Success in Congress owes much to local heroine

With the historic passing of a Congressional resolution demanding recognition for Jewish refugees, the San Francisco-based Jewish News Weekly paid special tribute to one of the prime movers behind the campaign, Libyan-born Gina Waldman.

“There are many heroes in this story, including the late San Mateo Congressman Tom Lantos, who nursed along the legislation in the House. He enlisted bipartisan support, most notably from House members Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Michael Ferguson (R-N.J.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.). We thank them all.

“Yet we want to single out our hometown hero, Regina Waldman, for special praise.

“The founder of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), Waldman spearheaded the citizen effort to pass this resolution. For years, she has worked tirelessly on behalf of Jews who, like herself, had to flee Arab countries after 1948.

“In Waldman’s case, she and her family escaped Libya in 1967 with only the clothes on their backs. Once here in the United States, Waldman became a mother and activist, serving first as a leader in the local Soviet Jewry movement. Once she accomplished that mission, she turned her attention to the plight of Jews expelled from Arab and Muslim countries.

“Her organization, JIMENA, took the lead in that fight, striving to capture world attention to this little-understood and much-ignored cause.

“Drawing media attention is a refined skill, one that Waldman has mastered. Only last month, she testified before the U.S. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, dressed in the colorful garb of the now-vanished North African Jewish community.(See picture)

“Yes, it made for a great photo-op, but it also reinforced an important message: These Jewish refugees had built strong communities, some stretching back centuries in their home countries. It took a tireless activist like Waldman to bring their cause to the fore.

“Mizrachi Jews around the world owe a debt of thanks to Regina Waldman for her boundless dedication.”

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