Jose Medina presenting AB331 to the California Assembly Education Committee in March 2019. The bill would make ethnic studies a high school requirement. (Photo/Twitter-Jose Medina)
Assemblymember Jose Medina (left) presenting the bill that kicked off the ethnic studies saga in 2019. (Photo/Twitter-Jose Medina)

Iranian Jewish scholar: Ethnic studies lesson on Middle Eastern Jewish Americans goes far enough

This is an open letter to California Board of Education president Linda Darling-Hammond, in response to a March 16 letter by three Jewish studies professors.

Dear Dr. Darling-Hammond and the California State Board of Education,

I write as a woman Middle Eastern Jewish studies scholar and professor to thank you for the inclusion of the “Antisemitism and Jewish Middle Eastern American” lesson plan in the final draft of the Ethnic Studies model curriculum. (See my oped, “It’s time we talk about Iranian Jews and California’s Ethnic Studies curriculum.”)  I also urge you to consider moving this lesson to the Asian-American section, to ensure fair representation with the lesson materials on Islamophobia, Middle Eastern Arab and Muslims currently included in the South Asian lesson plan. 

Despite the mountains of letters you have received on the curriculum, it seemed especially urgent to reach out after seeing the recent letter by Professors Kelman, Naar, and Marglin, who curiously raised last-minute questions about only this particular lesson.  

I deeply respect and admire Kelman, Naar, and Marglin’s scholarship, but as an Iranian Jewish scholar, who teaches and writes about Middle Eastern Jewry and lives within the community,I do not believe that they speak for me and many other Jewish community organizations who support this important material and have urged you to include it in the Asian-American core of the ethnic studies curriculum.

Moreover, it is worth emphasizing that this lesson was written by a Middle Eastern scholar, then twice reviewed, revised and recommended by the California Department of Education, as well as approved by the IQC at their November 2020 meeting. In addition, the Institute for Curriculum Services recommended the inclusion of this lesson, commenting, “This is an excellent lesson, which adds depth and relevant insights for all students with regards to antisemitism, and Jewish Middle Eastern Americans. It should be retained.”

Saba Soomekh
Saba Soomekh

Saba Soomekh is a lecturer at the Academy of Jewish Religion-CA, former lecturer at UCLA, and visiting professor at LMU. She is currently the associate director of American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles.