We're incredibly proud that AJFF attracts some of the most talented, passionate people. From our staff, to our volunteers, or even to members of our audience, there's a huge group of people that make AJFF a world-class cultural event. This month, we're putting the spotlight on AJFF Community Engagement Committee member and Founder and Executive Director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, Soumaya Khalifa.
A Little Bit about Soumaya
Soumaya is a long-time resident of metro Atlanta. She started the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta (ISB) in August 2001 as part of her own journey of building bridges of understanding between the Atlanta Muslim communities and the wider community. Her work with the ISB has taken her places she had not thought she would be going, such as attending a Ramadan iftar at the White House and even starting an Atlanta tradition of the Mayor's Iftar. The ISB was started while she held a full time corporate job in Human Resources. She and her husband Mohamed live in Smyrna and enjoy spending time with family and traveling. Soumaya always enjoys retail therapy.
How did you come to be involved with AJFF?
I love the work of AJFF and how it not only brings the Jewish community together, but is very intentional in being inclusive in their offerings. I have been involved with AJFF for many years now and truly believe in their mission of bringing people together through a very powerful tool: movies.
What is the most interesting challenge, in improving AJFF, that you get to help with?
I am on the community outreach committee and assist with outreach to the Muslim community. The AJFF provides a safe place where one can share their honest opinions.
What is your fondest memory from being involved with AJFF?
I was to introduce the film From Cairo to the Cloud: The World of the Cairo Geniza in 2019. My husband and I had planned a trip to Cairo and we visited the Ben Azra synagogue where the Geniza was housed. It was such a great experience to actually visit the very historic synagogue, watch the movie and then introduce it. I still talk to friends and family about this visit, the movie and how Egyptians of all backgrounds lived together and worked together. The Egyptian Jews were Egyptian and happened to be Jewish.
How has your experience outside of AJFF played into your work with the festival?
AJFF is part and parcel of making metro Atlanta what it is. The vision and hard work of the founders and [AJFF Executive Director] Kenny Blank are absolutely brilliant. I am always proud of how the AJFF is setting new records every year.
How do you describe AJFF to those who've never experienced it?
I don't describe it. I just invite them to join me. I had family and friends who don't even live in the US join me for the films.
What's your favorite AJFF film, and why?
There are so many to list but AJFF always brings amazing movies. If I have to choose then I will go with Jews and Muslims: Intimate Strangers and From Cairo to the Cloud: The World of the Cairo Geniza.
Thank you to Soumaya for her care and outreach on behalf of AJFF. Stay tuned to see whom we profile next month.