A Big Jewish World: Meet JIMENA

Jewish Population in the United States 2013 estimated the US Jewish population at just over 6.72 million, with more than 80% of US Jews are of Ashkenazi descent. That means that their ancestors hail from Eastern Europe and likely spoke some form of Yiddish. When someone talks about a person “looking Jewish” they are referring to this majority group.

However, the remaining 20% (more or less) of the Jewish population is quite diverse. The two next largest groups are the Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, whose ancestors hail from Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East.

If all you know about American Jewry is Ashkenazim and Fiddler on the Roof, you’re missing out. There’s a wonderful online resource for learning more about Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews: the website of an organization called JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. There you can read history, sample video, find recipes, and listen to music. JIMENA also has a speakers bureau and sponsors programming to raise the profile of these often-forgotten communities.

It’s a great big Jewish world out there, and a very diverse one here on our continent. Check out JIMENA and begin to get a taste of it!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

5 thoughts on “A Big Jewish World: Meet JIMENA”

  1. There is an interesting site dailyhalacha.com that provides a daily blog from Rabbi Eli Mansour about Sephardic tradition and religious practice. Although I am of Ashkenazic descent, I do enjoy reading the daily blog as it does vary from what I have come to know as my religious practice slightly. Learning about the Sephardic practice is intriguing and insightful. Also some of the phonetic pronunciation of the Hebrew has a Ladino ring to it. This blog has truly expanded my understanding of my Jewish bond to the community as a whole.

  2. Thank you for this post and the link! Despite my blonde hair and green eyes, I am a very proud Sephardic/Mizrahi descendent, and am anxious to learn more about the heritage of my grandfather’s family, which was pretty Americanized over the years. It’s been so fun and enlightening to discover how the ancestors on that side of the family lived, worshipped and migrated across the Middle East into Europe, and the traditions they brought with them, as well as left behind as they went.

    1. Diane, I hope you have a wonderful time exploring the JIMENA site and other resources. My interest in this aspect of Jewish culture came about when a student in a situation very much like yours asked me and I had to admit that I didn’t know much. The research that followed opened my eyes to a wonderful Jewish world full of surprises.

    2. Diane, I too have blonde hair and green hazel eyes. While I was brought up Ashkenazic in the tradition of my father’s family, I have often wondered if there wasn’t some Sephardic ancestors in my mother’s father’s family. Photographs I have seen that were brought from Poland show men wearing the traditional round wide brimmed hats trimmed with fur of the Sephardic style rather than the tall hats that were worn by my the men in father’s immigrating family that were more of the style of the Ashkenazi. Although I asked my maternal grandfather and other older relatives, no one knew. I wish you much success in your journey of your ancestral history.

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