Dear friends and colleagues:

When it comes to Hanukkah, you probably think of the story of Hanukkah that revolves around male heroes (the Maccabees). Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Jews, however, also observe Chag Habanot, which celebrates the lesser-known contributions of women.

Among the many legends surrounding the Hanukkah rebellion is a story known in Hebrew as Ma’ase ha-Isha ha-Yehudit. This version preserved by Sephardi Jews tells of a Jewish woman who beheaded the Selucid king, Aleforne (Holofernes), to free Israel from foreign occupation. According to some traditions, the king's soldiers found his decapitated body and responded, “A single Israelite woman has brought about this horror!” Judith demonstrated bravery and resilience; she was a woman who daringly tricked and killed the Syrian-Greek king through her cunning and desire to protect her people.

Other legends such as Megilat Antiochus record the atrocities committed by the Greek Syrian soldiers against women in Judea as well multiple instances of Jewish mothers who risked everything in order to oppose the anti-Jewish imposed upon Israel. Likewise, in the Book of Maccabees, we learn of Hannah, who suffered martyrdom along with her 7 sons, rather than submitting to the culture and religious values of the Hellenists. These tales of both heroism and suffering fill the pages of Jewish history and particularly the legends surrounding women during the Maccabean revolt.

The honor and courage of these Jewish women has long been celebrated by Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities in a North African Jewish a festival called Hag Ha-Banot  which translates to the Festival of the Daughters. Hag Ha-Banot occurs on the seventh night of Hanukkah and brings together generations of Jewish women in celebration as we light the menorah and honor our brave women ancestors. In some communities, mothers give their daughters gifts and women or girls who had drifted apart reconcile their differences and reignite their friendship. All of these were among the traditions celebrated by my ancestors who lived in Tripoli, Libya and the Tunisian island of Djerba.

The bravery and sacrifice of Middle Eastern women did not stop during the days of the Maccabees but continue on. In 1950, my maternal grandmother, Rina Taib fled antisemitic persecution in Libya to Israel with my grandfather, two kids, and two suitcases. Initially, they lived in the ma’abarot (refugee absorption camps established in Israel in the 1950s); life in the ma’abarot wasn’t easy, and my grandma even gave birth to her third child in one of these refugee camps. The family stayed there for eight years before moving to an apartment in Bnei Brak. In 1964, my paternal Safta Alusha Hadad left Tunisia for Israel on a small boat with my saba (grandfather) and their six children to pursue the Zionist dream and return to Erez Israel.

Chag Ha Banot, not only honors Yehudit, but the subsequent generations of strong Jewish women, like my grandmothers, and the vital role women play in protecting Judaism and our ancestral homeland. These stories of brave Jewish women continue to resonate deeply with me as a woman, an Israeli, a recent immigrant to the U.S., a descendant of Jews from North Africa, and as a Jewish communal professional committed to advancing the heritage and rights of Sephardic and Mizrahi women and the Jewish people on a daily basis.


Today, on Hag Ha Banot, I hope you will join me in celebrating and honoring the contributions of brave Jewish women, like Judith, my grandmothers, and your grandmothers. As an organization founded and led by strong Sephardic and Mizrahi women, I welcome you to participate in JIMENA’s fight for the dignity, heritage and rights of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East. Your support will enable JIMENA to continue supporting Sephardic Jewish women through leadership development programs, research, professional development opportunities, trainings for Jewish Day Schools and mainstream Jewish organizations, and community building programs that bring together diverse Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews to join together in celebration of our heritage. Please consider making a year-end, tax-deductible Hanukkah gift to JIMENA today.


Thank you,

Sapir Taib

Sr. Program Director, JIMENA

Click here to read Sapir's full article about “Hag Ha-Banot and the Heroism of Jewish women in the Middle East and North Africa” for the Jewish Women’s Archive

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JIMENA's mission is to achieve universal recognition of the heritage, history, and rights of the one million indigenous Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa and their Mizrahi and Sephardi descendants.

December 25, 2022 | 1 Tevet, 5783