Dr. Saba Soomekh ’90
Whether it’s being the first person in her immediate family to go to Harvard University or providing a powerful voice for Israel on campus, Dr. Saba Soomekh ’90 has a creative ability to take the road less traveled and find success — something that she developed at Sinai Akiba Academy.
Saba remembers Sinai Akiba as a place where she built confidence to explore the world. Fueled by close connections with teachers and friends — and mentors such as Rivka Shaked, Frida Eytan, Lynn Johnson and her own parents — she cultivated a love for public speaking, history, culture and community.
“The sense of camaraderie, belonging and friendship really laid a great foundation for me to go into any environment, like University of California, Berkeley, then Harvard University, and sit in the first row,” she says.
Such self-assurance helped her confront bias and speak up for Israel when others were silent. After reading articles authored by a fellow faculty member maligning Israel, she wrote a rebuttal, at professional risk, in defense of Israel’s right to exist. Empowered by this experience, she assumed a leadership role at the American Jewish Committee (AJC), where she works to protect religious freedom worldwide as assistant director of interreligious and intercommunity affairs.
“Through AJC, I work to cultivate support for democracy and pluralism, defend Israel’s place in the world and safeguard freedom of worship for all,” she says.
In addition to serving as a community leader, Saba finds fulfillment as a Religious Studies lecturer at UCLA and associate director of research at UCLA’s Leve Center for Jewish Studies, a position she began after earning a PhD from UC Santa Barbara. Although her original academic focus was South Asian culture and religion, she found that her community’s experience was not being reflected in historical discourse and set out to change that.
One result of her work on the contributions of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry was her first book, “From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women between Religion and Culture,” which won a 2013 Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards.
Despite a busy schedule, Saba finds time to give back to the Sinai Akiba community by lecturing frequently at the Temple as well as coordinating programs between UCLA and Sinai Akiba students. During the 2017-2018 school year, she challenged her UCLA students to research Iranian demographics and family histories to discover more about Iranian culture, the university students then shared the research with Sinai Akiba students.
From her days at Sinai Akiba, her unwavering commitment to Israel and the Jewish community was reinforced through lessons on Ahavas Yisroel (love of Israel) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). Saba’s confidence in her ability to change the world for good and find her own way in it are qualities that the School nurtures in every student.
“The sense of camaraderie, belonging and friendship really laid a great foundation for me to go into any environment, like University of California, Berkeley, then Harvard University, and sit in the first row.”