North American Jews often hear of organizations created for the benefit of both Judaism and Israel, such as Hadassah, Bnai Brith, the Jewish National Fund, etc. And while these organizations have had a profound affect on the Ashkenazi Jewish world, the Alliance Israelite Universelle played an exceptional role in the Sefardi Jewish communities of the Mediterranean.

Born of the French spirit of liberation and emancipation and the desire to fight anti-Semitism, the Alliance Israelite Universelle was founded by a cohort of young Jewish liberals–Charles Netter, Narcisse Leven, Isidore Cahen, Eugene Manual, Aristide Astruc, and Jules Carvallo–and was backed by the finances of the French Jewish statesman Adolphe Cremieux. The founding text of the Alliance called for the creation of “a corporation of Jewish idealists and militants” to unite and fight for those who are oppressed because of their Judaism or any other prejudice. Their call to action reads as follows:

“If you believe that this would be an honor for your religion, a
lesson for the people, progress for humanity, a triumph for the
truth and for universal reason, to see all the lively forces of
Judaism, small in number, great in love and good-will,
join us, the Alliance Israelite Universalle.”

Indeed, the Alliance became a premiere human rights advocacy organization. Beyond the protection of religious freedom, however, the Alliance promoted the importance of access to culture and education. In time, the Alliance played an indispensable role in opening Jewish schools and social service organizations. Their educational institutions, established in Morocco, Palestine, Italy, and indeed throughout the countries of the Mediterranean, were a critical factor resulting in the improvement of living conditions for the many Jewish students who attended their schools.