A highlight of the NYSJFF is the bestowal of the Pomegranate Award(s) for Sephardi Excellence in the Arts. Now in its 20th iteration, NYSJFF remains true to its founding purpose to advance the understanding of Sephardi history, literature, poetry, music, dance, customs and traditions.
Musician, PerformerBio >
Ema Shah is a multi-talented Kuwaiti performer whose anthropological approach to music and civil society activism have made her one of the Arab world’s most courageous celebrities. Appearing regularly on al-Arabiya and MTV Middle East, Ema sings, composes, plays piano and guitar, acts, writes, dances, and directs. Her shorts have been internationally honored, including at the 2015 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival in Hollywood (Best Music Video), 2014 Winter Film Awards in New York City (Best Music Video), and 2014 Twickenham Alive Riverside Film Festival in London (International Drama Award). Ema’s song “Aleqini” earned the Bronze Medal at the 2015 Global Music Awards. In 2010, as part of an effort to bridge cultural divides in her homeland, Ema performed Dalida’s French/Hebrew rendition of Hava Nagila and songs by Enrico Macias, the Algerian-born, French-Jewish musical legend and recipient of ASF’s 2014 Pomegranate Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, at a two-day Kuwait University Alumni Club folk music concert. Rejecting demands that she censor the program and charges that performing in Hebrew is offensive and tantamount to treason, Ema, a member of The Kuwaiti Society for Human Rights, asserted her right to freedom of expression and defended the power of music to “connect people around the world and remove barriers created by extremists who oppose freedom, liberalism and democracy.” Other memorable performances include a 2012 concert for Kuwait’s Prince Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmed al-Sabah, various events for the United Nations, and the lead in Saudi Director Mohammed al-Saber’s Who Killed Sarah, which premièred at the 2015 Dubai International Film Festival
Kamal Hachkar is a critically acclaimed, French-Moroccan filmmaker of Amazigh (“Berber”) Muslim heritage. Born in Morocco but raised in France, Hachkar spent his summers with his family in their Moroccan hometown of Tinghir. After learning about a thriving Jewish community that once populated the town but that had left for Israel and was now erased from the history books, Hachkar was stirred to document, in film, the lost Judeo-Moroccan heritage. The result, From Tinghir to Jerusalem: Echoes from the Mellah, premiered in 2013 at the American Sephardi Federation’s 16th NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival. Subsequently featured in festivals around the world, From Tinghir to Jerusalem was shown on Moroccan television, an unprecedented achievement for a film exploring a topic usually considered to be off-limits, and earned the prestigious Tangier Award, one of the highest honors in Moroccan cinema.
Erez Biton is a pioneering and award-winning Israeli poet of North African heritage. Biton immigrated to Israel with his family in 1948 but was blinded by a stray hand grenade at the age of ten. Biton’s five books of poetry, including his most recent work, Blindfolded Landscapes, explore both his North African Jewish heritage and his blindness with exceptional courage, openness and honesty. Recently awarded both the Yehuda Amichai poetry prize and the Bialik lifetime achievement award, Biton is critically celebrated as, “the founding father of a new and significant tradition in the history of Modern Hebrew poetry—Israeli Sephardic poetry,” according to Hannan Hever, the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Prof of Hebrew Language & Literature at Yale University.
Enrico Macias, born Gaston Ghrenassia in Constantine, Algeria, has achieved international renown as a singer-songwriter.Entertaining audiences around the world for over 50 years, the artistry and the pain that drive Macias’ music lie buried in the homeland he was forced to flee. Macias, who has sold hundreds of thousands of records and performed in front of audiences of over a hundred thousand people played a concert in Egypt at the behest of Anwar Sadat, has been awarded France’s Légion d’honneur (1985), and was named “Singer of Peace” (1981) and “Ambassador at Large for Peace and the Protection of the Children of the World” (1997) by the United Nations.
oud and violin player, composer, singer, and teacherBio >
Izza Génini was born in 1942 in Casablanca, Morocco. She is a director and producer, known for Embroidered Canticles (1989), Songs for a Shabbat (1989) and Nûba of Gold and Light (2007).