in a bad economy and the issues that confront interracial families, including the dynamics between members of the same family who are of different races.
Alex is the host of “Multiracial Family Man,” a weekly podcast that delves into issues confronting multiracial people and families. He has been seen on the Katie Couric Show, been featured on Sirius/XM Radio’s “Raw Dog Comedy,” NBC’s EVB Live, Bloomberg Law TV, ComedyTime TV, RT TV America and NYC–TV and in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and CNN.com.
In addition to being a comedian, Alex is a lawyer, and he is a co-founding member of Comedians at Law, a group of lawyers-turned-comics who tour nationally.
Writer & Photographer
Rachel Beck is an author and international photographer. She was born in India and was adopted from an orphanage by a Jewish family. She has run a photography business for the last 8 years in the Midwest.
She is turning the tragic events in her life into positivity through her photography and writing. She wants to share how art has healed her in many ways. By sharing her story, she hopes she inspires others to pick themselves up after they have been through hard times. She holds a Bachelor of General Studies with Minors in Psychology and Gender Studies.
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• Diversity awareness
• Rachel’s journey of returning to India and reconnecting with her heritage
• Women entrepreneurs
Scholar of Jewish Cuba
Ruth Behar was born in Havana, Cuba, and grew up in New York. She is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Among her honors, she is the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Distinguished Alumna Award from Wesleyan University. Ruth has worked as an ethnographer in Spain, Mexico, and Cuba, and is known for her humanistic approach to understanding identity, immigration, and the search for home in our global era. Her books include The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village;Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story; The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart; and An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba. She is co-editor of Women Writing Culture, editor of Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba, and co-editor of The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World. Her documentary, Adio Kerida/Goodbye Dear Love: A Cuban Sephardic Journey, has been shown in festivals around the world. As much a provocative scholar as a creative writer, Ruth is also known for her essays, poetry, and fiction. Her latest book is Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys.
Lior Ben-Hur was born and raised in Jerusalem, Israel. For the last nine years his home base has been San Francisco, where he has been teaching music, Hebrew and Jewish identity classes in a variety of schools and congregations, emphasizing on the importance of music in education.
Lior has a San Francisco-based band, Sol Tevél, that integrates sounds, rhythms, and multilingual lyrics from around the globe in order to advocate building a strong, conscious and united community worldwide. In October 2012 Sol Tevél released their debut album, World Light, which aims to shed a new light and contemporary interpretation on old Jewish texts, ideals and mysticism. Lior’s new solo album, So I Wander, was released in February 2017.
Siona Benjamin is an artist originally from Bombay, of Bene Israel Jewish descent. Siona’s work reflects her complex cultural background and the transition between the old and new worlds. She is inspired by traditional styles of painting, like Indian/Persian miniatures, Byzantine icons and Jewish illuminated manuscripts, but blends these ancient forms with pop cultural elements from our times to create a new vocabulary of her own. In her work she raises questions about what and where is “home”, while evoking issues such as identity, immigration, motherhood, and the role of art in social change. Having grown up in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim society, educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, and been raised Jewish and now living in America, Siona has always had to reflect upon the cultural boundary zones in which she has lived. In this multicultural America, she feels a strong need to make art that will bring out similarities, not differences, contributing to the conversation about stereotyping and religious intolerance. She has her first MFA in painting and second MFA in Theater set design. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 2010-11 for an art project titled: Faces: Weaving Indian Jewish Narratives.
Rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl
Central Synagogue, NY
Angela Warnick Buchdahl was invested as a cantor in 1999 and ordained as a rabbi in 2001 from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York. She earned a BA in Religious Studies from Yale University in 1994. Born in Korea to a Jewish American father and a Korean Buddhist mother, Rabbi Buchdahl is the first Asian American to be ordained as a cantor or rabbi in North America. Prior to her appointment as cantor at Central Synagogue, Rabbi Buchdahl served as associate rabbi/cantor at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y.
Rabbi Buchdahl has been nationally recognized for her innovations in leading services, and has served as faculty for the Wexner Heritage Foundation and for the Union for Reform Judaism Kallot programs. She has been actively involved in Just Congregations, the Reform Movement’s congregation-based community organizing effort. Rabbi Buchdahl has been featured in articles in Reform Judaism, Shema Journal of Jewish Ideas, Newsweek’s 2012 list of “America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis” and the PBS documentary 18 Voices Sing Kol Nidrei. She serves on the Board of Auburn Theological Seminary and the Multiracial Jewish Network.
Rabbi Buchdahl and her husband Jacob Buchdahl have three children.
Born in Hong Kong, Davi Yael Cheng immigrated to the United States with her family when she was fourteen. In addition to her rich Chinese heritage, Davi has embraced Judaism and is actively involved in her synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), “House of New Life,” the world’s original gay and lesbian synagogue founded in Los Angeles in 1972. Davi is the past president and co-founder of the synagogue’s Klezmer band, “Gay Gezunt,” where she plays the trumpet and French horn, she also sings in the choir.
Davi is a graphic designer in Los Angeles and her artwork reflects the diverse aspects of her life and the unique perspective it has given her. Davi designed the twelve stained glass windows at BCC, and fabricated the windows along with three other artists, all BCC members, her new project will be to help create the stained glass door and Ner Tamid for the Ark in the new building her temple will be moving to in April 2011.
Davi has served as the Executive Vice Presidents for the Pacific Southwest Regional Board with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and currently take on the role as a Bridgebuilder for the West District.
Davi holds a B.A. degree in Biological Science from the University of California, Berkeley, where she met her spouse of 31 years, Bracha Yael Cheng.
Rabbi Romiel Daniel
Rego Park Jewish Center
Rabbi Romiel Daniel was born and raised in Mumbai, India in a religious home following the Indian Jewish tradition. After first arriving in the United States, to earn his Masters in Chemistry from Brandeis University, Rabbi Daniel returned to India to become the Vice President of an apparel company, moving from India to Mauritius and eventually Madagascar, before finally coming back to America to train as a Cantor at Yeshiva University. In 2008, Rabbi Daniel became Cantor of Rego Park Jewish Center.
As the only ordained Indian Rabbi in North America, Rabbi Daniel’s unique cultural position has made him something of a minor celebrity with write ups in The New York Times, Daily News, Jewish Week, and The Daily Forward amongst many others! In addition the Rabbi has been invited to lecture on The Jews of India at Lincoln Center, The Queens Museum, and JCC’s across the country.
Persian singer & scholar
As the first woman to continue her family’s tradition of distinguished Persian and Jewish musicianship, Galeet Dardashti pursues her passion for Jewish and Middle Eastern music as vocalist/composer and scholar. Galeet’s grandfather, Yona Dardashti, was one of the most highly acclaimed singers of Persian classical music in Iran. Together with her family, Galeet performed Jewish music throughout the US and Canada for almost twenty years. Since then, she has earned a reputation as one of the most innovative Jewish and Middle Eastern musicians today. She received a Six Points Fellowship to pursue her multi-disciplinary 2010 nationally acclaimed release, The Naming, which interprets some of the compelling women of the Bible. Her most recent work, Monajat, commissioned by the Foundation for Jewish Culture, is inspired by old and haunting recordings of the Jewish prayers of Selihot chanted by her grandfather. Dardashti is also the leader of the renowned all-female power-house Mizrahi ensemble, Divahn.
Having studied with her father, Hazzan Farid Dardashti, Galeet has significant cantorial experience and leads Mizrahi/Sephardi Shabbat services throughout the country. Dardashti also holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University at the Taub Center for Israel Studies. She offers residencies, lectures, and interactive workshops on her artistic and academic work throughout the US and abroad.
Reuben “Prodezra” Formey
Rapper & producer
Southern, Jewish Rap!? A Baal T’shuva, Prodezra Beats hails from Savannah, GA. An independent hip hop rapper/producer, he broke out big on the scene when he produced the track “Change” with Y-Love & DeScribe and G-dcast’s biggest video for Rosh Hoshanah, “Shofar Callin.” Prodezra started making beats as a hobby in early high school with just an old Casio board & computer. Being a member of school bands from a young age contributed to his knack for creating hard-hitting tracks early on. After going down the wrong road, Prodezra made some positive changes in his life, crediting Chabad & Breslov teachings. Now he’s using his G-d given talent for good.
He lays hard-hitting lyrics over head-bobbing beats with southern flavor and is being heard by audiences across the globe. His unique place in Jewish music is gaining him appreciation in high places, and he was invited last Chanukah to perform before the Atlanta Hawks game at Philip Arena. Not only is his music jamming and inspirational, but he also has a positive personal message to share about his life and the spiritual changes he has made.
Artist & educator
Ceen Gabbai is a Brooklyn based artist and educator. She grew up in Iraq and moved to the United States in 2015.
Gabbai is the author of a number of children’s books and co-founder of Darceen.org, a unique Arabic website explaining Judaism.
Gina Gold is a humorist, filmmaker and stage artist. She grew up in a New York neighborhood thinking “oy vey” was something all black people said. Inspired by comedians like Carol Burnett and Louis CK, Gina boldly pokes fun at her own idiosyncrasies as a Jewish African-American Bay Area native who is really from Queens. At the age of thirteen she attended The American Academy Of Dramatic Arts and later wrote her own one woman shows before venturing into filmmaking. She launched her own show on a New York cable access channel. Calling it “The Gina Gold Show,” she filled the airtime with comedic, sometimes surreal, Saturday Night Live-style sketches and short films.
After telling a story called Hands Up on NPR’s radio show Snap Judgment, Gina fell in love with storytelling and started her own series called TMI (Too Much Information), which she currently produces. TMI features a rotating cast of storytellers giving an unadulterated, often hardcore look at life. She has also toured in a show called You’re Funny But You Don’t Look Jewish, a touring stand up comedy show with some very funny African American, Indian, Italian American and Vietnamese Jewish comedians.
Rabbi Isaama Goldstein-Stoll
Rabbi Isaama Goldstein-Stoll is senior Jewish educator at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale. She was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Originally from the Washington D.C. area, Isaama received a BA in Religious Studies from Carleton College before pursuing an MA in Hebrew Letters and Smicha at HUC-JIR.
Isaama has been shaped by the Reform movement in many ways: from transformative experiences in NFTY and at URJ Camp Harlam to her studies at HUC-JIR. However, in recent years Isaama has served as a student rabbi and rabbinic intern not only in Reform but also in Conservative and Humanistic congregations.
Isaama brings to Slifka her commitment to liberal Judaism and her pastoral experience. Additionally, Isaama has always been motivated by a deep commitment to diversity. Through her work at Be’chol Lashon, an organization dedicated to serving Jews of Color, Isaama has served as an advocate around issues of Jewish diversity.
Lewis R. Gordon
Lewis R. Gordon is professor of philosophy, African American studies, and Judaic studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. He is an Afro-Jewish philosopher, political thinker, educator, and musician who grew up in the Bronx, New York, where he attended Evander Child’s High School, played jazz in NY night clubs, and went to Lehman College under the Lehman Scholars Program (LSP) where he graduated with honors in political science and philosophy as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Gordon’s research in philosophy is in Africana philosophy, existentialism, phenomenology, social and political philosophy, and philosophy of human sciences.
As a public intellectual, Gordon has written for a variety of political forums, newspapers, and magazines, such as truthout, the Pambazuka News, and The Mail & Guardian, and has lectured across the globe, and founded and co-founded journals and organizations, including Radical Philosophy Review and the Caribbean Philosophical Association, of which he was the first president (2003 to 2008). He also participates in several international research groups such as Thinking Africa at Rhodes University in South Africa and The Center for Caribbean Thought in Mona, Jamaica.As a public intellectual, Gordon has written for a variety of political forums, newspapers, and magazines, such as truthout, the Pambazuka News, and The Mail & Guardian, and has lectured across the globe, and founded and co-founded journals and organizations, including Radical Philosophy Review and the Caribbean Philosophical Association, of which he was the first president. He also participates in several international research groups such as Thinking Africa at Rhodes University in South Africa and The Center for Caribbean Thought in Mona, Jamaica.
Gordon is married to the political theorist Jane Anna Gordon. His website is https://www.lewisrgordon.com/
Lewis Gordon is the offspring of two Jewish communities that converged in his mother. One was the Solomon family, who migrated to Jamaica in the 19th Century. The other was from Ireland under the name of Finikin, who also immigrated there during the same period.
He is the founder and co-director, with his wife Jane Gordon, of the Center for Afro-Jewish Studies at Temple University, a research institute dedicated to developing reliable sources of information on Afro-Jews and Jewish diversity. He is also a research affiliate of the Institute for Jewish Research and Community. Professor Gordon achieved his PhD in Philosophy with distinction from Yale University in 1993. He earned his BA, with multiple honors, through the Lehman Scholars Program at Lehman College in the Bronx, New York, in 1984.
His co-edited A Companion to African-American Studies was chosen as the NetLibrary eBook of the Month for February 2007. His forthcoming books are An Introduction to Africana Philosophy, which will be published by Cambridge University Press, and, with Jane Anna Gordon, Of Divine Warning: Reading Disaster in the Modern Age, which will be published by Paradigm Publishers. He is the author of the foreword to Gary and Diane Tobin and Scott Rubin’s In Every Tongue (2005), and he is currently working on a book tentatively titled The Afro–Jewish Question and co-editing an anthology on the study of Jewish diversity. Professor Gordon has received many accolades for his work and has lectured internationally.
Jane Anna Gordon
Political Science Professor
Jane Gordon is Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. She is the author of Why They Couldn’t Wait: A Critique of the Black-Jewish Conflict Over Community Control in Ocean-Hill Brownsville, 1967-1971 (Routledge, 2001), which was listed by The Gotham Gazette as one of the four best books recently published on Civil Rights, and co-editor of A Companion to African-American Studies (Blackwell’s, 2006) and Not Only the Master’s Tools (Paradigm Publishers, 2006). Gordon’s current work focuses on problems of legitimacy in democratic societies: she is currently completing one book that aims to refashion Rousseau’s concept of the general will through the resources offered by W.E.B. Du Bois’s idea of double consciousness and another, with Lewis Gordon, that develops a social and political theory of disaster in the modern age. Gordon is particularly interested in how best to measure and count communities that have been designated religiously, about ways in which best to understand members of communities of color who are deliberately returning to Judaism, and in how to most accurately and effectively educate contemporary Jews and non-Jews about the creolized past and present of vibrant Jewish communities.
Author & educator
Carolivia Herron is an author and educator currently living in Washington, DC. She is the founder and president of EpicCenter Stories, a nonprofit creative writing and educational organization. Herron is best known as the author of the controversial children’s book, Nappy Hair, which is associated with the crisis in diversity education in the United States. Carolivia’s most recent book, Always An Olivia, relates the story, told to Carolivia by her 103-year-old great grandmother, of her Jewish ancestor, Sarah bat Asher, who was kidnapped from Italy by Barbary pirates in 1805.
Dr. Herron’s other major publications include: Thereafter Johnnie (Random House, 1991), The Selected Writings of Angelina Weld Grimkz (Oxford, 1991), and Little Georgia and the Apples (EpicCenter Stories, 2006). Her work in progress, Asenath and Our Song of Songs, imagines the life of the Ancient African (Egyptian) woman who married Joseph, son of Israel.
Carolivia received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory and MA in Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds two degrees in English Literature, an MA from Villanova University and a BA from Eastern University. She has been a visiting scholar in Judaic Studies and Comparative Literature at Brandeis University, Hebrew College (Newton, MA), the Harvard Divinity School, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She was also a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico, Zaire, and the Republic of Congo.
Native New Yorker Vanessa Hidary, AKA The Hebrew Mamita, grew up on Manhattan’s culturally diverse Upper West Side, graduating from LaGuardia High School of the Arts and Hunter College. Her experiences as a Sephardic Jew with close friends from different ethnic and religious backgrounds inspired her to write “Culture Bandit,” the nationally toured solo show that chronicles Vanessa’s coming of age during the golden age of Hip-Hop and her dedication to fostering understanding and friendship between all people. “Culture Bandit” was originally produced by LAByrinth Theatre Company. It has since played as part of festivals around the United States, including The Roar Theatre Festival at Nuyorican Poets Café, Makor Arts Center, and the Comedy Central Stage in Los Angeles.
She has aired three times on “Russell Simmon’s Presents Def Poetry Jam” on HBO, and is featured in the short film, “The Tribe,” which was selected for the Sundance Film Festival. She has conducted poetry and racism workshops with Bnai’ Brith Youth organization and is the director/developer of “MONOLOGUES” – an evening of solo performances by 15 young adults exploring their Jewish identity, inspired by a 10-day trip through Israel, produced by Birthright Israel NEXT.
Vanessa received an M.F.A. in acting from Trinity Rep theatre Conservatory. She lives in Manhattan, where she is working on her first collection of poems and stories titled “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega.”
Born in Ethiopia where he got his early education, Dr. Isaac holds a BA degree in Philosophy, Chemistry, & Music (Concordia College); an M. Div. (Harvard Divinity School); a PhD in Near Eastern Languages (Harvard University); and D.H.L. (honorary, John Jay /CUNY). He was Professor at Harvard (1968 -1977). The first professor hired in Afro-American Studies at Harvard, he was voted the best teacher each year by the students and the Department.
In addition to Harvard (that endowed the Ephraim Isaac Prize in African Studies in 1998), Dr. Isaac has lectured at Hebrew U (Ancient Semitic Languages), Princeton U (Near Eastern Studies, Religion; V. Prof. (Religion & African American Studies 1995-01) & U of Pennsylvania (Religion, Semitic Languages), Howard U (Divinity School), Lehigh U (Religion), Bard College (Religion, History), and other institutions of higher learning.
His subjects range from those mentioned above to Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinic Literature, Ethiopian History, Concept and History of Slavery and Ancient African Civilizations. He has been a Fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Advanced Studies. He has received many awards and honors including an honorary D. H. L. (John Jay College, CUNY), the 2002 Peacemaker Award of the Rabbi Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.
Dr. Isaac is author of numerous articles and books on (Late Second Temple) Jewish and (Ancient Ethiopic) Ge’ez literatures. Three of his recent works pertain to the oldest known manuscripts of The Book of Enoch (Doubleday, 1983) and An Ethiopic History of Joseph (Sheffield Press, 1990), and Proceedings of Second International Congress of Yemenite Jewish Studies (ISS & Univ. of Haifa, 1999). An expanded definitive version of his The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is in press (Africa World Press, 2001.) He is currently working on a new edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments of The Book of Enoch (Princeton Theological Seminary); A History of Religions in Africa; and Cultural History of Ethiopian Jews. He is on editorial boards of two international scholarly journals on Afroasiatic Languages and Second Temple Jewish Literature respectively.
Dr. Isaac has diverse accomplishments. He knows seventeen languages. He is the first translator of Handel’s Messiah into Amharic, Ethiopian official language. He is widely known in Ethiopia as founder of the National Literacy Campaign that made millions literate in the late sixties. He is currently the international Chair of the Horn of Africa Board of Peace and Development Organization (Addis Ababa, Asmara) and the President of The Yemenite Jewish Federation of America. He is on the board of many charitable and educational organizations. Sought after nationally and internationally, he is widely acclaimed as a public lecturer on religion, literature, ancient history, peace and conflict resolution, and various other subjects listed above.
Celeste Jackson is an African American, Haitian, and Jewish woman, working as a finance lawyer in New York City. She was born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to a Jewish mother, who traces her heritage to Haiti.
As a recipient of the 2010 Dorot Fellowship, a Jewish leadership fellowship, Celeste spent a year in Israel working on a project showcasing the diversity of the Jewish people. During her time in Israel, Celeste traveled the country, interviewing and documenting the life stories of Jews from diverse backgrounds, with a particular focus on less represented Jewish communities.
She is passionate about diversity and strives to create space for all Jews to promote and celebrate their unique Jewish identity.
• Feeling at Home Among 900 Black Jews at an Ethiopian-Israeli Wedding, Jewish&, August 27, 2019
Kenny Kahn is an Assistant Principal at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California. He received a Bachelors degree in Literature, Creative Writing & Poetry and a Masters of Education from UC Santa Cruz, followed by his second Masters of Education at UC Berkeley. Kahn previously taught high school English and coordinated restorative justice circles at his alma mater, El Cerrito High School.
An East Bay native born in the early 80s, Kahn grew up in Richmond, California, the son of a Jewish mother and Black father. He played football at El Cerrito High and remains the only head coach in school history to lead his team to a North Coast Section title (2013). In 2012, Kahn received the third Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California’s Award for contributions to the local sports scene. He has been named Oakland Raiders Coach of the Week and San Francisco 49ers Hero in the Classroom for his work in teaching and coaching.
Kahn was drawn to the message and mission of Be’chol Lashon and has been involved since its founding. He moves seamlessly between his black and Jewish worlds and is exceptional in relating to young Jews navigating their multiple identities.
Natasha comes from a family of Bene Israel Jews. Growing up in Toronto, she had an Ashkenazi Jewish day school and synagogue experience, along with a unique Indian Jewish home and festival experience. She credits her parents and grandparents for instilling great pride in her heritage by sharing their personal stories and the remarkable history of the Bene Israel community. Still, finding her place in the broader Jewish community was a journey. She and her husband were fortunate to find a warm and welcoming community in New Jersey, where she became active in synagogue life and a member of the Board of Trustees at her temple. After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, she and her family were captivated by the wonderful clergy and warm community at Peninsula Temple Beth El, where she recently joined the Board of Trustees.
Natasha has a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s in Human Resources. She brings global HR, Talent, and Organization Effectiveness experience in both established and entrepreneurial companies and is the Founder of ZEST People and Talent Advisors. She helps her clients connect strategy and people to scale organizations, enable teams, and grow leaders.
Natasha’s exploration of the evolving Jewish community continues as she blends her professional expertise and personal experiences to explore multiple facets that make up identity and the path to inclusion.
Jewish studies professor
Manashe Khaimov is a fourth generation community organizer, informal Jewish educator, and a lifelong learner who brings his passion working with Jewish community. Manashe was born in a city along the Silk Road, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where his ancestors lived for over 2000 years, which makes Manashe’s Jewish identity simultaneously Bukharian, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Russian speaking.
Manashe is an Adjunct Professor of Jewish Studies, with a specialty in the History and Culture of the Bukharian Jews at CUNY Queens College. He is a Founding Director of the Bukharian Jewish Union Inc, an organization for the young professionals in their 20’s and 30’s where he serves as Vice President of Community Relations. Manashe is a Founder of www.askbobo.org the only Bukharian online dictionary online platform. Manashe is a Founder of The Jewish Silk Road Tours ™ a walking tours in New York City for people who are interested in learning about the Jewish communities (Bukharian, Persian, etc.) that had lived along the Silk Road, for over 2000 years. For the past two years, Manashe was a Chair of the Public Relations & Marketing Committee for Limmud FSU US and he served as a Chair of the Fundraising and Development Committee.
Currently, Manashe is a Director of Community Engagement and Development at Queens College Hillel where he focuses on community organizing and building meaningful relationships with students, community members, and individuals, with hopes to introduce Bukharian, Mizrahi and Sephardic communities to the work that Queens College Hillel does, as well as the work that Hillel International does around the world.
Manashe is a recipient of the New York Jewish Week “36 Under 36” Visionary Jewish Leader Award, TimesLedger Newspapers “Queens Impact Award” honoring the borough’s unsung heroes, and he is an alumnus of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship for International Jewish Leaders. Manashe received his BA from Baruch College, where he served as Hillel President and graduate from Hunter College Silverman School of Social Work, with a Master in Community Organizing Planning and Development.
Manashe believes that innovative and inclusive community organizations can change lives, and he values personal relationships above all.
Samson Koletkar was born in Mumbai and raised Jewish. Growing up in the world’s most crowded city, he spent most of his childhood years burning the midnight candles for earning a Masters in Computer Software, thereby fulfilling his parent’s dreams. He then moved halfway across the world, to the technology headquarters and a hotbed for emerging comics—San Francisco.
As a first generation immigrant in America, Samson brings a refreshingly new approach to cerebral, witty, thought-provoking, clean humor with a global perspective. Driven by personal trials and tribulations, his subtle satire addresses religious and political hypocrisies, social issues, and day-to-day absurdities of human nature.
He won the 2010 Asian American Theater Company Comedy Competition, has performed at clubs, colleges and corporations in India, Canada and 12 states in the U.S., and has been featured on Asian Jewish Life, Indian Express, NBC, CBS and NPR.
Benjamin Kweskin (MA, International Studies; MA, Political Science) specializes in the histories, cultures, and politics of the Middle East and has been researching and writing for over fifteen years.
He has presented his research in various venues and settings across the world and is published in Open Democracy, Jerusalem Post, Rudaw, Philos Project, Creative Loafing, and Atlantic Community among many others. He is passionate about including more knowledge about global Jewish communities historically and presently, particularly Mizrahi communities.
In 2013-2014, he lived in the Kurdistan Region (Iraq) in the Region’s capital, Erbil as an educator, lecturer, journalist, and tour guide. He is the main Historical Researcher for the official Kurdistan Region Tour Guide (2015-2016), the most comprehensive tour guide about this Region to date. He speaks Hebrew, Arabic, and Kurdish at varying levels and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. His hobbies include learning how to play oud and cooking Middle Eastern cuisine.
Rabbi Sandra Lawson
Sandra Lawson is a rabbi, a sociologist, personal trainer, food activist, weightlifter, vegan, writer, public speaker, and musician. She was dubbed the Snapchat Rabbi and featured in JTA as one of 10 Jews you should follow on Snapchat and The 50 Jews everyone should follow on Twitter. In June 2018, after a long journey of intensive and wonderful learning, she was ordained as a rabbi by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She currently serves as the associate chaplain for Jewish life at Elon University Hillel.
Noah S. Leavitt
Noah S. Leavitt is a teacher, author, community organizer and attorney. He serves as President of Congregation Beth Israel in Walla Walla, Washington. He is also a Visiting Assistant Professor with Whitman College.
He earned his B.A. from Haverford College, his J.D. from the University of Michigan, and his M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, where his thesis, “The Ends of Ethnicity,” analyzed the shifting perceptions of identity among leaders of interethnic networks in the Midwest.
He served as the Advocacy Director for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, directing numerous campaigns to carry out the organization’s mission to combat poverty, racism and anti-Semitism in partnership with Chicago’ s diverse communities.
Leavitt’s writings analyzing contemporary legal, cultural and political events have appeared in a wide range of print and online publications including The Forward, Slate, Michigan Journal of International Law, CNN, The Housing Law Bulletin, FindLaw, the International Herald Tribune, Jurist, and the blog of the American Constitution Society.
He is currently working on a project with his wife, Helen Kim, to understand how American Jews and Asian-Americans who are married to each other think about their racial, religious and ethnic identities.
Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber was born and raised in Israel to parents of Yemenite descent. She has a PhD in Communication from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a Master’s degree in Communication and Journalism from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She has worked as a journalist in Israel for Yediot Aharonot, Shishi, Hadashot, and Hapatish newspapers and did some research work for the show Uvda on Channel Two. She also worked as a researcher and diversity trainer at Adva Center for Equality of Israeli Society.
Teaching Journalism and Media at Suffolk University, her research interests include the media’s role in shaping the sphere of public discourse, media criticism, media coverage of social and political conflicts, and representation of minorities in the media. Her book, Israeli Media and the Framing of Internal Conflict: The Yemenite Babies Affair, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2009.
Author & activist
Shais Rison, aka MaNishtana, was born in 1982 into an African–American Orthodox Jewish family, which traces its African–American Jewish roots seven generations back. He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Shoshana. As the blogger behind MaNishtana.net, he works to nurture unity and strengthen multifaceted identity within the Jew of Color community, and invites all to participate in this niche social media site’s conversations. As the founder of JOCFlock.org, an online dating site for Jews of Color, MaNishtana helps Jews of Color find their zivug/beshert. A social activist more by chance than choice, his life’s true passions include a constant quest for the best rum or scotch, 1940s films, and winning arguments through proliferous use of sarcasm.
MaNishtana newest book, the “not–autobiography” Thoughts from a Unicorn is a witty, straight-talking collection of memoirs, essays, and a few haikus that will take you on a journey of laughs, tears, self-reflection, learning, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Full of insight, reflections on personal experiences, fond memories, and honest regrets, this book will have you reaching for the tissue box sitting next to the pen and notepad you’ll want to keep on hand just to remember more than a few points. As any reader of his blog, www.manishtana.net, knows, his sharp humor cuts straight to the core of a matter. You’ll never be left guessing, but maybe wondering, at the end of each chapter.
Rabbi Juan Mejía
Southwest/Latin America Director
Rabbi Juan Mejía was born in Bogotá, Colombia. Raised a Catholic, he converted to Judaism after discovering the powerful beauty and message of Judaism. He holds a degree in philosophy from Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and a Masters degree in Jewish Civilization from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Juan was ordained in 2009 by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He lives in Oklahoma City, where he serves as the Jewish Educator for Emanuel Synagogue. He also serves as Rabbi in Residence for Be’chol Lashon.
Juan is a passionate advocate for converts and making Torah available to all. He has been teaching Torah in Spanish for over a decade through his website, www.koltuvsefarad.com
Yeganyahu Avishai Mekonen emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel in 1984 as part of Operation Moses, and has worked as a photographer and filmmaker on projects investigating issues of race and identity.
400 Miles to Freedom, a documentary film executive-produced by Be’chol Lashon, is about Avishai’s dangerous journey from Ethiopia to Israel to the United States. In 1984, the Beta Israel–a secluded 2,500-year-old community of observant Jews in the northern Ethiopian mountains–began a secret and dangerous journey of escape. Co-director Avishai Mekonen, then 10 years old, was among them. In the film 400 Miles to Freedom, he breaks his 20-year silence about the kidnapping he endured as a child in Sudan during his community’s exodus out of Africa. This life-defining event launches an inquiry into identity, leading him to African, Asian and Latino Jews in Israel and the U.S.
Avishai’s other work includes Seven Generations, a photography and video installation that offers a view into an ancient Ethiopian Jewish tradition that is grounded in the past but keeps an eye to the future. Also in collaboration with Be’chol Lashon, a section of Avishai Mekonen and Shari Rothfarb’s documentary film project, Judaism and Race, is part of “The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography” that originated at the Jewish Museum in New York, and has traveled to the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.
Writer & tour guide
Rahel Musleah was born in Calcutta, India, the seventh generation of a Calcutta Jewish family that traces its roots to 17th-century Baghdad. Through her multimedia song, story and slide programs, she shares her rare and intimate knowledge of this ancient community’s history, customs and melodies with audiences at synagogues, schools, libraries, women’s groups and cultural events.
Ms. Musleah is an award-winning journalist with hundreds of published articles to her credit. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Family Circle, Publishers Weekly, Hadassah, Reform Judaism, Jewish Woman, Naamat Woman and numerous other Jewish journals.
Her latest book, Apples and Pomegranates: A Family Seder for Rosh Hashanah (Lerner/Kar-Ben, July 2004), introduces the Sephardic custom of blessing the Jewish new year with symbolic foods. Her haggadah, Why On This Night? A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration (Simon & Schuster), has been received with critical acclaim. She is the co-author, with Rabbi Michael Klayman, of Sharing Blessings: Children’s Stories for Exploring the Spirit of the Jewish Holidays (Jewish Lights), and the author of Journey of a Lifetime: The Jewish Life Cycle Book (Behrman House).
Her writing, songs and recipes—compiled on her website, www.rahelsjewishindia.com—have also been or will be included in several anthologies
She has received several grants for her work and was part of the New York Council for the Humanities’ Speakers in the Humanities 2000-2002.
Ms. Musleah is a graduate of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She sings with the Zamir Chorale and Shirah, the Jewish Community Chorus of the JCC on the Palisades, in Tenafly, NJ. She has received awards for her writing from numerous organizations including the American Jewish Press Association. Ms. Musleah hopes to pass down the legacy of the Indian Jewish community to her two daughters, Shira and Shoshana. She lives in Great Neck, NY.
Maria Ramos-Chertok is an organizational development consultant for nonprofit organizations and a writer. She is the daughter of a Cuban Catholic father and a Russian-German Jewish mother who converted to Catholicism before Maria was born.
She received her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, where she was the recipient of the Fordham Human Rights Award for the most outstanding contribution to the advancement of individual freedom and human dignity. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley. Maria was selected to participate in the National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI) Year 2001 Fellowship Program.
In the fall of 2003, Maria was chosen by Jewish Women International (JWI) as one of ten Women to Watch. The award honors Jewish women “who look beyond the expected to find new ways of being and doing”.
In 2008, Maria joined the training team of Rockwood Leadership Institute, a national leadership development organization dedicated to training social justice activists in cutting edge, state of the art transformational leadership. She has also worked with Selah Leadership Program, the first leadership training designed specifically for Jewish leaders working across the social change field.
Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell is a vocalist specializing in the music of Sidor Belarsky (1898-1975), one of the 20th century’s most prolific performers of chazzanut, Chassidic nigunim and Yiddish song.
In his unique explorations of Jewish and African-American diaspora culture, Anthony’s performances are inspired simultaneously by the sounds of tradition and a continuity of historic hopes for a redemptive future. His ongoing award-winning project, Convergence, combines diverse strains of traditional Jewish and African-American music at spiritual, historical and textual crossroads.
Over the past three years, Anthony’s work in Jewish music has brought him to the stages of the JCC in Manhattan and San Francisco, Symphony Space, the Ideacity Conference in Toronto, KlezKanada, the Montreal and Berkeley Jewish Music Festivals, the annual Winter Jewish Music Concert in Miami and the Ashkenaz Festival, a week-long celebration of the Jewish arts in Toronto.
Aaron Samuels is a critically-acclaimed writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. After working at Bain & Co. for three years as a strategy consultant, Aaron left his Wall Street life to pursue his passion as a writer and builder of community. Since leaving Bain, Aaron has written a book of poetry, toured the country, performed on television, and landed himself on Forbes’ coveted 30 under 30 list as a rising star in the tech and media space. Aaron Samuels is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Blavity, a digital community for Black Millennials with over 1 million website viewers per month. When he is not at Blavity, Aaron is a nationally touring poet and performer. His debut collection of poetry, Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps was released on Write Bloody Publishing in fall 2013. Aaron Samuels is Black and Jewish.
Lacey Schwartz Delgado
Lacey Schwartz Delgado is an award-winning producer, writer, director and outreach strategist who draws on her interdisciplinary background to create compelling stories that span documentary and fiction and work with innovative organizations and brands. Lacey directed, produced and co-wrote the critically acclaimed documentary Little White Lie, a top-rated broadcast on PBS’s “Independent Lens.” She also executive produced the narrative film DIFRET, the first film to win audience awards at both the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. Lacey’s work stems from the belief that storytelling is the most powerful tool we can use to bridge societal divides in our world. Integral to her work is the development of public engagement campaigns that engage audiences to build on lessons learned in their films from inception to impact.
A native of Woodstock, NY and resident of Rhinebeck, NY, Lacey has a BA from Georgetown University, a JD from Harvard University, and is a member of the New York State bar. She served as Be’chol Lashon’s National Outreach Director for many years.
David Serero is an internationally-recognized opera singer and actor. Born in Paris to parents from Iran and Morocco, he has performed more than 2,000 concerts around the world, appeared in over 100 films, and recorded 20 albums. He has toured in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Russia, Israel, and the United States. In 2019, he was named one of the 15 most influential Moroccans in the world by Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan national airline.
• Meet the Hardest Working Sephardic Man in Show Business, Jewish&, November 15, 2019
Actor & beatboxer
Joshua Silverstein is an award-winning actor, comedic writer, beatboxer and educator. He is an original member of Norman Lear’s DECLARE YOURSELF ROADTRIP SHOW, a 3-year spoken-word/music performance tour encouraging the American people to register and vote. His two-person show, “So Fresh and So Clean,” with actor/poet Joe Hernandez-Kolski, received rave reviews in its debut at the bang. Comedy Theatre in Los Angeles in 2008. It was additionally presented at the Comedy Central Stage and Ars Nova in New York City.
Musician & educator
Dror Sinai is an international performer and educator, as well as the Founder of Rhythm Fusion, Inc. in Santa Cruz, California. He has performed as a solo artist and has appeared in ensembles of many different musical styles with other talented artists, including Yair Dalal, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Yuval Ron, and Alessandra Belloni.
Sinai has presented lectures, clinics, and workshops to diverse audiences, including universities, schools, community gatherings, adults and children, and has taught both professionals and amateurs. Today he also leads musical and cultural explorations in bringing tour groups to Morocco. He loves to share his joy of music with all people.
Rabbi Gershom Sizomu
Rabbi Gershom Sizomu is a Be’chol Lashon Rabbinic Fellow and the spiritual leader of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda. Gershom is the current leader of the 100-year old Abayudaya community of almost 2,000 Jews living in rural villages in Eastern Uganda. He is the grandson of community elder “Rabbi” Samson and lives near the Moses Synagogue in the village of Nabagogye, which he and others from the community’s early 1980s “Kibbutz movement” built with their own hands. Their goal has been to gather what was left of the Abayudaya community back together after the devastating reign of Idi Amin Dada ended in 1979.
As a visionary leader, Gershom’s dream was to attend a rabbinic seminary to better understand ancient and modern egalitarian Judaism and bring the Ugandan community intomainstream Jewish life. Gershom was awarded a Be’chol Lashon Fellowship in 2003 to attend the five-year Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He returned to Uganda in 2008 as the first native-born black rabbi in Sub-Saharan Africa and opened a Yeshiva to train African teachers and rabbis to serve their ancient and emerging Jewish communities. In 2016, Gershom became the first Jew ever elected to Uganda’s parliament.
As a member of the Be’chol Lashon Speakers Bureau, Gershom travels to the United States every year as an ambassador for the Abayudaya and other emerging communities in Africa.
Tema Smith is the Manager of Community Outreach and Engagement for Congregation Darchei Noam, Toronto’s only Reconstructionist Synagogue. She has formerly held the roles of Programming Chair at Limmud Toronto, Programming Coordinator of Makom: Creative Downtown Judaism, and Project Coordinator of the Canadian National Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.
Tema holds a BA (Hon) in Cultural Studies and Philosophy from Trent University, and was a Master’s student under the Canada Research Chair in Modern Jewish Thought at McMaster University. She has also studied as a visiting graduate student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The proud daughter of an Ashkenazi Torontonian and a Bahamian New Yorker, Tema is committed to making the Jewish community more accessible to everyone, especially interfaith and interracial families.
Tema became affiliated with Be’chol Lashon in 2012 and is looking forward to securing a foothold for the organization in Canada.
Michael W. Twitty
Food historian & chef
Michael W. Twitty is a recognized culinary historian, community scholar, and living history interpreter, focusing on historic African American food and folk culture. He is also a seasoned Jewish educator of over a decade with a specific interest in Jewish folk culture and its links to food.
He is the creator, writer, and editor of Afroculinaria, the first website and blog devoted to the preservation of historic African American foods and foodways. Afroculinaria follows Michael’s own journey as African American Jew in creating his own culinary traditions.
Michael has conducted classes and workshops, written curricula and educational programs, and given lectures and performed cooking demonstrations for over 200 organizations. He is currently working on a book based on his Cooking Gene project, exploring the link between culinary history, family history and genetics.
Robin Washington grew up in Chicago in a family of black and Jewish activists during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Participating in sit-ins and protests when he was three years old, he recalls those events fondly as “family outings.”
A nationally award-winning journalist, Washington has appeared on National Public Radio, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC News, CNN and the BBC. He was most recently the top editor of Minnesota’s Duluth News Tribune and was previously a columnist for the Boston Herald.
A 1987 Fellow in Science Broadcast Journalism at WGBH–TV Boston, his broadcast work includes “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow!”—a national public television documentary that rewrote history books to tell the story of the first Freedom Ride in 1947—and the radio documentary “My Favorite Things at 50,” an audio portrait of John Coltrane’s recording of the jazz standard.
Washington’s commentaries have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Baltimore Sun, San Jose Mercury News and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, among many other newspapers.
Frances Wilson of Hawaii is a convert to Judaism who has worked for many years in the field of early childhood and Montessori education. Wilson has participated in the Disney College program, the White House internship program, as well as the TALMA Teacher Fellowship Program in Mitzpe Ramon, Israel. In addition, she has used her platform as the winner of four beauty pageants to promote women’s and children’s causes.
• Converts of color
• Self-esteem building with kids and teens
• Young Jewish professionals