Fellows for 2021-2022
Adam Abergel sophomore at Cornell University
Adam Abergel is a sophomore at Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson School, pursuing a major in Applied Economics & Management and minoring in French. He is from Los Angeles where he was raised by his French Moroccan parents. Adam is currently the Chair of Cultural Programming for Cornell Hillel. Recently, he organized a Sephardic / Mizrahi Shabbat with the help of Hillel and Sephardi House. He is also involved with some other groups on Cornell’s campus such as TAMID Group, Cornell Finance Club, and Phi Chi Theta (a professional business fraternity). He enjoys playing soccer and following F.C. Barcelona, surfing Los Angeles’ coast, listening to EDM/House Music, exploring his Jewish Sephardic heritage, and international travel. Adam is very excited to be part of Sephardi House and dive into the depths of the Sephardic culture.
Wanting to stay close to my roots, I make efforts [at Cornell], to spread the limited Sephardic knowledge that I have whether it’s singing Sephardic piyyutim at Shabbat dinner or leading services with Sephardic-inspired melodies...However, I know that my knowledge is limited and that I need resources and support to help me continue spreading the invaluable Sephardic culture... This is exactly why I want to become a Sephardi House Fellow. By doing so, I will be able to immerse myself in a program that will deepen my knowledge of the Sephardic world ...I want to be surrounded and motivated by like-minded individuals and leaders from an overarching similar background yet all uniquely different.
Asia Esther Akperov Hunter College
Asia Esther Akperov is currently pursuing a B.A. in Human Biology at Hunter College on the pre-medical track. She engages in extracurricular activities such as volunteering for various organizations like the Red Cross and the American Cancer Society. She is passionate about the intersections between medicine and public health as well as public policy. She hopes to carry her previous experiences as well as what she gains from this Fellowship to continue to advocate on behalf of Sephardic and Mizrahi communities. She is a strong promoter of interfaith relationships and community building. This past year, she worked closely with Civic Spirit and Muslim Community Network and co-founded an interfaith environmental advocacy group called 'The EverGreen Alliance'. With over 30 members and counting, they have created a community where we can simultaneously learn about each other while working towards a common goal.
As a Bukharian Jew, growing up I faced difficulties understanding my identity. [Attending] Jewish day school surrounded by my Jewish peers, there was a sense of isolation...since my experiences were so different compared to my peers who were Ashkenazi Jewish Americans...As a Sephardi House Fellow, I would like to immerse myself deeper in understanding Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish cultures. Through art, music and other areas of interest, I am hoping to broaden not only my knowledge but also my connection to [Jewish] peoplehood.
Yedida Bentolila sophomore at the University of Maryland
Yedida Bentolila is a sophomore at the University of Maryland majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice and minoring in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in South Florida and attended Jewish day school all her life. Judaism has always been a big part of her identity, as well as her extensive and diverse Sephardic background. She is proud of her Sephardic heritage which has shaped her into the person she is today. After Graduation, she plans to attend law school and pursue a career in the legal field. She is currently a member of the Jewish Student Union on campus, as well as a general body member of the Empowering Women in Law Club. She has a great passion for Judaism and learning about her Sephardic heritage. She is beyond grateful to be given the opportunity to explore her Sephardic heritage further and learn about the history that shaped her ancestry.
I have a diverse Sephardic background that includes Moroccan, Greek, Syrian, Balkan and Persian roots. I am extremely proud of my Sephardic heritage, and it is an intrinsic part of my daily life. I would thoroughly enjoy exploring and learning more in depth the history and cultures that paint the canvas of my Sephardic roots
Sarah Boxer senior at George Washington University
Sarah Boxer comes from Iraqi, Yemenite, and Syrian ancestry on her mother’s side. She is proud of her Israeli-Jewish, Sephardic and Mizrahi identities. Sarah was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee and is a senior at George Washington University planning to attend law school after graduation. She loves to learn and teach about her family’s history and culture. Sarah is the co-director of Student Experience for Hillel at the George Washington University, where she spearheaded a cohort called “Myth of the Monolith” focused on dismantling stereotyped understandings of Jewish identity.
I have made Sephardic and Mizrahi representation my primary focus as a Jewish student leader at my university. I have often felt alone in the fight for greater representation of Sephardic Jews on U.S. college campuses. It would be incredible to have a community of students to rely on for support and learning. I have spearheaded programming focused on education about the Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish experience as a student leader in GW Hillel and would love to expand my initiatives with the help of the Sephardi House Fellowship.
Yael Canaan Senior Carnegie Mellon University
Yael Canaan is a 4th year double major in Architecture and Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. At CMU, she is very active in the Jewish community. As a student leader at Hillel, she has hosted a variety of events from Bukera making to shabbat and holiday dinners. She also helped found a group for students in conversation with Jewish womanhood. She is currently the president of this group, called Achayot shel Carnegie Mellon--through which she has been teaching her peers about Sephardi culture and history. In the future, Yael hopes to study abroad in Spain or Portugal and take the time to learn Ladino. In her spare time, she loves taking care of her plants and teaching people her traditional recipes.
My great uncle was able to follow my family’s history back to the 15th century where he found that both my grandmother and my grandfather’s families lived in Spain...I want to be a Sephardi house fellow so that I can connect with other Sephardi Jews my age and learn about their families’ cultures and traditions...My grandparents speak to each other in Ladino. I recently expressed my interest in learning Ladino to a Jewish friend at my school and I was told to learn Spanish instead. I was hurt by this comment as the weight of learning a dying language didn’t seem to register with my friend. In my experience, Sephardi culture often seems to be pushed aside and disregarded. I hope to learn as a Sephardi house fellow how to change that attitude in people in my community.
Elizabeth Danon Environmental Metrology & Policy Program at Georgetown University
Elizabeth Danon studies in the Environmental Metrology & Policy Program at Georgetown University. She is an aspiring environmental scientist and policy expert, author, Jewish advocate, wife to an amazing desi man, decent biryani chef, and pet mom, among other things in the tapestry of her life. She draws passion from her Sephardic ancestors who have taught her how to fight against all odds.
Breathing in slowly, I watched the waves knock onto the side of the ferry as we made our way from Grenada, Spain to Tangier, Morocco. Fire coursed through my veins, the sudden realization sending tears down my cheeks: I was in a pivotal place for my people – the Sephardim. Not only was I taking the same path that some of my ancestors took when expelled from Spain by the Catholic monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, but I was also crossing the immigrant’s gateway. Both my grandparents crossed that very same threshold when leaving Izmir for the states, and so did countless other families...The gravity of what my people had survived was not lost on me, which is why I broke down crying on the ferry ride to Tangier. I am the evidence of their perseverance...I am, and always have been, a strong Sephardic woman...Which is why every time I walk through Georgetown University on my way to classes, I can’t help but feel all my ancestors besides me - goading me on. They didn’t make the sacrifices they made, and survive through multiple persecutions, for me to give up.
Lauren Hakimi senior at CUNY Hunter College
Lauren Hakimi is a senior at CUNY Hunter College, where she studies history and English literature, edits the student-run news website The Envoy, and runs cross country and track. She is also a writer and journalist with bylines in CNN, WNYC/Gothamist, New York Jewish Week, Alma, Lilith magazine, and more. She has written personal essays and book reviews for Alma and Lilith magazine, as well as reported pieces for New York Jewish Week that have been reposted in JTA, the Jerusalem Post, the Forward, and many others. She is currently working on an independent study in Jewish Studies about the experiences of Mashhadi Jews at the University of Missouri in the 1970s. She looks forward to learning more about her heritage and meeting other students who share her interests.
As I’ve written for the Jewish media, I’ve learned that the vast majority of people involved in it are Ashkenazi. As a New Yorker, though, I know that the Jewish community is much, much more diverse than you would ever know from reading the mastheads of these publications. I am really passionate about telling stories for the Jewish community and thinking about how Jewish media can better serve readers from diverse ethnic backgrounds. I believe that being a Sephardi House Fellow would be a great opportunity to further enrich my knowledge of history and develop a network of Jewish students who share my interests so that I can better serve the Jewish community as a writer and journalist.
Sierra Hellman junior at the University of Pittsburgh
Sierra Hellman is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Supply Chain Management with a certificate in Business Analytics. She grew up in a small town outside of Philadelphia and has both Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestry. She only recently found out about her Sephardic roots and has been trying to learn more about this part of her ancestry. At Pitt, Sierra is involved in the Women in Business Club, the Outdoors Club, and frequently attends Hillel and Chabad events. She loves outdoor activities, especially backpacking, hiking, and climbing.
I’ve known I was Sephardic for a few years now...This past summer I participated in an internship program in Israel called Onward where the word “Sephardic” kept coming up over and over again. My roommate [who was a Sephardi House Fellow last year] was telling me about her experience being part Sephardic...She told me what that meant in terms of our shared heritage and the culture that I was missing out on...Now that I know where I come from, I feel responsible for finding out what it means to be Sephardic and recover the lost customs in order to teach my children and my children’s children. Ever since I got back from Israel, I have been researching and asking as many questions as possible to reconnect with our lost traditions.
Noah Kron sophomore at Binghamton University
Noah Kron is currently a sophomore at Binghamton University. He grew up in Great Neck, NY, where there is a large Sephardic community and went to Great Neck North High School. He comes from a Sephardic and Ashkenazi background with roots located in Baghdad, Basra, and Ireland. In 2017, he traveled to Israel with the Sephardic Educational Center. On that trip he got to know many people from different Sephardic backgrounds. He participated in Young Judaea, Year Course, a gap year program in Israel this past year.
I want to become a Sephardi House Fellow to learn more about my Sephardic past and the Sephardic backgrounds of my peers. ..My knowledge of my Iraqi heritage begins with my grandfather, Salim Mahlab, who was born in Kuwait and grew up in Baghdad, Iraq. My grandfather was involved with both the American Sephardic Federation where he was honored in 2006 as one of the pillars in the Sephardic community. He was also a supporter of the Sephardic Educational Center. My mother followed in his footsteps and was one of the founders and president of the New York chapter of the Sephardic Educational Center.
Samantha Kron Senior at Binghamton University
Samantha Kron is currently a Senior at Binghamton University majoring in Human Development with a minor in Spanish and education.I grew up in Great Neck, New York, where there is a large Sephardic community. In 2018-2019, she had the amazing opportunity of attending Young Judaea Year Course, a gap year program in Israel, which shaped a large portion of who she is today. I come from a half Ashkenazi, half Sephardic background with roots located in Bagdad, Basra, and Ireland.
I want to become a Sephardi House Fellow to learn about others’ backgrounds as well as to share my own Sephardic heritage and upbringing. My mother’s family originated in Iraq, my grandfather was raised in Baghdad and my grandmother in Basra. My grandfather migrated to the United States in 1938 and after fighting in the American army during the Second World War, he became a citizen and raised his family in New Jersey. In the 1980s, my grandfather, Salim Mahlab z”l, started the first Iraqi synagogue, B’nei Naharayim, in Jamaica Estates, Queens. Today it continues to stand and is a place where my family and I feel close to his memory. In 2006, he was honored along with a few others, who were pillars in the Sephardic community, by the ASF for his tireless work in helping to build the Iraqi community. My mother followed in her father’s footsteps and was a founder and president of the NY chapter of the Sephardic Educational Center in the 1990's and currently serves as a board member of the SEC.
Stella Lessler sophomore at Columbia University
Stella Lessler is a sophomore at Columbia University studying Electrical Engineering. She grew up in the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn. She loves to snowboard and design jewelry.
My mom immigrated to America from Lebanon at 12 years old and has since then adjusted to American life while still maintaining her Sephardic Syrian/Lebanese Jewish traditions. Growing up, I always was inspired and interested in the Lebanese Sephardic culture, and tried my best to learn as many traditions and tunes as possible. Now, as I reside in the Columbia University Jewish community I want to share my love and knowledge of Sephardic Jewish culture with my campus and fellow peers!
Yosef Malka sophomore at Yale University
Yosef Malka is a sophomore at Yale University, where he studies political thought and Jewish history. He grew up in Washington, DC and Rockville, Maryland, attending Magen David Sephardic Congregation, and his family comes from Morocco, Turkey, Ukraine, and Poland. At Yale, Yosef is involved with the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, an organization which advocates for criminal justice reform, the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective, and the Yale Political Union. He is the Jewish Culture Chair on Yale's Hillel Student Board and has interned with Congressman Lloyd Doggett. As a Sephardi House Fellow, he looks forward to introducing the culture of the Sepharadim to his peers at Yale and beyond. He also hopes to honor his diverse background by learning more about the broader Sephardi community and bringing these intellectual, cultural, and religious treasures to his peers in the Yale Jewish community
I want the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities to learn from another and grow together. This can be accomplished at the ground level, with mutual study of our traditions and challenging but joyful conversations about our collective futures. I come from a family that blends Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions in beautiful ways…My hope is that through the Sephardi House Fellowship, by engaging with mentors and my peers, I could learn how to lead my community towards a more creative fusion between the Ashkenazic and Sephardi traditions…As a Sephardi House Fellow at Yale, I would create spaces for the Yale Jewish community that highlight Sephardi Jewry, bringing [all Jewish students] together in new ways for events such as Sephardi Kabbalat Shabbat, lectures and Sephardi history, literature, and languages by American Sephardi leaders, Jewish learning sessions based on Sephardi scholarship, and other creative cultural experiences that reflect the warmth of our culture, the seriousness of our tradition of learning, and the beauty of our culture. Too many of my Ashkenazi peers think of Sephardi Judaism simply in terms of tasty food and fun music, without understanding the depths and beauty of our tradition. I hope to help change that and build something that could outlast my time as a Sephardi House Fellow: a movement of empowered Sephardi students on campus who enliven our broader Jewish community with Sephardi Judaism.
Mckynzie Romer Harvard '21/University of Edinburgh
Mckynzie Romer is currently a Master’s student at the University of Edinburgh studying Public Health. She grew up in Connecticut and graduated from Harvard earlier this year with a degree in Romance Languages and Literatures, as well as minors in Psychology and Integrative Biology while on the pre-med track. During her time at Harvard, Mckynzie worked in domestic and international public health ventures, including interning in the Connecticut Medicaid office and working on the executive board of the student-run non-profit Refresh Bolivia performing public health work in Bolivia. In her free time, Mckynzie enjoys learning languages, sketching, playing rock and Latin music, and watching old Star Trek episodes. Being of mixed Portuguese, Spanish, and Caribbean Sephardic Jewish descent, Mckynzie is exploring her ancestry through her love of language and history. She hopes to engage in the conversation surrounding what defines Jewish identity by researching the history of Caribbean Jews and exploring the gifts that being of a mixed background have given to her own sense of identity.
One of the most important things I learned through [discovering my Sephardi heritage] was how we had endured hardships...how family on both my mother’s and father’s side had migrated continuously throughout Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, Asia and the Caribbean just to preserve their identity and traditions. Despite losing records of some of this history along the way, in rediscovering it, we learned how, through these hardships, our Sephardic traditions had endured. To me, continuing to unearth and celebrate this history is crucial. Strongly embedded within Judaism is an understanding and reverence for the history of its people. I believe this is a particular aspect of the history of the Jewish people that not only warrants study and appreciation, but has enduring lessons to teach us today in an ever-diversifying world.
Layla Rudy Concordia University
Layla Rudy was born in Montreal and raised in the Deal, New Jersey Syrian community, attending Hillel Yeshiva for all twelve years of her primary education. She is currently a student at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, and is part of the Honors Judaic Studies program under the Department of Religions and Cultures. As someone with a Syrian-Jewish background, her educational and research interests concentrate on Sephardic and Mizrahi history and cultures, with a focus on women in Judaism.
As a student in Concordia University's Honors Judaic Studies program, I am part of a small, wonderful group of Jewish academics that have a love and appreciation for Jewish history, culture, and identity. But as the only Syrian Jew in the program -- and one of the only Sephardic Jews, as well -- my academic pursuits are largely my own...I love learning and researching Sephardic/Mizrahi history, and my goal in academia is to cultivate the knowledge I already have from my own experiences and my twelve years of Hebrew day school, and make it so that this field of knowledge is accessible...While my school has plenty of resources to help me build up my expertise, I believe that the best thing for me to do is to surround myself with like-minded individuals who are just as eager as I am to dive into the world of Sephardic history, identity, and traditions.
Daniel Stauber Freshman at Stanford University
After graduating as valedictorian of the Buckley School’s Class of 2021, Daniel Stauber is currently a freshman at Stanford University studying Bioengineering and Computer Science. Given his family’s longstanding involvement in the American Sephardi community, as founders and leaders of the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America and Sephardic Home for the Aged, he is honored to continue that legacy through Sephardi House and the American Sephardi Federation. In pursuit of continuing his family's tradition of American Sephardi leadership, Daniel received the ASF Broome & Allen Scholarship and saw the Sephardi House fellowship as another incredible opportunity. He aspires to be like his great-great-grandmother one day, making an impact on the world around him, both locally and globally. He has already begun his local service, as he created a community project to feed the young children at a shelter in East LA. For more than five years, He has continued to lead this tzedakah, growing it to include over 10 volunteers, serving full meals, and even personally tutoring the children.
Since I can remember, I have been invested in Sephardic culture. My first school was a Sephardic Jewish school, where I learned Hebrew and prayers the Sephardic way. As I grew older, I became interested in my family’s history, wondering what Sephardic really meant, and how it aligns with my heritage. My parents would tell me stories of my great-great-grandmother, Leah Cohen (Mrs. Marco Cohen), who helped found the Sephardic Home for the Aged many years ago in New York City. Her initiative to start such a project as a woman in that era could only be attributed to her genuine love of and desire to care for her community, the Sephardic community…Educationally speaking, ever since I heard about biomedical engineering—a profession where you research cures and build life-changing medical devices—I knew I wanted to do it. And I know exactly what I want to do: make the world void of genetic disease. Following in the footsteps of my great-great-grandmother, I will continue to embody and study the teachings of the Torah and the Talmud as I dedicate myself to positively impacting the world around me, and eventually, cure all genetic diseases.
Mauricio Woldenberg Mischne sophomore at Cornell University
Mauricio Woldenberg Mischne is a sophomore at Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. He is originally from Monterrey, Mexico but now lives in Miami, FL. He has learned a lot about Judaism as a whole over the years, but is very excited to learn more about Sephardi culture and history in greater depth.
As an Ashkenazi Jew from Mexico, I have grown up immersed in jewish culture and history, but would love to learn more about Sephardic Jewish culture and history...I believe this will enrich my knowledge of Judaism as well as strengthen my Jewish identity.
Jessica Yeroshalmi junior at Macaulay Honors College at Baruch CUNY
Jessica Yeroshalmi is currently a junior at Macaulay Honors College at Baruch CUNY studying economics and political science. Outside of class, she is a Hillel International student cabinet member, president of WINGS at Baruch, VP of programming of Hillel at Baruch, and secretary of Pre-Law Society. Jessica’s parents fled Iran after the Iranian Revolution and her Persian-Jewish heritage has shaped her upbringing and passion for family and Judaism. Jessica works to bring a Sephardic voice to Jewish spaces on campus and empower students to find their unique voice in the larger community. She is looking forward to working with this amazing cohort and bringing about change and learning.
As a daughter of Iranian-American immigrants, my Jewish identity has been shaped by my Persian heritage. Growing up, Shabbat dinners at my grandmother’s house would be incomplete without various Persian choreshts (stews) and rices. My Persian and Jewish identities are inextricably intertwined, from celebrating Nowruz (Persian New Year) with a siddur on our sofreh (table set up to celebrate the holiday) to putting Persian coins in water on the last night of Passover for good luck. I’ve gained a unique appreciation for these experiences as I’ve witnessed and been a part of other Jewish communities. As a college student I am an active member and officer of the Hillel at Baruch and a student cabinet member at Hillel international where I focus on bringing a Sephardic voice to an often ashko-normative space. As a fellow, I hope to strengthen this voice while learning from other Sephardic experiences around me.
Benjamin (Avi) Zatz sophomore at the University of Vermont
Benjamin (Avi) Zatz is a sophomore at the University of Vermont majoring in Agroecology. He grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey in a family of mixed Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Scottish heritage. He has been active in Jewish life on campus as a member of the UVM Hillel student board, co-leader of a Jewish dance group called JewDA, and an active member of the Israel Committee at UVM Hillel. He is also active at the national level through his work as part of the University Outreach Team of Jewish on Campus. Beyond the Jewish world, Zatz has conducted agricultural research on the algae Dunaliella salina to increase its yield of β-carotene through the use of sonication. This research has won multiple awards including the In Vitro Biology Award and first place at the New Jersey FFA State Agriscience Fair. During the pandemic, he became involved in activism for the Jewish community through social media and has since begun to manage and create content for the Instagram of the American Sephardi Federation.
I want to bring more Sephardic representation and culture to my campus and transform existing Jewish life at UVM...UVM students could learn a lot about Sephardic history and culture, including myself. I would really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about my background and the customs of other, diverse Sephardic communities...I believe this fellowship could help me learn how to best work towards creating an inclusive space for students from any background to find community and have fun while learning about Sephardic Jewry.
Fellows for 2020-2021
Ariella Levy sophomore studying Psychology and Spanish
Ariella Levy is a sophomore studying Psychology and Spanish on the pre-Occupational Therapy track at the University of Pittsburgh. Growing up in the Greater Boston Area, Ariella has both Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestry. However, she has always felt especially connected to her Sephardic heritage because of the pride that her grandfather instilled in her. She is honored to be included in the first cohort of the Sephardi House Fellows. As a student active with her college’s Hillel, she cannot wait to share Sephardic culture with her peers. She believes that it is essential to explore the diversity within the Jewish community, and that doing so will enrich Jewish life on campus.
Whenever my grandfather introduced himself or told someone he was a Jew, he made it known that he was a Sephardic Jew. He was proud of attending services in Ladino and speaking the language as a child, proud of the delicious foods his mother cooked, and most of all he was fortunate to have a strong sense of community in the Sephardic Brotherhood of America, having been a lifelong member…After my grandfather passed in May, I embraced my Sephardic roots more than ever before. I want to share the beauty of Sephardic Judaism with my peers while furthering my own learning and connection to being Sephardic.
Benjamin Goykadosh Senior at Yeshiva University studying Physics and Mathematics
Benjamin Goykadosh grew-up in a home immersed in Sephardic tradition, heritage, and love for Israel. He is currently a Senior at Yeshiva University studying Physics and Mathematics. Before attending YU, he spent two years at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel. Currently living in Washington Heights, Benjie is originally from Great Neck, New York and is of Moroccan and Persian Jewish descent. As a Sephardi House Fellow, he is looking forward to helping create a community uniting and celebrating all of the different backgrounds of the Jewish people, which can thus shed light on values and ideas often not encountered. When he is not doing school work, he can be found hiking, hanging out with friends or redesigning his fish tank.
Every Friday night my extended family congregates around the Shabbat table for meals with a rich cultural blend of our different ancestry. My father is of Persian descent and my mother, Moroccan Israeli. Not only do I see myself as an individual, but also as part of a greater collective—part of both the physical and imagined community of the Jewish people. The physical community allows me to understand the stories told. Mordechai and Esther are not forgotten relics remembered once a year; I hear personal stories of my grandparents visiting their graves. Being part of an imagined community allows me to be part of [something] larger, a part of a worldwide Jewish community, each ripe with its own value…My entire life I attended predominantly Ashkenazic institutions, in which Sephardic culture and tradition were always seen as a differing opinion, the ‘side group’ used as a contrast. This leads people to forget and undervalue important facets of history. For example, we forget that Judeo-Arabic was the most widespread and longest lived of the Jewish languages…or that many of the Rishonim and Talmudists originate from classically Sephardic and Middle Eastern backgrounds. Ignoring this means that we forget much of Jewish history.
Dvir Avnon-Klein passionate musician and aspiring scientist studying
Dvir Avnon-Klein is a passionate musician and aspiring scientist studying at Queens College. He was selected as one of 19 delegates from the United States and awarded a full scholarship by the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute to conduct immunology research in collaboration with students from around the world. Afterward, Dvir developed a novel biosensor concept, becoming a finalist at the QC Pitchfest and winning first place at the JA Business Competition. As a violinist, he led his chamber music ensemble to win first place at the Lincoln Center Society Competition and the Chamber Music Competition of the Manhattan School of Music Precollege. He has studied violin with preeminent pedagogues, such as Professor Nicholas Mann (Chair of the Manhattan School of Music College Strings Department). Recently, Dvir was selected as a fellow for the Carnegie Hall Future Music Project, composing original works and performing with the ensemble at Carnegie Hall. Currently, he conducts research at the Pytte Neuroscience Lab at City University of New York, and tours with The Chutzpah Caravan, a folk music ensemble based in New York City.
My family fled Spain during the Inquisition. After wandering through Europe, they settled in Jerusalem in the 1800’s [and] created a new life in the old Yishuv. As a descendant, I feel duty-bound to preserve and revive that rich culture. As a musician, I am particularly interested in the Sephardic sound. There is a much deeper history of Jewish music that young people don’t know about. I think that music can be a tool to bring together Jews on campus. It is a thread that connects the ancient Sepharadim in Spain to the modern Jewish People. Just as the sound of the Oud gave hope to Sepharadim in the diaspora, it can help young Jews navigate life on campus. The music of Sepharadim can also be a bridge between Jewish and Muslim students. I am excited to have the opportunity to join the Sephardi House because I believe that mentorship can help make this vision a reality. I am excited about forming new relationships with like-minded Jewish students who are committed to revitalizing their cultural roots and making it accessible to fellow students.
Danielle Ryba part of the Syrian-Lebanese community in Brooklyn
Danielle Ryba is part of the Syrian-Lebanese community in Brooklyn. She is a student, advocate, and creative pursuing a Bachelor of Architecture with the Macaulay Honors College (MHC) program at the City College of New York. She is currently developing a research paper exploring the intricate relationship between historic Jerusalem and its fluctuation populations. Danielle is the vice president of the MHC book club. She is also a regular volunteer at Aishel Shabbat, an organization which packages food boxed for families in need. Her previous work with Girls Who Code was recognized by the College Board as having the highest participation rate of any yeshiva high school. Danielle was also awarded the NY State Thomas P. DiNapoli Achievement for leadership. She hopes to continue facilitating engagement between Sephardic women and historically male dominated fields through her work with NOMAS and FAME
I grew up in a pretty tight bubble. Going to college was a way for me to break out of that and meet new people…In college, some students hadn’t realized there were Jews in the Middle East. In our current world, representation is so important.
Esther Bentolila junior in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University
Esther Bentolila is currently a junior in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, majoring in hotel and restaurant administration and concentrating in finance, accounting, and real estate. She is interested in a professional role that combines her passions for the hospitality and real estate industries. She invests most of her extracurricular time as an NCAA varsity athlete on the fencing team with thirteen years of experience in the sport, competing at the national and international levels. Her on-campus involvement also includes serving as vice president of Chabad at Cornell, one of the two fencing representatives for the Student Athletic Advisory Club, a general body member of the Cornell Real Estate Club, and a general body member of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality.
Over many generations, my family has been dispersed and scattered over a variety of countries such as Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Spain, Morocco, Syria, Iran, Greece, Serbia and Israel. This diverse Sepharadi background has greatly influenced who I am…Being a part of the Sephardi House fellowship together with the American Sephardi Federation enables me to take a deeper dive into my familial ancestry and pay tribute to my heritage. I am beyond thrilled for this opportunity that brings Jewish students together from all walks of life.
Eden Janfar finance major on a pre-dental track at Binghamton University
Eden Janfar is a finance major on a pre-dental track at Binghamton University. He is active with regional and national Jewish and Israel student organizations, including CAMERA on Campus and Israel21c, an online media organization that produces Israeli news and culture through social media. Furthermore, on his Binghamton campus, he has served on Meor Jewish Outreach’s Executive Board as the Head of Education, in which he developed informative educational activities, headed exciting outreach events, and educated hundreds about their religious history. He has also served on Chabad’s General Board on their education committee. Eden currently serves as an NCSY Campus Judah Fellow, in which he facilitates the continued connection between NCSY and NCSY alumni in college by coordinating with colleagues and university organizations to develop, organize, and market engaging events. He previously served on the Binghamton University Zionist Organization’s board and helped with promoting understanding between pro and anti-Israel activists. Some of his favorite hobbies include practicing piano and playing sports.
We, Sepharadim, already as a minority within the Jewish community, have a duty to continue our culture, values, and customs that our parents and ancestors worked so hard to imbue in us. I come from Great Neck, New York, which is known and celebrated for its vibrant Persian Jewish community. Because I was raised within this environment, I became accustomed to having Persian Jews around me. However, when I traveled to Israel, attended college, and entered new environments, I soon realized how little other Jews actually know about our community. So much so, I even met one person that had no idea Persian Jews even existed…One of my on-campus roles is to emphasize Sephardi Jewry within Israel to demonstrate to the world that North African and Middle Eastern Jews exist and are thriving, actually making up the majority of Israel’s Jewish population.
Eli Khaim junior at Baruch College
Eli Khaim is a junior at Baruch College pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance. He grew up in Rego Park, Queens to a Bukharian and Persian family from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. He is passionate about listening to traditional Bukharian Shashmaqam music, learning centuries-old recipes, and understanding the significance of traditional Sephardic attire. Eli is passionate about learning Jewish history, volunteering, financial markets, and spending time with family and friends. His student leadership on campus includes being a treasurer on his college’s Hillel board.
Being a Sephardi House Fellow will help me dive deep into my culture and discover more about many other diverse Sephardi backgrounds…It will also connect me to a passionate community of like-minded and driven individuals…I hope to use this opportunity to better serve our fellow Sephardic students from many different communities on campus. I am honored to learn from the program participants, work with them, and contribute to the amazing mission of helping fellow Jews achieve success and take pride in their culture at the same time.
Leah Goykadosh sophomore at Stern College
Leah Goykadosh is a sophomore at Stern College. After graduating Yeshiva University High School for Girls – Central, she spent a year in Israel attending Midreshet Lindenbaum. She lives in Great Neck and is of both Persian and Moroccan descent. Leah enjoys hiking, political science, and the performing arts. She is passionate about Israel and the environment. As a Sephardi House Fellow, she is interested in sharing the rich history and culture of Sephardic Jewry with her fellow students, as she and her peers were not formally taught about much of this content in school.
I grew up in a house very rooted in Sephardic heritage. I spent the past year learning in Israel, and being away from home made me realize just how meaningful those traditions are…However, attending an Ashkenazi day school meant that I never learned about my practices in class. [Comments such as], ‘things didn’t really change religiously outside of Europe so we’re not really going to discuss that’’ [have been] incredibly hurtful to hear and drastically limit the educational opportunities of all students by withholding so much knowledge and spirit…[Many Jewish institutions] tend to have very European-centric ideas, viewing Ashkenazim as the ‘Normative Jewry’, whereas in actuality Judaism is such a diverse mix of Tefillot, songs, traditional foods, and identities. I firmly believe that Jews aren’t cookie cutter characters, and that my own experiences can vouch.
Mirushe Zylali senior at Mount Holyoke College
Mirushe Zylali is a senior at Mount Holyoke College double majoring in Religion and Studio Art. She is invested in researching and interfacing with Balkan, Turkish, Syrian, and Kurdish Jews. She is also passionate about the preservation of women’s rituals and mysticism with regards to adornments and weddings. In her undergraduate thesis, she is exploring the relationship between Mizrahi women, music, aesthetics, and processes of reclamation and cultural recovery. Mirushe is currently the co-chair of her college’s Jewish Student Union. As a student leader on campus, Mirushe has spearheaded various programs that engage her peers in learning about the experiences of Sepharadi and Mizrahi Jews. From her Challah and Chai dialogues and screening of Shalom, Bollywood, to her Zimra Multi-Resource (a project that challenges ideas about what normative Judaism looks like by making information about Mizrahi and Sepharadi minhagim more accessible), Mirushe continues to strive for multiplicity and cross-cultural connection. When not cataloguing, transliterating, or transcribing music, Mirushe is pursuing her own personal artistic journey, which includes the modernization of Turkish and Balkan embroidery work and henna culture.
In the past few years at my college, I have led multiple initiatives reaching for Sepharadi, Mizrahi, and Ethiopian Jewish representation and a re-conceptualization of Judaism as Judaisms. My focus is on collectivizing knowledge and information in order to make learning about Jewish people, history, and culture as accessible as possible.
Negeen Nicole Rivkah Arasteh senior at UCLA, majoring in Sociology
Negeen Nicole Rivkah Arasteh is a senior at UCLA, majoring in Sociology. Hailing from Los Angeles and of proud Sephardic and Mizrahi origins, Negeen has a strong desire to make an impact on the Greater Sephardic community, engaging her peers in conversations about their identities and empowering them to make connections to their own customs and traditions. With a deep love for Israel, Negeen is the senior advisor to SSI (Students Supporting Israel). She is also a contributing columnist for Ha’am, UCLA’s Jewish student media publication. Negeen loves languages, dancing, and playing music on any instrument that she can get her hands on. Negeen’s dream is to ultimately open a Sephardic Jewish day school and help create a comprehensive system of Sephardic education.
I believe that a rich understanding of the past enables us to live our best lives. That’s why my passion for Judaism is deeply rooted in who I am, and I study Sephardic/ Mizrahi customs to be able to share them with others.
Noa Eshkar student of Cinema and Computer Science
Noa Eshkar is a nontraditional student of Cinema and Computer Science at Binghamton University. She grew up in Israel, in a Sephardic family originally from Bulgaria, and is a descendant of Sephardic Holocaust survivors. Besides Ladino, many other languages were spoken in her immediate and extended family, including French, Bulgarian, Russian, German, English, Hebrew, Greek, Spanish, Arabic, and Portuguese. Possessing a deep connection to Ladino, Noa studies the language and hopes to become fluent. Noa loves cultures and cannot see life without diversity. With her love for international music, Noa is a broadcast producer for WHRW 90.5, where she hosts a world music radio show called Across the Universe. Noa is also passionate about human rights. After the Haiti Earthquake in 2010, and the 2011 Fukashima Daichi power meltdown, Noa was recruited to work with a team on a DARPA project writing the software for a search and rescue robot. She saw it as a humanitarian mission to help the victims through technology. As an avid nature lover and environmental activist, Noa has been a member of The Society of Protecting Nature in Israel since age 12. Noa’s hobbies include dance, singing, art, and learning about neuroscience.
My family’s Sepharadic heritage is important enough for me to spread the love and tradition…I remember when I was a child, my grandmother’s hot borekas and banitza, our Friday family gatherings in my grandparents’ house, the songs, the jokes, the laughter and my tremendous number of my aunts and uncles. There was always love coming from another family member. The social aspect was paramount, since that was the glue that held us together…My goal is to be able to create a sense of Jewish familia among students in the hope of belonging to something greater.
Rochelle Dweck Egyptian and Syrian Jewish heritage
Rochelle Dweck hails from an Egyptian and Syrian Jewish heritage. She is very proud of her lineage and the ability to represent so many diverse cultures. She was born and raised in Brooklyn and currently lives in downtown Manhattan. Rochelle attended Barkai Yeshiva lower school and The Heschel School for High School. Enamored with art since birth, she is currently a sophomore majoring in Studio Art at Syracuse University with a minor in Jewish Studies.
Throughout my life I have witnessed countless moments where Sephardic people were underrepresented…So often, I have felt left out as a student on my college campus, because I was the only Sephardic representative…As a woman with strong ties to my Egyptian and Syrian heritage, it would be my honor to raise awareness on this issue. Since there has been a loss of a strong Jewish presence in Arab countries, it is important to me and my community to maintain traditions, culture, and values that are unique to who we are…With the education that the Sephardi House provides, I will continue to be a fighter for the Sephardic voice.
Shirin Benyaminpour junior in the Macaulay Honors program at Queens College (CUNY)
Shirin Benyaminpour grew up in Great Neck, New York and graduated from North Shore Hebrew Academy High School. She is a junior in the Macaulay Honors program at Queens College (CUNY) where she is majoring in Finance, minoring in Business and Liberal Arts, and pursuing an Advanced Certificate in Risk Management. She is currently the president of the QC Economics and Business Club and a member of the MHC Planning Committee on campus, and was previously a Jewish Learning Fellow at Queens College Hillel. Shirin has held positions as a financial analyst intern with InKind Space and a sales associate at Madewell, and she is currently an SAT Instructor for The Princeton Review. In past semesters, she has spent time as an Engagement Life Volunteer with senior citizens at the Atria Park of Great Neck. After graduating, Shirin plans to attend law school and pursue a career as a litigator.
I feel deeply connected to my Sephardic heritage, though I rarely have an opportunity to express that connection and grow it stronger. Being a Sephardi House Fellow will allow me to not only educate myself further on my ancestry, but also educate others and create a community of American Sephardic Jewish peers. There is so much to learn and love about Sephardic Jewish life from the past and the present, and I would love to dive in and learn alongside other passionate individuals…Nothing makes me happier than helping someone become the best version of themselves, and the work that the Sephardi House Fellowship supports will undoubtedly allow students to do so by engaging with the Sephardic spirit…I hope that this opportunity will allow me to better understand Sephardic Jewry and facilitate an open, welcoming community within my campus