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Mizrahi Jews

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Mizrahi Jews, Mizrahim (Hebrew: מזרחים‎‎) or Mashriqiyyun (Arabic: الم‍شرقيون‎‎), also referred to as Edot HaMizrach (עֲדוֹת-הַמִּזְרָח; Communities of the East; Mizrahi Hebrew: ʿEdot(h) Ha(m)Mizraḥ), Bene HaMizrah ("Sons of the East") or Oriental Jews, are Jews descended from local Jewish communities of the Middle East from Biblical times into the modern era. They include descendants of Babylonian Jews and Mountain Jews from modern Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Uzbekistan, the Caucasus, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Yemeni Jews are sometimes also included, but their History is separate from Babylonian Jewry.


Mizrahi Jews In Israel the great rift 61J

The use of the term Mizrahi can be somewhat controversial. The term Mizrahim is sometimes applied to descendants of Maghrebi and Sephardic Jews, who had lived in North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco), the Sephardi-proper communities of Turkey and the mixed Levantine communities of Lebanon, Israel and Syria. Before the establishment of the State of Israel, Mizrahi Jews did not identify themselves as a separate Jewish subgroup. Instead, Mizrahi Jews generally characterized themselves as Sephardi, as they follow the traditions of Sephardic Judaism (but with some differences among the Customs of particular communities). That has resulted in a conflation of terms, particularly in Israel and in Religious usage, with "Sephardi" being used in a broad sense and including Mizrahi Jews and North African Jews as well as Sephardim proper. From the point of view of the official Israeli rabbinate, any rabbis of Mizrahi origin in Israel are under the jurisdiction of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.

Mizrahi Jews Review Beneath my shirt lies an Arab Middle East Eye

As of 2005, over 61% of Israeli Jews are of at least partial Mizrahi ancestry.

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Mizrahi Jews Sephardic Ashkenazic Mizrahi Jews Jewish Ethnic Diversity New

"Mizrahi" is literally translated as "Oriental", "Eastern", מזרח (Mizraḥ), Hebrew for "east." In the past the word "Mizrahim," corresponding to the Arabic word Mashriqiyyun (Easterners), referred to the natives of Syria, Iraq and other Asian countries, as distinct from those of North Africa (Maghribiyyun). In medieval and early modern times the corresponding Hebrew word ma'arav was used for North Africa. In Talmudic and Geonic times, however, this word "ma'arav" referred to the Land of Israel as contrasted with Babylonia. For this reason many object to the use of "Mizrahi" to include Moroccan and other North African Jews.

Mizrahi Jews An Intersectional Failure How Both Israel39s Backers and Critics

The term Mizrahim or Edot Hamizraḥ, Oriental communities, grew in Israel under the circumstances of the meeting of waves of Jewish immigrants from the Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia, followers of Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Yemenite rites. In modern Israeli usage, it refers to all Jews from Central and West Asian countries, many of them Arabic-speaking Muslim-majority countries. The term came to be widely used more by Mizrahi activists in the early 1990s. Since then in Israel it has become an accepted semi-official and media designation.

Most of the "Mizrahi" activists actually originated from North African Jewish communities, traditionally called "Westerners" (Maghrebi), rather than "Easterners" (Mashreqi). Many Jews originated from Arab and Muslim countries today reject "Mizrahi" (or any) umbrella description and prefer to identify themselves by their particular country of origin, or that of their immediate ancestors, e.g. "Moroccan Jew", or prefer to use the old term "Sephardic" in its broader meaning.

Religious rite designations

Today, many identify all non-Ashkenazi rite Jews as Sephardic - in Modern Hebrew "Sfaradim", mixing ancestral origin and Religious rite. This broader definition of "Sephardim" as including all, or most, Mizrahi Jews is also common in Jewish Religious circles. During the past century, the Sephardic rite absorbed the unique rite of the Yemenite Jews and lately the Ethiopian Jewish Religious Leaders in Israel have also joined the Sefardic rite collectivities, especially following rejection of their Jewishness by Ashkenazi and Hasidic circles.

The reason for this classification of all Mizrahim under Sephardic rite is that most Mizrahi communities use much the same religious rituals as Sephardim proper due to historical reasons. The prevalence of the Sephardic rite among Mizrahim is partially a result of Sephardim proper joining some of Mizrahi communities following the 1492 expulsion from Sepharad (Spain and Portugal). Over the last few centuries, the previously distinctive rites of the Mizrahi communities were influenced, superimposed upon or altogether replaced by the rite of the Sephardim, perceived as more prestigious. Even before this assimilation, the original rite of many Jewish Oriental communities was already closer to the Sephardi rite than to the Ashkenazi one. For this reason, "Sephardim" has come to mean not only "Spanish Jews" proper but "Jews of the Spanish rite", just as "Ashkenazim" is used for "Jews of the German rite", whether or not their families originate in Germany.

Many of the Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain resettled in greater or lesser numbers in many Arabic-speaking countries, such as Syria and Morocco. In Syria, most eventually intermarried with and assimilated into the larger established communities of Arabic-speaking Jews and Mizrahi Jews. In some North African countries such as Morocco, Sephardic Jews came in greater numbers and largely contributed to the Jewish settlements that the pre-existing Jews were assimilated by them. Either way, this assimilation, combined with the use of the Sephardic rite, led to the popular designation and conflation of most non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities from the Middle East and North Africa as "Sephardic" rite, whether or not they were descended from Spanish Jews, which is what the terms "Sephardic Jews" and "Sepharadim" properly implied when used in the ethnic as opposed to the religious sense.

In some Arabic countries such as Egypt and Syria, the Sephardic Jews arrived via the Ottoman Empire would distinguish themselves from the already established Arabic-speaking Jews known as Mustarabim, in some others such as Morocco and Algeria, the two communities largely intermarried with the latter embracing the Sephardic customs and thus forming a single community.


In Arab nations (such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria), Mizrahim most often speak Arabic, although Arabic is now mainly used as a second language, especially by the older generation. Most of the many notable philosophical, religious and literary works of the Jews in Spain, North Africa and Asia were written in Arabic using a modified Hebrew alphabet.


Neo-Aramaic is a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. It is identified as a "Jewish language", since it is the language of major Jewish texts such as the Talmud and Zohar, and many ritual recitations such as the Kaddish. Traditionally, Aramaic has been a language of Talmudic debate in yeshivoth, as many Rabbinic texts are written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. The current alphabet used for Hebrew, known as "Assyrian lettering" (Ktav Ashurit) or the "square script" (Ktav Meruba), was in fact borrowed from Aramaic.

In Kurdistan, the language of the Mizrahim is a variant of ancient Aramaic. As spoken by the Kurdish Jews, Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialects are descended from Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, as could be seen from its hundreds of reflexes in Jewish Neo-Aramaic. They are related to the Christian Aramaic dialects spoken by Assyrian people.

In 2007, a book was published, authored by Mordechai Zaken, describing the unique relationship between Jews in urban and rural Kurdistan and the tribal society under whose patronage the Jews lived for hundreds of years. Tribal chieftains, or aghas, granted patronage to the Jews who needed protection in the wild tribal region of Kurdistan; the Jews gave their chieftains dues, gifts and services. The text provides numerous tales and examples about the skills, maneuvers and innovations used by Kurdistani Jews in their daily life to confront their abuse and extortion by greedy chieftains and tribesmen. The text also tells the stories of Kurdish chieftains who saved and protected the Jews unconditionally.

By the early 1950s, virtually the entire Jewish community of Kurdistan — a rugged, mostly mountainous region comprising parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Caucasus, where Jews had lived since antiquity — relocated to Israel. The vast majority of Kurdish Jews, who were primarily concentrated in northern Iraq, left Kurdistan in the mass Aliyah of 1950-51. This ended thousands of years of Jewish history in what had been Assyria and Babylonia.

Persian and other languages

Among other Languages associated with Mizrahim are Judeo-Persian (Dzhidi), Georgian, Bukhori, Kurdish, Juhuri, Marathi and Judeo-Malayalam. Most Persian Jews speak standard Persian, as do many other Jews from Iran, Afghanistan, and Bukhara (Uzbekistan), as well as the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan, Russian Dagestan and other Caucasian territories in Russia, who speak an Iranian language called Juhuri.


Some Mizrahim migrated to India, other parts of Central Asia, and China. In some Mizrahi Jewish communities (notably those of Yemen and Iran), polygyny has been practiced.

Post-1948 dispersal

After the establishment of the State of Israel and subsequent 1948 Arab-Israeli War, most Mizrahi Jews were either expelled by their Arab rulers or chose to leave and emigrated to Israel. According to the 2009 Statistical Abstract of Israel, 50.2% of Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi or Sephardic origin.

Anti-Jewish actions by Arab governments in the 1950s and 1960s, in the context of the founding of the State of Israel, led to the departure of large numbers of Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East. 25,000 Mizrahi Jews from Egypt left after the 1956 Suez Crisis, led to the overwhelming majority of Mizrahim leaving Arab countries. They became refugees. Most went to Israel. Many Moroccan and Algerian Jews went to France. Thousands of Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian Jews emigrated to the United States and to Brazil.

Today, as many as 40,000 Mizrahim still remain in communities scattered throughout the non-Arab Muslim world, primarily in Iran, but also Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. There are few Maghrebim remaining in the Arab world too. About 5,000 remain in Morocco and fewer than 2,000 in Tunisia. Other countries with remnants of ancient Jewish communities with official recognition, such as Lebanon, have 100 or fewer Jews. A trickle of emigration continues, mainly to Israel and the United States.

Absorption into Israeli society

Refuge in Israel was not without its tragedies: "in a generation or two, millennia of rooted Oriental civilization, unified even in its diversity,” had been wiped out, writes Mizrahi scholar Ella Shohat. The trauma of rupture from their countries of origin was further complicated by the difficulty of the transition upon arrival in Israel; Mizrahi immigrants and refugees were placed in rudimentary and hastily erected tent cities (Ma'abarot) often in Development towns on the peripheries of Israel. Settlement in Moshavim (cooperative farming villages) was only partially successful, because Mizrahim had historically filled a niche as craftsmen and merchants and most did not traditionally engage in farmwork. As the majority left their property behind in their home countries as they journeyed to Israel, many suffered a severe decrease in their socio-economic status aggravated by their cultural and political differences with the dominant Ashkenazi community. Furthermore, a policy of austerity was enforced at that time due to economic hardships.

Mizrahi immigrants arrived with many mother tongues. Many, especially those from North Africa and the fertile crescent, spoke Arabic dialects; those from Iran spoke Persian; Mountain Jews from Azerbaijan arrived with Juhuri; Baghdadi Jews from India arrived with English; Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan arrived with Bukhori; the Bene Israel from Maharashtra, India arrived with Marathi, Mizrahim from elsewhere brought Georgian, Judaeo-Georgian and various other languages with them. Hebrew had historically been a language only of Prayer for most Jews not living in Israel, including the Mizrahim. Thus, with their arrival in Israel, the Mizrahim retained Culture, customs and language distinct from their Ashkenazi counterparts.

Disparities and integration

The cultural differences between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews impacted the degree and rate of assimilation into Israeli society, and sometimes the divide between Eastern European and Middle Eastern Jews was quite sharp. Segregation, especially in the area of housing, limited integration possibilities over the years. Intermarriage between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim is increasingly common in Israel and by the late 1990s 28% of all Israeli children had multi-ethnic parents (up from 14% in the 1950s). It has been claimed that intermarriage does not tend to decrease ethnic differences in socio-economic status, however that does not apply to the children of inter-ethnic marriages.

Although social integration is constantly improving, disparities persist. A study conducted by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), Mizrahi Jews are less likely to pursue academic studies than Ashkenazi Jews. Israeli-born Ashkenazim are up to twice more likely to study in a university than Israeli-born Mizrahim. Furthermore, the percentage of Mizrahim who seek a university education remains low compared to second-generation immigrant groups of Ashkenazi origin, such as Russians. According to a survey by the Adva Center, the average income of Ashkenazim was 36 percent higher than that of Mizrahim in 2004.

Business people

  • J. Darius Bikoff
  • David Merage – Co-founder of Hot Pockets snack food company
  • Ghermezian family – Billionaire shopping mall developers
  • Habib Elghanian – Prominent businessman executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Sassoon family - from the 18th century onwards becoming one of the wealthiest families in the world.
  • David Alliance, Baron Alliance GBE – Iranian born British businessman and Liberal Democrat politician.
  • Isaac Larian – Chief Executive Officer of MGA Entertainment
  • Joseph Parnes – Investment Advisor
  • Nasser David Khalili – Billionaire property developer and art collector
  • Neil Kadisha – Businessman
  • Nouriel Roubini – Economist
  • Paul Merage – Co-founder of Hot Pockets snack food company
  • Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz – Property developers
  • Nazarian family
  • Ebrahim Daoud NonooBahraini businessman and former member of the Bahrain National Assembly
  • Charles Saatchi, advertising executive and art collector (born in Iraq)
  • Maurice Saatchi, Baron Saatchi, advertising executive and former chairman of the British Conservative Party
  • Michael Kadoorie, businessman from Hong-Kong, coming from Iraqi Jewish descent
  • Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer (Syrian Jew from Brooklyn)
  • Sam Mizrahi - Canadian luxury real estate developer
  • Shlomo Moussaieff, Jewellery Designer/ Judaic Collector and Expert (Bukharian)
  • Lev Leviev, Israeli businessman of Bukharian descent
  • David and Simon Reuben, British businessmen born in India, from a family of Baghdadi Jews
  • Edmond Safra, banker from Brazil
  • Shlomo Eliyahu, Israeli businessman
  • Jacob Arabo, Bukharian-American jeweler and founder of Jacob & Company
  • Entertainers

  • Paula Abdul, American singer and choreographer (Father was of Syrian Jewish descent)
  • Sylvain Sylvain American rock guitarist, member of the New York Dolls. Migrated from Egypt as a child.)
  • Etti Ankri, Israeli pop singer
  • Zohar Argov, Israeli popular singer, called "the King" of the "Mizrahi" Music (Yemenite)
  • Gali Atari, Israeli singer and actress, won the Eurovision Song Contest (from a Yemenite family)
  • Ehud Banai, Israeli singer and composer
  • Evyatar Banai, Israeli singer and composer
  • Yuval Banai, Israeli singer and composer
  • Yossi Banai, Israeli singer and actor (from a Persian Jewish family settled in Jerusalem)
  • Meir Banai, Israeli singer
  • Shlomo Bar, Israeli singer and composer
  • Bea Benaderet, U.S. actor (Father was of Turkish Jewish descent)
  • Sonia Benezra, French Canadian radio and TV personality
  • David Blumberg, music producer, clarinetist (Father was of Bukharian descent)
  • Patrick Bruel, French pop singer
  • Yizhar Cohen, Israeli singer, won the Eurovision Song Contest (Yemenite family)
  • Emmanuelle Chriqui, Canadian actress
  • Yair Dalal, Israeli musician of Iraqi-Jewish descent.
  • Shoshana Damari, Israeli singer (Yemen born)
  • Dana International, (Cohen) Israeli pop singer, won the Eurovision Song Contest (Yemenite family)
  • Yehoram Gaon, Israeli singer and actor.
  • Eyal Golan, Israeli singer (Moroccan and Yemenite descent)
  • Zion Golan, Israeli singer (Yemenite descent)
  • Sarit Hadad, Israeli singer (Israeli born from mixed Tunisian and Mountain Jews family)
  • Ofra Haza, Israeli pop and oriental singer (Yemenite family)
  • Moshe Ivgy, Israeli cinema and theatre actor
  • Malika Kalantarova, Tajik-Bukharian dancer (People's Artist of USSR)
  • Chris Kattan, U.S actor (son of a Jewish-Iraqi origin father)
  • Fatima Kuinova, Soviet-Bukharian singer (Merited Artist of USSR)
  • Saleh and Daoud Al-Kuwaity, Kuwaiti-born Iraqi musicians
  • Mélanie Laurent, French actress and director
  • Yehezkel Lazarov, Israeli actor
  • Haim Moshe, Israeli-born "Mizrahi" and pop singer (Yemenite)
  • Shoista Mullojonova, Bukharian legendary Shashmakom folk singer (People's Artist of Tajikistan)
  • Farhat Ezekiel Nadira (Nadira), Bollywood actress of the 1940s and 50s (Baghdadi Jew from India)
  • Achinoam Nini ("Noa"), Israeli born, Yemenite pop singer
  • Rita, Iranian born, Israeli pop singer
  • Salima Pasha, Iraqi singer
  • Berry Sakharof, Israeli singer and composer
  • Jerry Seinfeld, American comedian and actor (his mother is of Syrian Jewish descent)
  • Boaz Sharabi, Israeli singer (born, Yemenite, Tunisian & Moroccan ancestry)
  • Harel Skaat, Singer and "Kokhav Nolad" ("Israeli Idol") contestant (Yemenite descent)
  • Bahar Soomekh, Persian Jewish-American actress
  • Subliminal, Israeli rapper of Persian/Tunisian descent
  • Shimi Tavori, Israeli singer
  • Elliott Yamin, American singer (Jewish Iraqi father)
  • Idan Yaniv, Israeli singer of Bukharian descent (Israeli Artist of 2007)
  • Yaffa Yarkoni, Israeli singer (from a Caucasian Jewish family)
  • Ariel Zilber, Israeli singer and composer (son of a Yemenite Jewish-origin mother)
  • Boaz Mauda, Israeli singer (Jewish Yemenite descent)
  • Bahar Soomekh, Iranian-American actress
  • A-WA, Israeli female band
  • Scientists and Nobel prize laureates

  • Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, French physicist, Nobel prize laureate in Physics.
  • Baruj Benacerraf, American immunologist, Nobel prize laureate in Physiology or Medicine.
  • Serge Haroche, French physicist, Nobel prize laureate in Physics.
  • Avshalom Elitzur, Israeli physicist, noted for the Elitzur–Vaidman bomb-testing problem in quantum mechanics.
  • Inventors

  • Gavriil Ilizarov, Soviet physician of Mountain Jewish descent, known for inventing the Ilizarov apparatus for lengthening limb bones and for his eponymous surgery
  • Politicians and military

  • Yekutiel Adam, Israeli General (from a Caucasian Jewish family)
  • Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israeli General, current Israeli minister of Infrastructure, former minister of Defense and Israel Labor Party chairman, (Iraqi Jew), commonly called by his Arabic name "Fuad"
  • Yisrael Yeshayahu Sharabi, Minister of Post and Speaker of Knesset 1970s and 80s, ethnicity/country of origin: Yemen
  • Houda Ezra served as the Bahraini Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2013.
  • Les Gara, Democratic member of the Alaska State Legislature, former deputy state attorney general (Iraqi parents)
  • Issac Herzog, Israeli Knesset member (Egyptian descent)
  • Dalia Itzik, former Knesset speaker
  • Avigdor Kahalani, former minister of Internal Security and decorated IDF tank commander (Yemenite descent)
  • Moshe Katsav, former President of the State of Israel and minister of Transportation, ethnicity/country of origin: Iran
  • Shaul Mofaz, former Israeli Minister of Defense and chief of the IDF General Staff, Iranian Jew
  • David Alliance, Baron Alliance GBE – Iranian born British businessman and Liberal Democrat politician.
  • Yitzhak Mordechai, retired IDF general, former minister of Defense and minister of Transportation, ethnicity/country of origin: Iraq
  • Gabi Ashkenazi - IDF Chief of Staff - of Syrian Jewish descent
  • Dorrit Moussaieff, First Lady of Iceland (Bukharian Jew)
  • Abie Nathan, Israeli peace activist
  • Shlomo Hillel, was speaker of the Knesset, minister
  • Moshe Levi, Israeli general, chief of the Idf General Staff
  • Dan Halutz, Israeli air pilot and general, chief of the IDF General Staff
  • Moshe Shahal, minister and lawyer
  • Moshe Nissim, was Israeli finance and justice minister
  • Eli Cohen, Israeli spy in Syria
  • J. F. R. Jacob, Indian general, distinguished himself in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
  • Ran Cohen, politician from the left liberal party Meretz, former MK (Iraqi Jewish descent)
  • Shalom Simhon, Israeli politician, from Labor party, minister of agriculture
  • Tamir Pardo, Director of the Mossad
  • Religious figures

  • Rabbi Shimon Agassi, Iraqi Hakham and kabbalist
  • Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the current Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, of Moroccan Jewish descent.
  • Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, of Persian Jewish descent.
  • Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel
  • Rabbi Abraham Hillel, Chief Rabbi of Baghdad
  • Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri, renowned Mizrahi Haredi rabbi and kabbalist devoted life to Torah from Baghdad, lived to be 108
  • Rabbi Shlomo Moussaieff, Co-founder of Bukharian Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem
  • Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, Orthodox rabbi of Yemenite origin
  • Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of Shas (Iraqi Jewish descent)
  • Sports and game players

  • Doron Jamchi, Israeli basketball player
  • Oded Kattash, Israeli basketball player
  • Robert Mizrachi, poker player, Iraqi Jew
  • Michael Mizrachi, poker player, Iraqi Jew
  • Victor Perez, boxer, Tunisian Jew
  • Yossi Benayoun, Israeli soccer player for Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, of Moroccan Jewish descent
  • Shahar Tzuberi, Israeli Olympic medalist in Windsurfing, Yemenite Jew
  • Omri Casspi, The first Israeli-born player to the NBA, of Moroccan Jewish descent
  • Visual arts

  • Adi Ness - photographer of Iranian descent
  • Israel Tsvaygenbaum, Russian-American painter of mixed Polish and Mountain Jewish descent
  • Anish Kapoor, British-Indian sculptor, born in Mumbai to a Hindu father and Baghdadi Jewish mother
  • Writers and academics

  • Sami Michael, Israeli Hebrew writer (born in Iraq)
  • Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, psychotherapist
  • Samir Naqqash, Israeli Jewish writer in Arab language (born in Iraq)
  • Yehouda Shenhav, Israeli sociologist (born in an Iraqi Jewish family, Shahrabani)
  • Saba Soomekh, professor/writer
  • Avi Shlaim, Oxford University scholar; author specialising on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Zionism. Shlaim is originally from Iraq.
  • Ella Habiba Shohat, cultural studies scholar and author from a Baghdadi Jewish family, lives in NY
  • Eli Amir, Israeli Hebrew writer
  • Smadar Lavie, Israeli anthropologist
  • Jacques Attali, French thinker and author
  • Shimon Adaf, Israeli Hebrew poet and writer
  • Orly Castel Bloom, Israeli Hebrew writer (from an Egyptian Jewish family)
  • Haim Sabato, Israeli rabbi and Hebrew writer
  • Rachel Shabi, British/Israeli journalist and author of We Look Like the Enemy: Israel's Jews from Arab Lands, about Mizrahi Jews in Israel
  • Sasson Somekh, Israeli Arabologist
  • Nissim Ezekiel, Indian poet and art critic
  • Andre Chouraqui, French-Israeli thinker and writer
  • Gina B. Nahai, Iranian-American Writer, Columnist, Professor
  • References

    Mizrahi Jews Wikipedia

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