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