Malaka Bublil, who now goes by the name Gina Waldman, has an obvious advantage in working with refugees — she was once one.
Waldman shared her experiences at the Women’s Center last Thursday in a talk sponsored by the Yale Friends of Israel. A Libyan Jewish woman, Waldman was expelled from Libya in 1967 and is co-founder of the human rights organization Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA). At the event, “Love is Stronger than Hate,” Waldman discussed her life as a refugee in the 1970s.
“You are now listening to a voice that is vanishing, for I represent the last generation of Libyan Jews,” Waldman said.
At the beginning of the talk, Waldman said that she is a member of a large community that has generally been ignored by the mainstream press.
“If you include Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we Jewish refugees from the Muslim world number over 1,000,000,” Waldman said. “You never hear about our trauma on the news or in college courses.”
Waldman spoke about life in her native Libya and compared the laws for “dhimmi” — the protected minority — in many Middle Eastern countries to the Jim Crow laws that lingered in the American South after the Civil War. In the past, Jewish minorities lived as inferior citizens in many Middle Eastern countries, forced to pay special taxes and wear distinctive clothing, Waldman said.
“Even in 1950, Jews in Yemen were forced to clean out the latrines of their Muslim neighbors on Saturdays, the holy Shabbat,” Waldman said.
The Jewish refugees originally from North Africa and the Middle East are becoming more organized in order to reclaim significant amounts of lost property, Waldman said. She cited the recent creation of the American Sephardic Federation, which is collecting information about the refugees’ property losses.
Waldman said that one of JIMENA’s goals is “to inspire the Palestinians, not to diminish their plight to highlight the success of our own absorption.”
Waldman said that she hoped to use the successful assimilation of Middle Eastern Jewish refugees in Israel and America as a model for Palestinian refugees.
In the past, Waldman has worked with Muslim refugees coming from Bosnia to the San Francisco area. In addition, she has collaborated with Amnesty International in supporting the victims of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Waldman said she considers Andrei Sakharov, the Russian human rights activist and winner of the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize, to be her mentor.
Jamie Kirchick ’06, who facilitated Waldman’s visit, said the goal of the talk was to educate students about an issue that does not get much attention in the mainstream media.
Daniel Fichter ’06 said he thought the talk was informative and educational.
“I hadn’t realized how similar the Jewish experience in Muslim countries in the 20th century was to the experience of Jews in Germany in the 1930s,” Fichter said.
In describing the effects of refugee life, Waldman said she envied the members of her audience for having a chance that she never had.
“One thing I will not forgive is the fact that I was not able to get a college education,” Waldman said. “It is a very, very painful subject for me.”