The expulsion of Jews from the IberianPeninsula 500 years ago brought a tragic end to a Jewish presencethat had thrived for centuries in Sepharad, the Hebrew word forSpain. It also set in motion the dispersion of Sephardicculture.
Strictly speaking, Sephardic Jewry includes thecommunities that fanned out across North Africa, Italy, Turkey, theMideast and Greece after the expulsion. But in today’s colloquialsense, the word Sephardic has come to include most non-Ashkenazim.Jews from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Yemen, whose communitiesoriginate with the First and Second Temple exiles, never sojourned inSpain or Portugal, but are generally included within the broaddefinition of Sephardim. In Israel, these Jews are known as Mizrachi,usually translated as Middle Eastern or Oriental.
Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews hold fast tocustoms, food, music, liturgical style and Hebrew pronunciation,which are distinct from the Ashkenazi community. Within Sephardicsubcommunities, traditions vary widely, depending on where theculture evolved. That diversity is reflected in Los Angeles, home toan estimated 100,000 Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews.
This listing is just a partial menu of theorganizations that constitute Los Angeles’ Sephardic communities.They will be featured and celebrated at the Skirball Cultural Center,beginning with a festival this Sunday (see article) and continuingthroughout the month. The array of synagogues, restaurants andschools listed here testify to the rich history and colorfultraditions that characterize Sephardic Judaism. — Julie GruenbaumFax, ReligionEditor
From left, sculpture by Claudie LaToussier Oliver,Oudist John Bilezikjian and Mezzo-soprano Isabelle Ganz will be atthe Sephardic Arts Festival . Below, Detail from “Purim” by NessimSibony, one of the Sephardic Festival artists.
Sephardic Guide to
By Naomi Pfefferman,
Ivri-NASAWI (National Association of SephardicArtists, Writers and Intellectuals): Amulticultural group that emphasizes Sephardic and Mizrachi arts andhumanities, and produces a quarterly newsletter, salons, festivals,concerts, symposia and a National Sephardic Literary Contest. 1033 N.Orlando Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90069. (323) 650-3157.
The Society for Crypto-JudaicStudies: With an annual conference andquarterly newsletter, the society gathers and exchanges informationabout “Crypto-Jews,” those descended from Jews who were forced toconvert to Catholicism in 15th-century Spain and Portugal. 333Washington Blvd., No. 336, Marina del Rey, CA 90292. (310)821-5141.
Sephardic Educational Center: Founded as the first worldwide Sephardic center in 1979,the SEC has 16 active chapters from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles,where you’ll find Shabbatons, popular singles “Classes for theMasses” and more. Some 16,000 youths have attended the SEC’s programsin Jerusalem, where an accredited, one-year university program inSephardic studies will begin next year. SEC also publishes aquarterly newsletter, Hamerkaz. 10808 Santa Monica Blvd., LosAngeles, CA 90025. (310) 441-9361.
Sephardic Women’s Division of the United JewishFund: The some 40 active participantsraised $110,000 in 1997 for the UJF. 5700 Wilshire Blvd., No. 2815,Los Angeles, CA 90036. For information, call Florence Klatzko (323)761-8312.
Maurice Amado Foundation: Established in 1961 by a Sephardic Jew who emigrated fromTurkey to the United States in 1903, the foundation perpetuatesSephardic heritage and culture by financially supporting Sephardicactivities, institutions, educational programs and events — such asthis year’s Sephardic Arts Festival at the Skirball Cultural Center.1801 Avenue of the Stars, No. 942, Los Angeles, CA 90067. (800)295-4950.
The Hyman Jebb Levy Foundation: Supports a scholarship fund and a wide variety ofSephardic organizations in Los Angeles. (213) 623-6277.
The Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aging(LASHA): A support group of the JewishHome for the Aging, LASHA also has outreach programs that linkSephardic Jews to the Home’s some 35 Sephardic residents. Lashon isthe group’s bimonthly newspaper. 7150 Tampa Ave., Reseda, CA 91335.(818) 774-3330.
Sephardic Temple TiferethIsrael: Founded some 75 years ago byTurkish immigrants, Los Angeles’ largest full-service Sephardictemple and only Ladino-speaking congregation now serves 800 families.The shul also has a 110-student religious school, an upcomingSephardic museum and two Ladino-rich libraries. Rabbi DanielBouskila. 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. (310)475-7311.
Kahal Joseph SephardicCongregation: Perhaps the only synagogueon the West Coast to worship in the ancient Baghdadi Minhag, KahalJoseph’s 400 families are primarily Iraqi but also include Jews fromSingapore, Indonesia, India and Myanmar. Fifty children attend theHebrew school. Rabbi Hillel Benchimol. 10505 Santa Monica Blvd., LosAngeles, CA 90025. (310) 474-0559.
Em Habanim SephardicCongregation: Moroccan immigrants foundedthis shul in a storefront in 1974; today, the near 400 participantsworship at headquarters in North Hollywood or at satellites inBeverly Hills, West Hills or Cal State Northridge Hillel. A $1.2million, 8,000-square-foot community center is under constructionnext door to the main shul, where Haim Louk, a renowned Andalusianmusic virtuoso, is the cantor and rabbi. 5850 Laurel Canyon Blvd.,North Hollywood, CA 91607. (818) 762-7779. Rabbi Moshe Benzaquenheads the West Coast Torah Center/Em Habanim of Beverly Hills, 415 N.Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 474-6508.
Torah Ohr:Specializing in outreach, this Sephardic Orthodox shul draws some 200participants with four daily Judaica classes and lectures on line.Rabbi Eliyahu Kin. 7200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (213)939-6763 or (323) 933-3111.
Hashalom Congregation: A new Orthodox shul with a kabbalistic slant. Rabbi HagayBasri. 1010 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310)652-9014.
Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel: Some 100 families, led by a Moroccan-born rabbi,participate in weekly Torah classes, a Talmud-Torah and Shabbatservices. Rabbi Samuel Ohana. 13312 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA91401. (818) 901-1598.
Magen David Congregation: Originally founded by Syrian Jews, the shul, which tracesits minhagim to Alepo, Syria, hosts daily minyans and some 150Shabbat worshippers. 322 N. Foothill Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.(310) 285-9957.
Adat Yeshurun Valley SephardicCongregation: Composed of Jews from NorthAfrica, the shul follows the Moroccan minhag; welcomes 100 Shabbatworshipers; offers mikvah services for men and women; and recentlybought property to create a day school. 12405 Sylvan St., NorthHollywood, CA 91606. (818) 766-4682.
Minyan Yaniv Moshe:Founded in the memory of two young Sephardic Jews, Yaniv Sidis andYosef Hami, the shul is now looking for a new place to congregate.(310) 273-5731.
Pinto Torah Center:An outreach center for Israelis, Persians, Sephardim and Ashkenazim,the center holds daily services, classes in several languages, andShabbat services for about 100 congregants. The center, one of 10around the world, is run by Rabbi Yaakov Pinto, grandson of thelegendary Rabbi Chaim Pinto, the great kabbalist of Morocco (seearticle). 8660 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 659-6700.
Yismach Moshe Congregation: 7675 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (213)939-2681.
Maimonides Academy:Founded in 1969, this coed Orthodox institution, one of the oldestSephardic schools in Los Angeles, offers secular and religiousstudies that emphasize Sephardic heritage and tradition. 310 N.Huntley Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (310) 659-2456.
The Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies atUCLA: A professor who teaches andorganizes an annual colloquium (this year’s chair was renowned Ladinoexpert and author Dr. Moshe Lazar). UCLA also has a series of MauriceAmado distinguished lectures in Sephardic studies; a planned visitingchair in Judeo-Persian language and an impressive Sephardiccollection at the university research library.
Book & Record Stores
B’er Moshe: Operatedby the Pinto Torah Center, this Judaic shop offers a variety ofritual objects, music, jewelry and books at discounted prices. 8662W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. (310) 659-6700.
Matilda Seror Sisterhood Gift Shop at SephardicTemple Tifereth Israel: Carries assortedSephardic and Ladino-language CDs and books, including Albert M.Passy’s unprecedented English-Ladino dictionary. 10500 WilshireBlvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. (310) 470-2787.
Hatikvah Music:Sports perhaps the largest collection of Sephardic and Ladino CDs intown, including Jewish music from medieval Spain, Judeo-baroque musicfrom Italy and traditional Yemenite and Jewish Bukharan fare. 436 N.Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (323) 655-7083.
Hadar Restaurant:Family-style glatt kosher Chinese, Moroccan and Middle Eastern food.A Chinese-born chef serves up the chow mein while owner-catererYvonne Ohana supervises the Sephardic chow. Sunday-Thursday, 11a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. until an hour before Shabbat. 12514Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91607. (818) 762-1155.
Golan: Glatt kosherChinese and Moroccan-Israeli-style dishes, including spinach andmushroom bourrekas, spicy fish with tomato-and-pepper sauce, andkubbeh (semolina stuffed with ground beef). 13075 Victory Blvd.,North Hollywood, CA 91606. (818) 763-5344 or 989-5423.
Magic Carpet: Glattkosher Yemenite and Middle Eastern specialties, including Moroccanroast chicken (with saffron, lemon and green olives), marguez(Moroccan spicy sausage) and more. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.;Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. 8566 W. Pico Blvd.,Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 652-8507.
Nessim’s:Specializes in Moroccan dishes and is the only kosher restaurant intown with a regular sushi bar. Sunday-Thursday, 12 p.m.-3 p.m. and 5p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 12-3 p.m. lunch, and Shabbat takeout, 8 a.m. to5 p.m.; Saturday, one hour after sundown until midnight. 8939 W. PicoBlvd., Los Angeles, CA (310) 859-9429.
Classic Restaurant:Glatt kosher Persian-Jewish and Chinese cuisine, from Kung Paochicken to kebabs to ghormeh savizi, a Persian stew. Also providescatering, a banquet center and live Persian music on Wednesday andSaturday evenings. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Friday,11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday, after dusk until 2 a.m. 1422 WestwoodBlvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. (310) 234-9191
Beverly Hills Cuisine: Glatt kosher Chinese and Persian food, including exoticrices, chicken and shish kebab. 9025 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA90211. (310) 247-1239.
Sharon Restaurant:Glatt kosher Persian restaurant with six or seven eat-in tables, butmostly does catering or takeout. 18608 1/2 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, CA91356. (818) 344-7473.
Kolah Farangi Kebob and ChineseFood: Glatt kosher kebabs and Chinesecuisine. 9180 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310)274-4007.
Eretz Cultural Center: One of the largest Iranian-Jewish community centers in LosAngeles, Eretz hosts concerts, films, acculturation programs, Englishclasses, Shabbat services for up to 1,000 people, and more. The EretzAlliance School, a preschool and kindergarten housed in the new $1.6million building next door, will expand to include first-graders anda total of 90 students this fall. The center’s address is 6170 WilburAve., Reseda, CA 91335. (818) 342-9303.
International Judea Foundation (aka SiamakOrganization): With 800 members, thenonprofit group is dedicated to bridging the old culture and the newwith activities such as singles events, a tikkun olam committee, HighHoliday services and a Paradise Judea teen group. A 110- to 140-pageEnglish- and Farsi-language magazine, Chashm Andaaz, published aboutnine times a year, covers everything from politics to parenting.Foundation: 520 S. Sepulveda Blvd., No. 201, Los Angeles, CA 90049.Magazine: P.O. Box 3074, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. (310)471-9427.
Iranian American JewishFederation: An umbrella group that nowincludes 16 California Iranian-Jewish organizations, the Federationalso publishes an 80- to 100-page English and Farsi monthly magazine,Shofar, and hosts Shabbat services at the Wilshire Theater (8440Wilshire Blvd.). 5700 Wilshire Blvd., No. 2510, Los Angeles, CA90036. (323) 761-8945.
Iranian Jewish Senior Center: A nonprofit group that provides Persian-Jewish staff,services, entertainment and food for 20 Iranian residents of theBeverly Hills Guest Home. 1019 S. Wooster St., No. 228, Los Angeles,CA 90035. (310) 289-1026.
The Magbit Foundation: A 3,000-member group that provides interest-free studentloans for Iranian and émigré college students inIsrael. 433 N. Camden Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310)273-2233.
Persian Hillel, UCLA: A social, cultural and religious outreach organizationthat helps Iranian students balance their Persian-Jewish and Americanidentities. Coordinator is Bahareh Rinsler. c/o UCLA Hillel, 900Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024. (310) 208-3081.
Iranian B’nei Torah MovementMagazine: Introduces Orthodox Jewry andPersian traditions to assimilated Iranian Jews in America. P.O. Box351476, Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 652-2115.
Nessah Educational and CulturalCenter: Provides programs such asimmigration counseling, an afternoon school, social activities andShabbat services for 500. 1537 Franklin St., Santa Monica, CA 90404.(310) 453-2218.
Ohr HaEmet Institute: Houses an Iranian synagogue, an Orthodox girls’ highschool (currently there are 52 students), and plans to open apart-time seminary and a women’s learning center. 1030 S. RobertsonBlvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 854-3006.
Center for Iranian Jewish OralHistory: Dedicated to the history ofcontemporary Iranian Jewry, the center sponsors an annual conference,publishes a book a year and is in the process of interviewing some250 diverse Iranians for an audiotape oral history project. c/o HomaSarshar, P.O. Box 2543, Beverly Hills, CA 90213-2543. (310)472-3012.
Torat Hayim Hebrew Academy: The largest Persian-Jewish school in Los Angeles, thisOrthodox academy teaches 320 preschool-through-eighth-grade boys andgirls in English and Hebrew. 1210 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles,CA 90035. (310) 652-8349.
Ohel Moshe Congregation: 9820 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310)652-6593.
Cohen Synagogue:18547 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, CA. (818) 705-4557.
Torat Hayim Synagogue: 1026 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035.
Beth David Congregation: 5554 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana, CA 91356. (818)344-8523.
Orit Arfa and Shahram Siman contributed to thisguide.
Jordan Elgrably, Ivri-NASAWI
The author/journalist, who is halfFrench-Moroccan, grew up in an “American, assimilated, Ashkenaziworld, with the idea that being Jewish was going to be defined byreading I.B. Singer and Saul Bellow…. By my early 20s, I felt Iwasn’t whole.”
Elgrably moved to France and then to his father’sancient family home of Granada, Spain, to “put the fragments backtogether.” In the early 1990s, when he realized that there was nonational organization to promote work by Sephardic artists andintellectuals, he decided to create Ivri-NASAWI. “Our goal is topromote a more universalist view of Judaism, with roots in the East,”he says.
Dr. Jose Nessim, Sephardic EducationalCenter
Two decadesago, the Paraguayan-born gynecologist couldn’t help but notice thatthere wasn’t a single Sephardic center in the Jewish world. Sephardicteen-agers were assimilating and knew little of their rich Jewishpast, he worried. Nessim responded by founding the SephardicEducational Center, which now has 16 active worldwide chapters and acelebrated youth program in Jerusalem. “We aim to educate theSephardic world about their Jewish roots,” he says.
Arthur Benveniste, Society for Crypto-JudaicStudies
A definingmoment for Benveniste came when he first read about the Crypto-Jews,the descendants of those forced to convert to Catholicism in15th-century Spain and Portugal, and who became the first settlers ofNew Spain after fleeing the Inquisition. Today, Benveniste, whosefamily comes from Rhodes, edits the society’s quarterly newsletter,Halapid, which focuses on the descendants of Crypto-Jews now livingfrom Peru to Portugal. “Half of Spanish Jewry was lost in theInquisition and Expulsion, and now we’re finding them again,” saysBenveniste, who is also co-chair of the Los Angeles Sephardic FilmFestival.
Albert M. Passy
An ex-Marine sergeant with Turkish-born parents,Passy grew up speaking Ladino. But when he searched for aLadino-to-English dictionary to help him decipher an old book in1986, he discovered that there wasn’t a single one. So Passy tookmatters into his own hands. He read hundreds of Ladino books; usedSephardic old-timers to help him with words he didn’t understand;perused a Ladino-French dictionary; and, in the early 1990s,published his unprecedented, approximately 300-page “Sephardic FolkDictionary,” which now sits in university libraries and will soon gointo its fourth edition.
“The moment I came to L.A. from Morocco in 1961, Ibecame involved with Sephardic Temple [Tifereth Israel]. But I foundthat women had little to do there,” says Bensimon, now a temple vicepresident who’s active in an array of Sephardic groups. On Bensimon’surging, in the 1970s, women earned the right to vote on templematters. Immediately thereafter, Bensimon became the first woman toserve on the synagogue board and, a year later, the first to serve onthe executive board. Over the years, fund raising to build thecurrent Westwood temple site has been her special passion. “I feelthere’s a little piece of me in every stone,” she says.
Dr. Lev Hakak, UCLA
Professor Hakak, coordinator of Jewish studies atUCLA’s department of Near Eastern languages and cultures, emigratedfrom Bagdad to Israel in 1951, where his once-wealthy family livedfor several years in tents and shacks. Hakak, who was 6 at the time,chronicles the difficult Iraqi aliyah through the eyes of ayoung protagonist in his first novel, “Strangers Among Brothers”(1977), which was a critical (and controversial) success inIsrael.
He further explores Iraqi and Sephardic life inthree more works of fiction and several scholarly books: For example,”The Image of Sephardic Jews in Modern Hebrew Literature,” whichraised more eyebrows in Israel, explores stereotypes about Sephardim.Hakak also organizes Iraqi cultural events in Los Angeles and edits asemi-annual newsletter, Yosef Hayim, for Iraqi Jews.
Rabbi Jacob Ott
Ott, a pioneering Sephardic leader in Los Angeles,happens to be Ashkenazi. That did not stop him from serving as rabbiof Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel for 34 years, where he guided,shaped and strengthened what is now one of the most vibrant SephardicJewish communities in the Southland.
In 1925, Amado’s Turkish émigrégrandfather, Rafael, was a founder of what would ultimately becomeSephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, perhaps Los Angeles’ largestfull-service Sephardic synagogue. Amado’s uncle, Maurice, created theMaurice Amado Foundation, a prominent benefactor of Sephardicendeavors. Ralph Amado, a commissioner on the Los Angeles MunicipalCourt, continues the family work as a director of the foundation anda past president of the temple. Among other activities andaccomplishments, he’s the recipient of the synagogue’s prestigiousSephardic Heritage Award.
Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Sephardic TempleTifereth Israel
Bouskila, adescendant of the great Pinto kabbalist-rabbis of Morocco, was just31 when he became senior rabbi at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.Today, he has brought a significant number of young families back tothe shul, and apreschool is in the works. “My dream is to create a SephardicBeit Midrash atthe temple,” he says.
Rebecca Amato Levy
The matriarch and backbone of the Jewish communityfrom the Island of Rhodes, Levy preserves the Sephardic legacy bothscholarly and deliciously. She is famous for her recipes andpreparation of Jewish foods from Rhodes. And in her widely acclaimedbook, “I Remember Rhodes,” she has chronicled with astoundingaccuracy and detail the people, streets, names, places, customs,celebrations and culture of the Jewish community of Rhodes. Today,Levy is a sought-after source of information for culturalanthropologists and Sephardic Jews who want to know about theirhistory.
Songs and Stories at
The Skirball Cultural Center’s Sephardic ArtsFestival is back, bigger and better than ever. More than 4,000 peopleare expected to turn out on July 19 for the second annual festival,which will feature the music, art, food and storytelling of everynon-Ashkenazi group in Los Angeles.
The festival begins with a preview evening on July16, when visitors will experience medieval Judeo-Spanish music, aliterary reading and an exhibit of eight mostly local Sephardicartists.
On Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., park at theSkirball or take a shuttle bus from auxiliary sites; at the museum,you can participate in a Sephardic-object treasure hunt or peruseMoroccan inlay boxes and tapestries at the artisans’ exhibit.
Munch on spinach bourekkas or paella at Zeidler’s restaurant,and entertain the kids with storytelling and artists’ workshops thatfeature henna-handpainting, make-your-own-hamseh and more. In between,catch concerts by Ladino music expert Stephani Valadez; Judeo-Spanishsongs by mezzo-soprano Isabelle Ganz; or the eight-piece MiddleEastern ensemble, Za’atar.
The Sephardic event has become the largest annualfestival at the Skirball, says program director Dr. Robert Kirschner.”We aim to reach all the diverse communities of Los Angeles,” hesays, “and the place to begin a pluralistic vision [of L.A.] is witha pluralistic vision of the Jewish people.”
Admission is $8 for adults and free forchildren. Advance tickets are strongly recommended. Call (213)660-8587. –Naomi Pfefferman
Above, eight-piece Middle Eastern ensemble Za’atar, who willperform at the Sephardic Arts Festival July 19. Below, participantsin last year’s festival. The Sephardic event has become the largestannual festival at the Skirball. Included will be artwork, aboveleft. Photo below by Peter Halmagyi.