Ivri is the word Abraham used to distinguish himself as a border crosser or "other-sider."
NASAWI is an acronym for the New Association of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists and Writers International.
Ivri-NASAWI is an independent non-profit membership organization which celebrates the rich legacy and thriving contemporary expressions of Sephardi and Mizrahi culture.
We promote Sephardi/Mizrahi music, literature, art and history through advocacy, education, scholarship and entertainment. The organization is strongly committed to the principle of cross-cultural cooperation, and support the strengthening of ties within the Jewish community as well as between all peoples of Middle Eastern descent.
Ivri-NASAWI was founded in 1996 by four writers, Ammiel Alcalay, Ruth Behar, Jordan Elgrably and Victor Perera, and was later joined by author Ella Habiba Shohat. With its outreach and advocacy work in Los Angeles, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, and now Washington, DC-Baltimore, Ivri-NASAWI reaches thousands of people through multimedia salons, readings, symposia, festivals, concerts, public dialogues, and other activities designed to educate, advocate and entertain. Our membership is inclusive, in the Levantine spirit.
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- Chapter Directors
New York Director
SF Bay Area Acting Director
Myra Lappin, M.D. - biography
Washington, DC-Baltimore Acting Director
- International Editors
New York Editors
San Francisco Bay Editors
Latin America Editors
Ammiel Alcalay, co-founder and editor-at-large, is a first-generation American whose family comes from former Yugoslavia and the Balkans. A poet, translator, critic and scholar, Alcalay has been active in Sephardic cultural life for many years. He teaches Creative Writing, Hebrew, contemporary Israeli, Sephardic and Middle Eastern literature at Queens College in New York, where he is the chair of the Department of Classical, Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures, as well as co-director of Jewish Studies; he is also on the Medieval Studies and Comparative Literature faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Although it met with great resistance before being published, his After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), redrew the cultural map of the Middle East; it was chosen as one of the year's top 25 books by The Village Voice and also named one of 1993's notable books by The Independent in London. For/Za Sarajevo (New York, Lusitania Press), a bilingual English/Croatian collection he edited, was named by Art Forum as one of the year's 10 choices in '93. Alcalay has been enormously active during the wars in the former Yugoslavia and became the primary source for providing American media access to Bosnian voices. He edited and co-translated Zlatko Dizdarevic's Sarajevo: A War Journal (Fromm International, 1995). He was responsible for the publication of the first survivor's account in English of a victim held in a Serb concentration camp, The Tenth Circle of Hell, by Rezak Hukanovic (New York, Basic Books, 1996), which he co-translated and edited.
Another recent book he translated and edited is a major new anthology of contemporary Middle Eastern Jewish writing entitled Keys to the Garden, New Israeli Writing (City Lights Books, 1996), the first collection of its kind in any language. He has also translated two books by Cuban Jewish poet José Kozer, Projimos/Intimates and The Ark Upon the Number. In 1993 the Singing Horse Press in Philadelphia published what Alcalay calls a "compressed novel" entitled the cairo notebooks. His most recent publication is Memories of Our Future: Selected Essays, 1982-1999 (City Lights 1999). For more, go to http://www.ivri-nasawi.org/aevening.html.
Alcalay has been a regular contributor to the Village Voice literary supplement. His poetry, prose, reviews, critical articles and translations have appeared in the The Nation, New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, The New Republic, The Jerusalem Post, Grand Street, Conjunctions, Sulfur, The Nation, Middle East Report, Afterimage, Parnassus, City Lights Review, Review of Jewish Social Studies, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, The Michigan Quarterly, Caliban, Paper Air, Paintbrush, Mediterraneans and various other publications. Most recently he published a translation of Sarajevo Blues (City Lights) by Semezdin Mehmedinovic, a young Bosnian poet. Alcalay's poetics Atonement/After Ecclesiastes/I Had Thought of Writing a Play Based on the Following Facts appears in the Sephardic American Voices anthology, edited by Diane Matza, from Brandeis University Press. Alcalay has been working very hard and feels that his moment may be arriving.
His latest works are Memories of Our Future, Selected Essays 1981-1999 (City Lights, 2000); and the epic poem, from the warring factions (Beyond Baroque Books, 2002)
Ruth Behar, co-founder, literary editor, and South America editor, was born in Havana, Cuba in 1956 and came to live in New York with her family in 1962. Behar has traveled to Spain, Mexico, and Cuba and written on a range of cultural issues as a poet, essayist, editor, and ethnographer. She was awarded the MacArthur "genius" award in 1988 at the start of her career as an anthropologist, and has been the recipient of many prestigious fellowships for her work, including a John Simon Guggenheim award in 1995.
Her first book was The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village: Santa Maria del Monte (Princeton, 1986; expanded paperback edition, 1991), the story of how a small village negotiated its relation to the past in the wake of social transformations that removed people from the land during the late Franco years. Her second book, Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story (Beacon Press, 1993), an account of her friendship with a Mexican street peddler, gained her national prominence. Translated Woman was named a Notable Book of the Year for 1993 by the New York Times and was adapted for the stage by PREGONES Theater, a Latino company based in New York which has taken the production to The Painted Bride Theater in Philadelphia and to their own space in the Bronx. Her most recent book, The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart (Beacon Press, 1997), a controversial collection of personal essays, challenges readers to consider the role of the emotions not only in contemporary anthropology but in all acts of witnessing.
Behar, as a Cuban American, is committed to seeking a peaceful and dignified solution to Cuba's current crisis and in that spirit she edited Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba (University of Michigan Press, 1995). The anthology became a forum for the voices of Cubans on the island and in the diaspora seeking reconciliation and a common culture and memory. She is also co-editor of Women Writing Culture (University of California Press, 1995), an anthology about the creative writings of women anthropologists that has become a required book in discussions of the canon of anthropology. As an anthropologist and poet, she is frequently invited to speak about and perform her work in universities, bookstores, and cultural institutions. Recent invitations have come from the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In addition to being a respected and highly visible scholar, Behar is increasingly acquiring recognition for her literary essays, poetry, and fiction. Her personal essays include No Returns (in Her Face in the Mirror: Jewish Women on Mothers and Daughters, Beacon Press, 1994), Juban Arica (in Poetics Today 16:1, Spring 1995: 151-170), The Story of Ruth, the Anthropologist (in People of the Book: Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity, University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), and The Body in the Woman, the Story in the Woman (in The Female Body: Figures, Styles, Speculations, University of Michigan Press, 1991). Her fictional story La Cortada was selected by Joyce Carol Oates for inclusion in the anthology Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers (Norton, 1997), a text used widely in creative writing courses.
Her poems have appeared in Witness, Michigan Quarterly Review, Tikkun, Latino Stuff Review, Brújula, Prairie Schooner, The American Voice, and Bridges, as well as in the anthologies Sephardic American Voices: Two Hundred Years of a Literary Legacy (Brandeis University Press, 1996), Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology (Arte Público Press, 1996), and The Prairie Schooner Anthology of Jewish-American Writers, edited by Hilda Raz (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998). A chapbook of her poems, Poemas que vuelven a Cuba/Poems Returned to Cuba was published in Matanzas, Cuba by Vigia, an editorial collective that produces handmade artisanal books in small editions. She has recently completed a collection of poems entitled Forty Nameless Poems and A Wish For Next Year.
Behar is currently at work on a book about her Jewish-Cuban family and her re-encounter with the Afro-Cuban woman, still living on the island, who was her caretaker as a child.
She received her B.A. in Letters (1977) from Wesleyan University, and her M.A. (1980) and Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology (1983) from Princeton University. She resides in Ann Arbor and is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.
Behar is currently writing and directing a documentary film entitled Adio Querida: the Sephardic Jews of Cuba, which is being produced Joyce Allegra Maio and Jordan Elgrably. (Interested sponsors are invited to contact Ivri-NASAWI.)
Jordan Elgrably, founder and former creative director, has been a writer and community activist for more than 20 years. As a journalist he has covered arts, culture and media in Paris, Madrid and Los Angeles, 1979-2000 for an array of publications which includes the International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, El País, Le Monde, as well as such quarterlies as The Paris Review and Salmagundi. His literary work has been anthologized in Sephardic American Voices, Two Hundred Years of a Literary Legacy, (Brandeis '96), The Burning Library (Knopf '95) and The Best of Writers at Work 1994 (Northwestern '95). He is also the founder and co-director of Open Tent Middle East Coalition. Under the aegis of Ivri-NASAWI and/or Open Tent, Elgrably has curated many programs, 1998-2001, designed to further weave together the more than one million members of Southern California's Jewish and Arab/Muslim American communities:
~ Arabs and Jews Beyond Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Community cosponsored by the Getty Research Institute for the History of the Arts and the Humanities, June 2, 1998, featuring a concert of Arab and Sephardic Jewish music by Nabil Azzam and Souhael Kaspar, and speakers from Arab and Jewish communities including Myer J. Sankary, Elie Chalala, Diana Abu-Jaber, Gina Hamoui-Ross and Jordan Elgrably (Mark Taper Auditorium, L.A. Public Library.)
~ Middle East Film Fest: A Cultural Conversation cosponsored by Open Tent, L.A.'s Middle East Coalition, under the direction of Deanna Armbruster of the Middle East Peace Network, and Jordan Elgrably, Ivri-NASAWI, May 12 and June 2, 1999, featuring short fiction films and documentaries by/about the Levant and the Middle East and held at the Mark Taper Auditorium, Los Angeles Public Library and Moore Hall, UCLA, in partnership with the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies.
~ The Poetry of Peace, Spiritual Music of the Middle East at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, Oct. 16, 1999, coproduced by Ivri-NASAWI, Middle East Peace Network and Gate Productions, with a grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, featuring a concert of Middle Eastern music by the Omar Faruk Tekbilek ensemble and Sheva, from Israel, with guest artists Ali Jihad Racy, and Damian Draghici.
~ Arab and Jew: Relationships in the Next Millennium, a panel discussion cosponsored by Ivri-NASAWI and the West Valley Jewish Alliance, in the third annual People of the Book Festival, Nov. 14, 1999, featuring a public dialogue led by scholars/authors Joel Beinin of Stanford; Najwa Qattan of Loyola Marymount; Gabi Piterberg of UCLA, and Jordan Elgrably of Ivri-NASAWI/Open Tent; and moderator Harold Meyerson of the L.A. Weekly.
~ Middle East Film Fest 2: A Cultural Conversation cosponsored by Open Tent Middle East Coalition, May 31, 2000, 6-10 pm, at the Mark Taper Auditorium, L.A. Public Central Library; and June 8, UCLA's Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 6-10 pm. Features shorts, fiction films and documentaries by/about the Levant and the Middle East. Write
~ The Levantine Project, in conjunction with Open Tent Middle East Coalition, a monthly series intended to enhance opportunities for Arab/Jewish dialogue, reconciliation, cultural renewal, grassroots inititiatives and peace and justice.
~ The Israeli-Palestinian Crisis: New Conversations for a Pluralist Future took place at UCLA on May 20, 2001, with cosponsorship and support from more than thirty local organizations and peace groups. For info, go here.
Jordan Elgrably is currently the founding director of Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles, and he is seeking the financial assistance of prosperous Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewish Americans and others to support Ivri-NASAWI, Open Tent and the Levantine Center, all projects for our time. For more information, contact Jordan on his direct line at 323-650-3157.
Born in Guatemala of Jerusalemite Sephardi parents, Victor Perera's writings are nourished by three cultural streams, Jewish Hispanic, Latino and North American. He is the author of a novel set in Spain, The Conversion, and three books on southern Mexico and Guatemala, The Last Lords of Palenque (with Robert D. Bruce), Rites: A Guatemalan Boyhood and Unfinished Conquest: The Guatemalan Tragedy.
His most recent book, The Cross and the Pear Tree, A Sephardic Journey, chronicles his family's roots in the Iberian Peninsula and their peregrinations in Europe and the Middle East following the Inquisition and the Expulsion. The book ends with his own experiences in Guatemala, Spain and the Jerusalem of his ancestors.
Perera, who has taught in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, has been a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion column of the Los Angeles Times and a reviewer for the Washington Post Book World. He has written for many major national publications, including The New Yorker, Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation and The New York Review of Books. He served on the editorial staff of The New Yorker.
Perera is a recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts fellowship and a Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Creative Writing Award. His personal essay ?The IQ and I: My Adventures Near the Bottom of the Bell Curve is anthologized in Sephardic American Voices, Two Hundred Years of a Literary Legacy, edited by Diane Matza and published by Brandeis/University Press of New England.
Ella Habiba Shohat, co-founder, editor-at-large, is currently Professor of Cultural Studies and Women's Studies at the City University of New York, Shohat is a writer, curator and activist. She has published and lectured widely, both in the U.S. and internationally, on issues related to multiculturalism, postcolonialism, gender and the media, Near Eastern cultures, and Arab-Jewish identity. Shohat is the author of Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation (University of Texas Press, 1989), a book that sparked a national debate in Israel and was used by the Knesset's Progressive List Party as the scholarly basis for a parliamentary vote which questioned the state funding of the National Theatre Ha'Bimah's production of Sallah Shabbati, a racist play on Mizrahi Jews.
The coauthor (with Robert Stam) of Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (Routledge, 1994), Shohat is on the editorial committees of the journals Social Text, Public Culture, Critique, Middle East Report, and Jouvert. She has co-edited the book Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation and Postcolonial Perspectives (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1997). Shohat is also the editor of a forthcoming volume of essays and visuals, Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age (New Museum/MIT Press, 1999). Israeli with family from Iraq, Shohat is the cofounder of the Mizrahi Women's Forum in Israel.
"I have joined Ivri-NASAWI for the simple reason that enough is enough," Shohat states. "Enough with acting as though we do not exist, enough with discussing Jewishness as if it only means having an Ashkenazi identity. And enough with making us exotic creatures for the bemused eye of the West. I see NASAWI as that voice that would make sure that we get to be represented in our diversity, and through our complex identity, as people whose history is interwoven with Muslim and Arab cultures."
In September 1998, Shohat spoke in Marrakesh, Morocco, at an international conference on social change, hosted by the King of Morocco and organized by The World Bank and The Middle East and North Africa Development Forum. She addresed the question of Arab-Jewish identity. She will be attending the 33rd annual Middle East Studies Association Conference in Washington, D.C. from Nov. 18-21, 1999.
Other examples of Shohat's ability to communicate constructively with the Muslim/Arab worlds is the fact that her groundbreaking (and controversial) essay Sephardim in Israel: Zionism From the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims, originally published in 1988 in the journal Social Text, has been translated into Arabic and recently published in the Journal Of Palestine Studies. Her article Taboo Memories, Diasporic Visions: Columbus, Palestine and Arab-Jews was also recently translated into Arabic and published in Mahmoud Darwish's journal, Al Karmel.
Born and raised in Paris of Egyptian Jewish heritage, Joyce Allegra Maio studied Spanish literature at the University of Mexico and translation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. Her interest in ethnographic films lead her to Los Angeles, where in 1986 she cofounded and managed for eight years Paradoxe Casting and Productions. She produced and cast docudramas, short films, music videos and national commercials. Her credits include Second Chances for PBS, M Butterfly,and Silent Lovefor cable and Canceled Lives, a radio series. Maio also served as liaison for European and South American productions shooting in California.
In 1989, she joined Personal Theater, an experimental non-profit repertory theater based in Los Angeles, where she produced and co-wrote sketches and plays with director Sondra Bennett. In New York at the Spanish Institute, Maio produced 1995's A Poetic Performance, a multimedia theatrical performance drawn from the poetry of Federico García Lorca and directed by Roi Escudero.
Since its foundation in 1996, Joyce Allegra Maio has been a New York contributing editor to Ivri-NASAWI and is now the Director of its New York chapter. She produced with Jordan Elgrably, Sephardic Voices, a tribute to the winners of the 1998 National Sephardi Literary Contest, with a special musical performance by Gérard Edery and Ensemble, and appearances by novelist Yitzhak Gormezano Goren from Israel, and authors Ammiel Alcalay and Diane Matza. Sephardic Voicesconstituted Ivri-NASAWI's New York debut and took place at Symphony Space. Joyce Maio has produced several other events for the New York chapter, including the 1999-2000 series, Conversations on Roots & Identity. She looks forward to a time when she can muster the assistance of several dedicated volunteers. Maio is a non-fiction writer.
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