Remembering a ‘Forgotten Kingdom’


“Tales From the Forgotten Kingdom” sounds like the name of a sword-and-sorcery television show. The truth, though, is that it’s a theatrical musical presentation that tells romantic, touching and sometimes heart-rending stories of Sephardic communities during the early part of the 20th century in cities such as Smyrna (Izmir) and Salonika (Thessaloniki) on the Aegean Sea, Sarajevo, now in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Jerusalem.

The show features more than a dozen songs in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish dialect Sephardic Jews took with them when they were exiled from Spain and Portugal more than 500 years ago, with an English narration that translates the songs and provides historical context.

Conceived, written, and composed in 2011 by the Israeli-born guitarist, singer and composer Guy Mendilow, 39, “Tales From the Forgotten Kingdom” has been staged dozens of times at festivals, theaters, colleges and community centers throughout the United States and Canada, including at the Skirball Cultural Center in 2014. Mendilow and his quintet, which includes a Palestinian percussionist and an Argentine vocalist, have received many honors and awards, including a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Ladino-language songs in “Tales From the Forgotten Kingdom” — always charming and occasionally mournful — are respectful to tradition but unique and fresh. And on Oct. 6, the show finally will be available on CD, with the title “The Forgotten Kingdom.” Actually, it will be two CDs, because one features the 14 songs in Ladino, while the other is the soundtrack of the entire show: all the songs, plus the English narration.

According to Mendilow, it has taken six years for the show to be recorded because it has evolved over the years, with the ensemble tweaking the songs and narration of their live performances.

The poetic and moving English narration points the audience in the direction of the story, Mendilow said from his home in Boston, “but it doesn’t give you everything, it doesn’t give you all the details, so you are left to imagine it yourself. You end up creating characters in your own image, and creating settings and scenarios and predicaments made of the fabric of your own experience. The show is intended for audiences that don’t know about Sephardic life and culture, so this kind of universality is important.”

Although not of Sephardic background, Mendilow — who has studied ethnomusicology and is very much at home with English, Hebrew, Spanish and Portuguese — has spent many years exploring Sephardic history, culture and its musical traditions.

Mendilow said that Sephardim were an integral part of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years. He feels it’s important to grasp how they lived, especially “the way they worked across ethnic, religious and cultural lines for generations. I’m fascinated by the historical implications of that, and how that may apply to the current world. … And then it all ended; it all crumbled in the wake of the First World War. This points to questions we could ask ourselves now. What does it mean to watch your world end? What does it mean to straddle two eras, an older world and a newer one?”

Mendilow cited World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire as a “seismic shift in the history of European culture and the story of Western cultures.” It was also a seismic shift for the Sephardic cultures that were embedded in that empire.

There is one song in the show that highlights this dilemma.

“La Vuelta del Marido” [The Husband’s Return] is an old Turkish-Sephardic song, Mendilow said. “It describes soldiers riding with breastplates, the horses are wearing breastplates of silver, and the soldiers have spears … and they’re very gallant, wearing white gloves. This is how officers in the early battles of the First World War arrived. And they were met with a storm of steel. And that’s the moment the old world ended. … What was it like to have gone through that change? This is haunting for me because I wonder if we, too, are at a crossroad.”

If World War I was the great change, Mendilow said, World War II “nailed the coffin on the old world” as well as on the Sephardic communities that had existed — and often thrived — in Europe for hundreds of years. “We in the U.S. don’t really know anything about those struggles,” he said. “You talk with people about the Second World War and you ask them what happened in Greece, what happened in Turkey, what happened in Bosnia, there’s a kind of blank spot on the map; and these are stories that are important to know.”

The arc of “Tales From the Forgotten Kingdom” follows European-Sephardic communities from the period during which the Ottoman Empire still existed until 1943, when train transports took Salonika Sephardim and other Greek Jews to Auschwitz.

The songs in the show are about loss, of course, but Mendilow emphasized that they’re also about hope. “There’s a question that runs through the show: When you’ve witnessed the end of your world, and you’re still around, what does it mean to start again?”

In “Tales From the Forgotten Kingdom,” there are clear echoes of today’s headlines: old civilizations forced into exile by war and famine, loss of cultural heritage and adapting to an alien land.

Mendilow is acutely aware of the resemblances his songs and narration bear to the present.

“If [people who listen to the songs] develop a fascination for Ladino music, great. Fascination for the history, great,” he said. “But my hope is also that they’d be left with some questions. And the main question is: In what way are these stories still playing out today? How are these stories not just about long ago and far away? How are these stories also in some way about us?”

Spain to create Ladino academy in Israel to help preserve the language


Spain’s leading linguistic authority will create an academy in Israel dedicated to the study and preservation of the Ladino language.

The institution will be the 24th branch of the Spanish Royal Academy, the Guardian reported Aug. 1.

Dario Villanueva, director of the Spanish Royal Academy, said Ladino is “an extraordinarily important cultural and historical phenomenon” that deserved its own academy.

Nine Ladino specialists have been appointed to help start the institution’s work. The academy’s 23 other branches specialize in other Spanish dialects and are located across Latin America and other countries, such as the Philippines.

Ladino, sometimes referred to as Judeo-Spanish, is an endangered species in the language world. Some estimates say fewer than 100,000 people currently know how to speak it.

“The idea isn’t to absorb Ladino into modern Spanish, it’s the opposite: to preserve it,” Villanueva said.

New children’s songs in an old language


Sarah Aroeste’s recently released album is exactly the kind of music parents of young children look for and toddlers love: catchy, easy-to-sing melodies, simple repetitive lyrics inspired by the child’s everyday world, and dollops of humor and surprise.

What sets this album apart is that the songs are in Ladino, the medieval Judeo-Spanish dialect Sephardic Jews took with them when they were expelled from Spain and Portugal more than 500 years ago. Ladino, like Yiddish, was used by a large swath of Jews until a few generations ago and is now disappearing.  

Turkish newspaper tries to save dying Jewish language


Every time she prepares her newspaper for print, Karen Sarhon has her pick from dozens of submissions she receives daily from writers around the world.

A desirable situation for any editor-in-chief, Sarhon says it is nothing short of unbelievable for her monthly, El Amaneser, which is the world’s only newspaper in Ladino — a Jewish-Spanish language teetering on the brink of extinction.

“In the 1970s, Ladino was truly a dying language, but El Amaneser is among the relatively new initiatives giving Ladino a new lease on life,” said Sarhon, a Turkish-Jewish linguist who launched the Ladino publication 10 years ago as part of her work at the Turkish Jewish community’s Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Culture Research Center.

Sarhon’s center was founded as Jews worldwide, and especially in Israel, grew alarmed at the prospect of Ladino’s disappearance and mounted an international effort spanning four continents to preserve it. The effort to preserve the language also has gotten a boost from Spain’s push to export its culture and language abroad through its Cervantes Institute – and from popular nostalgia for Sephardic culture.

Ladino is spoken by about 100,000 people, most of them in Israel, according to Israel’s Association of Translators. Other estimates say the number of Ladino speakers worldwide may be more than twice that number. Whatever the exact figure, Ladino is not being passed on to the next generation – partly because these Ladino speakers are dispersed in countries dominated by other languages.

Starting in the mid 1990s, language classes and online forums promoting Ladino began popping up in Israel. In 1996, Israel’s National Authority of Ladino was established, and in the early 2000s two Israeli universities, Bar-Ilan and Ben-Gurion, began teaching the language.

These conditions allowed El Amaneser to recruit writers from Turkey, France, Argentina, Chile, Israel, the United States and Britain, who every month send in far more material than the paper can print in its 24 pages.

With no more than 2,000 readers in Turkey and another 300 worldwide, El Amaneser is not exactly a moneymaker. It exists as a nonprofit, like most other bodies that were set up over the past 30 years to save Ladino from oblivion.

But whereas most of these bodies have state or university funding, El Amaneser exists thanks to the resources of Turkey’s small Jewish community and Salom — the country’s Jewish weekly, which prints El Amaneser and houses its offices in its building. Unlike most Diaspora Jewish newspapers, Salom actually generates a profit, and, aside from funding El Amaneser, Salom distributes the Ladino paper for free to Salom’s 4,500-odd subscribers. It’s not clear how many of them actually can read Ladino. Originally written in Hebrew letters, the language has been transliterated into Latin letters for the past 30 years.

For Turkish Jews, preserving Ladino is a historical obligation, says Sami Aker, a journalist at Salom. He notes that Ladino was developed in the Ottoman Empire by Sephardic Jews who arrived as refugees in the 15th century after fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.

“Contrary to common misconceptions, Sephardic Jews didn’t speak Ladino in Spain and Portugal; they spoke their local dialect over there,” Sarhon said. Only after they came to the Ottoman Empire did they begin using Ladino, “which is very much an Ottoman language,” she said.

While most immigrant populations lose their native language within four generations, Ladino has survived for centuries. It was so widely spoken among Turkish Jews that it was chosen over Turkish as the language for Salom when the paper was founded in 1947.

But Ladino readership diminished as young Turkish Jews either left for Israel or integrated into Turkish society. Salom switched to Turkish in 1984, keeping Ladino alive only in one weekly page and in the framed, yellowing front pages that adorn the walls of the paper’s headquarters in downtown Istanbul.

Ladino did not fare any better in Bulgaria, where Jews spoke the language until recently (Bulgaria, too, used to also be part of the Ottoman Empire). Claire Levy, a Bulgarian Jew, recalls how the language died out within her family, like many other Jewish families, when everyone left for Israel in the 1950s except for one Ladino-speaking aunt.

“Later on, she married a Bulgarian guy and stopped speaking Ladino altogether,” Levy said on TalesofLadino.wordpress.com in 2012.

In Turkey, preserving Ladino is not the most pressing issue for a community concerned about its future amid rising Islamism and the anti-Israel – and, some say, anti-Semitic – tirades of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his cronies. After two Istanbul synagogues were bombed in 2003, Salom added new security measures at its headquarters, which are now housed in a nondescript building under constant guard and equipped with massive, blast-proof doors.

Turkish Jews’ stake in preserving Ladino — a language rich with humorous expressions, songs, jokes and poetic metaphors – is understandable considering how intricately woven into their communal identity the language has become. To this day, Ladino phrases pepper the conversations of Turkish Jews, not unlike the way American Jews or Israelis use Yiddish. Turkish Jews use Ladino references for everything from domestic items (“pantofeles” for slippers) to insults (“jandaracho,” which can mean floor mop, or a submissive person).

Though El Amaneser has relatively few readers, the fact that it is published at all is itself an important element of Ladino culture, says Eliezer Papo, a scholar on Balkan Jewish history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

“The amount of Ladino-language papers printed in the Ottoman Empire was staggering and completely outsized when compared to the output of other minorities,” Papo said. “We’re talking about up to eight or nine publications per medium-sized community of Ladino speakers.”

Fitting for a language famous for its humor, each community had at least one satirical publication.

“No one depends on El Amaneser for their news, because hardly anyone speaks Ladino as a first language,” Papo said, “Yet from a nostalgic point of view, Ladino needs at least one newspaper to stay alive.”

In explaining what El Amaneser means to Turkish Jews and Ladino speakers, Papo recalls the origins of the paper’s name: A Ladino saying that speaks of how the night’s darkest hour occurs just before the break of dawn.

“Just as Ladino disappears into the darkness, its devotees at El Amaneser and elsewhere are making sure it has more time in the sun,” Papo said.

UCLA conference aims to preserve and revitalize Ladino


During a keynote lecture at a UCLA conference charting the history of Ladino and the ways in which Judeo-Spanish is being studied in the academic world, Eliezer Papo asked rhetorically: “Is Ladino dead?” 

As answer, Papo told a joke: “Two friends run into each other on the street. One says, ‘Did you hear about Shimon?’ ‘No; what happened?’ ‘He got hit by a car!’ ‘Was he killed?’ ‘Not right away; he died on the way to the hospital.’ The other says, ‘What mazal! At least he had a few more minutes of life.’ ”

Papo, director of the Gaon Center for Ladino Culture at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said that — like the victim who has been struck by a car — Ladino may not be dead yet … but it’s in mortal danger. 

During his lecture, delivered entirely in fluent and witty Ladino, Papo mentioned that a key barometer of a language’s survival is whether children use it to speak with one another. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Ladino anywhere in the world. Those who know the language tend to be elderly or academics, and even they don’t generally speak with one another in Ladino.

The theme of this year’s ucLADINO symposium, held March 5-6, was “Preservation and Revitalization.” This year, speakers came from Israel, Hungary, Turkey, Mexico, Texas, Washington and Illinois, and presentations ran the gamut from highly academic to tear-inducingly emotional. As in the past, the third annual event was arranged by Bryan Kirschen, who founded ucLADINO several years ago. 

Kirschen, 28, is from New York and studied Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic as an undergraduate. He earned master’s degrees in Spanish literature and Spanish/Portuguese linguistics, and spent a semester in Jerusalem studying Sephardic history and language. At UCLA, he’s a doctoral candidate in Hispanic linguistics with a focus on Judeo-Spanish. 

The history of Ladino as a Diaspora language for Sephardic Jews starts in Spain, where Jews lived for hundreds of years before they were forced into exile or conversion in 1492. These Jews spoke the Spanish dialect of the region where they lived.

Many Jews exiled from Spain first went to Portugal, then to parts of the Balkans, North Africa and Turkey, where they were accepted, or at least tolerated, and they brought with them their version of medieval Spanish — which had Portuguese, Aramaic, Hebrew and sometimes Arabic mixed in. 

For 500 years, Judeo-Spanish remained the mother tongue of Sephardic Jews — Sefarad is Hebrew for “Spain” — whether they lived in Greece, Tunisia or Turkey. For Sephardic Jews, Ladino was more than a home language; it was a reminder of the life from which they had been exiled and the glue that bound their traditions, history and culture. 

“Many people have tried to kill Ladino,” Papo said during his lecture, “but somehow it’s survived. The Nazis massacred many Ladino speakers, like the Sephardim in Greece. Those who survived the Shoah were mostly in Turkey and Bulgaria, and many of them went to Israel after World War II. 

“Today, the only places where there’s still a critical mass of Ladino speakers is in Istanbul and Israel, but in neither one of those places are they going to carve out a new country — call it ‘Sephardistan’ — where Ladino is used. … So, given that Ladino will not be revived into a living language, as happened with Hebrew, what can be done to make sure Ladino doesn’t become totally extinct?” 

Papo suggested that there be more conferences and symposia like the one at UCLA, that university courses be continued and expanded, and that writings in Hebrew and other languages be translated into Ladino.

Kirschen, in his presentation, mentioned that Ladino is alive and well in cyberspace. He cited Rachel Amado Bortnick, a Ladino expert originally from Izmir, Turkey, who, in 1999, started a virtual community called Ladinokomunita. Its 1,500 correspondents contribute Ladino news and comments.

Bortnick, a keynote speaker at the first ucLADINO symposium two years ago, attended this year’s conference, having come from her home in Dallas. She spoke to the Journal about how, for 500 years, Sephardim lived in cultures where they were not fully accepted or assimilated. Their use of Ladino served to separate them from non-Jews in the host country during this time. 

Paradoxically, she said, that separation actually helped maintain Ladino as a living language. During the 20th century, in the United States, Canada, Israel and parts of Western Europe, where assimilation of Sephardim has been the norm, the absorption of Sephardim into the host country has hastened the demise of Ladino as a spoken language. 

One of the highlights of the conference was a documentary film, “Once Upon a Time on 55th and Hoover.” It tells the story of Jews from the Greek island of Rhodes who settled in South Central Los Angeles during the early part of the 20th century.

The film was made by Spanish academician Andrés Enrique-Arias while he was doing graduate work at USC in Spanish historical linguistics, and it shows how — at least for several generations — these “Rhodesli” maintained their language, food, traditions, celebrations and Ladino songs while living in Los Angeles.

Much of the film focuses on Arthur Benveniste, now 80, who grew up in that neighborhood. At the symposium, Benveniste introduced the film, mentioning that when young, he rejected his parents’ traditions and culture. Benveniste said he wasn’t the only one who did this: Usually, the first generation of Rhodesli spoke Ladino among themselves, the second generation spoke much less, and, by the third generation, daily use of Ladino had largely disappeared.

On the evening of March 5, in coordination with the Sephardic Music Festival in L.A., there was a concert at UCLA’s Fowler Museum featuring Sarah Aroeste, a young woman whose family is from the Balkans. She sang Ladino songs, some traditional and some of her own composition, while a screen behind her showed black-and-white film footage of her grandparents. The crowd was largely elderly, and when she sang songs known to them, many in the audience joined in.

Benveniste was part of the crowd, singing enthusiastically.

“When we were young,” he said while talking in the film, “we really didn’t realize the importance of Ladino. … Now that we’re older, we realize we should have been preserving it. 

“When you lose a language,” Benveniste concluded wistfully, “you don’t just lose a language, you lose a whole world.”

Choir saving Ladino music


A dozen members of Kol Sephardic Choir stood in a semicircle, clutching songbooks as they rehearsed the lyrics of “Quando el Rey Nimrod.” Halfway through the Ladino folk song, music director Avi Avliav held his hands up and told the group to stop. 

“The idea is to lose yourselves and enjoy this,” Avliav said. “Let’s see if we can put our books down and find a connection to the music.” 

A week later, at the choir’s Chanukah concert on Dec. 16 in West Hollywood, it was clear that members had taken his advice to heart. Bedecked in sequined vests and ruffled skirts, Kol Sephardic Choir performed a moving selection of Ladino-language ballads and Chanukah songs at Plummer Park’s Fiesta Hall, accompanied by the clacking heels of flamenco dancers twirling brightly colored fans.

The concert capped the 20th anniversary of Kol Sephardic Choir, which began in Los Angeles as an informal sing-along group and blossomed into the only professional choir in the United States — and one of few worldwide — whose repertoire consists primarily of Ladino music, founder and director Raphael Ortasse said. 

Ladino, a fusion of Hebrew and Spanish that evolved among Jews in medieval Spain, has been kept alive by Sephardic communities around the world since the Spanish Inquisition expelled the Jews in 1492. Woven into the romanceros (love songs) and cantigas and coplas (Iberian songs) the choir performs is the DNA of a long-dwindling culture that Ortasse hopes to preserve.

“These are the songs that were sung by my mother, my father,” said Ortasse, a retired aeronautical engineer and Hebrew school educator who traces his lineage back to pre-Inquisition Spain. “Sephardic music and culture are almost unknown among the Jewish community. We’re just a small group, but we’ve been able to bring them to light.”

The themes of the music are timeless: ballads from lovelorn poets, drinking songs, prayers for a son, well-wishes for a bride. “They reflect the lives of the people — and their lives then, in some ways, were no different than our lives today,” Ortasse said. 

Ortasse declined to give his age, but with his white beard and glasses, he presides over the choir with a grandfatherly air.

Born in a small Sephardic community in Khartoum, Sudan, Ortasse moved to British Palestine with his parents when he was 6. He joined his uncles in New York to attend the Polytechnic Institute of New York University) around the time Israeli statehood was declared. After moving to Los Angeles, he worked on the space program for 22 years. 

Between his family and his career, Ortasse didn’t set aside much time for exploring his heritage. But he always remembered walking home from school as a child and hearing his mother’s voice waft out the kitchen window, singing “La Serena.” The beauty of that melody stuck with him for decades.

By the early 1990s, Ortasse wanted to revive interest in L.A.’s rich, but waning, Sephardic tradition. He had an idea: a choir. He partnered with the rabbi at what was then the Sephardic Hebrew Center to put out a call for members. Eventually, sign-ups started to trickle in. 

Then there was the question of what music they would sing. Ortasse pored over songbooks in libraries, dug through dusty files, and asked Sephardic cantors and acquaintances in Israel and Europe to recall melodies passed down from previous generations. 

“It was not an easy task,” Ortasse recalled. “I scratched around. I collected whatever I could lay my hands on. When you decide to do something like this, you don’t leave a stone unturned.”

Politics pushed him away from the fledgling choir when the center merged with another synagogue, but Ortasse regrouped and founded Kol Sephardic Choir as an independent entity in 1992. The group began with a dozen members who met at the Westside Jewish Community Center to sing Ladino songs. Since then, the choir has hired a music director and professional flamenco dancers, performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion twice and recorded a CD. 

Today, the choir is about one-third Sephardi. The rest are mostly Ashkenazi; one is Catholic. Members range in age from their 30s to 80s. 

Venus Kapuya, one of the original members, joined to rekindle a connection to her own Sephardic roots. She remembered many of the songs from her childhood in Turkey. 

“I used to hear them from my mom,” Kapuya said. “Sometimes she would tell me stories about how my grandmother sang them while she was doing her sewing; she would keep rhythm with the sewing machine.”

Elizabeth Martínez didn’t know she had a Jewish background until she joined the choir four years ago. Raised Catholic in a Mexican-American family, Martínez grew up singing in Spanish and English. She found her way to Kol Sephardic Choir through a friend, the ensemble’s pianist. When she showed up to practice, the first strains of music stirred something inside her. 

“I had this lightning-bolt moment,” Martínez recalled. “There were a couple of songs that I knew, and I wasn’t sure why.”

She examined her family’s background with her father and found uncanny similarities: knowledge of Ladino folk songs, for one, and family names that were Sephardic in origin. Like many descendents of Sephardic Jews who survived by hiding their faith, she had never been told. 

“I grew up knowing that some people in Mexico have menorahs, and they don’t know what they’re for,” she said. “Singing with this choir has filled in some gaps. It has been a really spiritual and enlightening experience.”

Each piece in the choir’s repertoire illuminates some aspect of life in the Sephardic communities of yore and also carries the stories of those who took the songs with them after the expulsion from Spain. “Arvoles Yoran Por Luvias,” for example, a cry of longing by a lover leaving on a journey, was sung by Sephardic Jews during the Holocaust as they boarded trains bound for concentration camps, Ortasse said. When the choir performs the song, lyrics like, “What will become of me?” follow the recorded screech of a train on its tracks. 

Music makes the strongest case for the preservation of Sephardic culture, Ortasse believes. 

“Music transcends,” he said. “Music, art — these are the things that everybody can relate to. You don’t have to be Italian to enjoy an Italian opera.”

Margarita Kligerman had “no idea what Ladino was, what Sephardic was,” when she joined the choir 12 years ago, she said. But the native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, recognized what she calls “the Jewish soul.”

“I fell in love with the music. I’m Ashkenazi, but music is music; it doesn’t matter what I am,” Kligerman said. “When I stand on the stage and sing, I see people’s eyes looking at us, hungry for something spiritual in the music. People who come to one concert follow us to the next concert. We’re all so different; we come from different countries, speak different languages. But this is what we have in common — love for this music.”

Ortasse hopes to send the choir on the road someday, traveling with musicians, artists and performers to showcase the flavors of Sephardic Judaism. “My goal is to not let it die,” he said. “It’s not just a song or a language — it’s a way of life.”

L.A.’s Top Ten Mensches — big hearted Angelenos


“It is hard to convey the special sense of respect, dignity and approbation that can be conveyed by calling someone ‘a real mensch,'” writes Leo Rosten in “The Joys of Yiddish.”

The Yiddish word infuses the basic German denotation — “person” — with an almost indefinable connotation. A mensch is a person who is upright, honorable, decent, as Rosten writes, a person to admire and emulate.

Boy, could we use some now.

As the last pieces of 2008 crash down around us, there is ample evidence that mensch-hood (more properly, menschlikayt) is in short supply, at least judging by headlines. Worse, the Bernard Madoff scandal revealed a disturbing tendency to hide chicanery under the guise of do-goodery. Madoff, his middlemen and some charitable boards were doing good while doing wrong — either out of evil, in Madoff’s case, or, at best perhaps, just out of gullibility and incompetence.

So we look to The Journal’s fourth annual Top Ten Mensches list to brighten our spirits and boost our hopes for a better year. As the stories here demonstrate, these are people who in the course of lives no less hectic and demanding than our own, facing temptations no less alluring than those we all confront, manage to reach out and help others, making the world a better place, day in and day out.

The Jewish Journal created this list as a response to all those lists extolling fame, money, power and hot-ness. We honor these special ten because they are just people — menschen, to use the proper Yiddish plural — who understand the power and possibility of what just one person can do to help others.

Thank you to all our mensches, and to all who offered up names for consideration. Maybe next year we’ll all be candidates for the list….

Gabriel Halimi: Partying For a Cause

It was a stuttering problem that turned Gabriel Halimi into a mensch.

“I had a really bad stutter when I was kid,” the now 27-year-old recalled recently. “My therapist said I needed to speak up in class and try to get myself to talk more, and then I started falling into leadership activities because it forced me to talk.”

Dressed in a pink shirt and a brown blazer, Halimi looks much like the young professionals he now helps lead in the 4-year-old Beverly Hills-based nonprofit, Society of Young Philanthropists (SYP).

By day, Halimi works at ACG, a real estate consulting firm. But he recently passed the California Bar exam and said he hopes to be practicing as an attorney by February.

In addition to working full time and attending Loyola Law School, Halimi is one of 25 young professionals who helped found SYP and is currently serving as one of its board members. The philosophy behind SYP, Halimi said, is simple.

“We wanted to do well in our work,” he said. “We wanted to party, and we wanted to do something bigger than ourselves, and that’s kinda where SYP was born.”

Halimi grew up in Los Angeles, attending Temple Emanuel Community Day School before eventually transferring to Beverly Hills public schools. But Halimi said it wasn’t until college that his Jewish roots really took hold.

At UC Santa Barbara, Halimi joined the Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and became immersed in its world of partying and doing good.

“He was really seen as a leader even among his peers,” said Elishia Shokrian Bolour, a childhood friend who, along with Halimi, helped found SYP.

However, Halimi insists that working with SYP has demanded little self-sacrifice. Throughout the year, SYP holds events — big, bold, boisterous events — and rather than have all the money go to the DJ, the club or the liquor, the majority of the proceeds (about 70 percent) goes to charity.

“We just kinda wanted to get people to think in more philanthropic terms,” Halimi said. “If you’re going to be doing this anyway [partying], you might as well be doing it for a good cause.”

On May 14, 2005, Halimi and his friends launched SYP’s first event by pulling all their resources together and throwing a huge bash in Beverly Hills.

Approximately 500 young Angelenos — mostly ages 18-30 — raised close to $70, 000 for three Jewish organizations: IMA Foundation, which is dedicated to disaster relief in Israel; the educational foundation Magbit, which helps those in Israel gain a higher education; and Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish drug rehabilitation center in Culver City.

Halimi said his favorite SYP cause so far, however, has been one that doesn’t directly involve the Jewish community: Darfur.

“It was just so beautiful,” Halimi said, referring to the $45,000 SYP donated to American Jewish World Service’s relief work in Darfur. “We could see beyond ourselves and recognize that there are a lot of people out there that could use our help.”
“It goes to the principle of tikkun olam,” healing the world, he said.

SYP is not a Jewish organization, although most of those involved have grown up within the Jewish community, and the nonprofit does not make any outright political statements.

“We don’t want to take any kind of political stance that might alienate someone,” he said.

The organization chooses the causes it supports democratically, allowing every member to have a say in the direction of the nonprofit.

In addition to SYP, Halimi is involved in 30 Years After, a nonprofit dedicated to uniting the Iranian American Jewish community, and the Lev Foundation, which promotes balanced, responsible living and is named in honor of Daniel Levian, a recent victim of a drunk driving accident.

When asked, Halimi said he doesn’t consider himself a mensch — he’s not worthy, he claimed — but he offered up this definition of one: “Someone who can see past themselves.”

But just ask Rhoda Weisman, executive director of the Professional Leaders Project, an organization dedicated to developing the next generation of Jewish leaders. She said, “In all honesty, if you were to ask me what a definition of a mensch is, I would name you Gabe.”

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

Kim Krowne: ‘Hakuna Matata’Means Bringing Hope to Tanzanian Kids

Kim Krowne thought she’d be attending medical school. Instead, the 24-year-old Northridge native, a graduate of Sierra Canyon and Milken Community High School, spent most of 2007 and 2008 in Tanzania, improving the lives of orphaned children and many villagers. She’s been home for the past several months and plans to return to Africa in January.

ALTTEXTOnce a “total planner,” Krowne’s current philosophy of life is more hakuna matata — “there’s no problem” in Swahili, a language she speaks fluently. “Obviously, this was not my plan. But I love it. There’s so much work to be done,” she said.

The focus of her passion is the Matumaini Child Care Center, a small three-room building in the village of Rau that houses 20 children, ages 6 to 15. Krowne discovered it in the fall of 2006 while taking a year off after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where she fulfilled her premed requirements while majoring in the sociology and anthropology of health, concentrating on Africa.

At that time, the nongovernmental, nonreligious and nonprofit Matumaini Center cared for eight children whose parents had either died of HIV/AIDS, were alcoholic or couldn’t afford their care. Newly opened, it desperately needed funds for food and school fees, less than $20 annually per student. Krowne immediately e-mailed family and friends and raised $1,000.

She came home in March 2007 knowing she would return. Her last week there, she had met Michelle Kowalczyk, 27 and a nurse, and asked her to look after the kids, who then numbered 20. Kowalczyk also became enamored.

The following December, Krowne and Kowalczyk together formed a nonprofit, Knock Foundation (www.knockfoundation.org), to help solicit donations and grants. They also signed a five-year contract with Matumaini (meaning hope in Swahili) to fund the nonprofit and become decision-making partners.

When they returned to Tanzania they facilitated a host of improvements, including providing the children with nutritious meals, medical and dental care and school uniforms and supplies and paying salaries to the orphanage workers.

They also had bunk beds built in the rooms, upgraded the latrines, improved the general cleanliness and constructed a chicken coop on the property.

Their reach extends as well to the greater community in Rau and nearby villages, with the goal of making families more self-sufficient. One such effort, dubbed the Piggery Project, has provided 50 families with supplies needed to build a pig hut, as well as two pigs to raise. The families will keep some of the proceeds from the sale of the pigs and reinvest the remainder. They hope to expand the project.

They have also renovated a government medical clinic and dispensary in Shimbwe, the only health facility available to serve thousands of people in the Kilimanjaro region. In addition to repairing the clinic’s roof and painting its rooms, they purchased laboratory materials and medications.

Plus, they organized a two-day life skills and HIV/AIDS seminar in conjunction with a local NGO that was attended by 100 women and children. It will become a yearly event.

To date, Krowne and Kowalczyk have raised about $85,000 and need an additional $35,000 for 2009 to sustain the current projects. They would also like to construct a new building for Matumaini, start another orphanage and help provide secondary and university education for the children, among other dreams.

Kowalczyk marvels at Krowne’s ability to transcend barriers. “Kim has been able to reach people who otherwise would have been untouched,” she said. “We’ll be doing this for the rest of our lives.”

To make a donation or for more information, visit www.knockfoundation.org, call (818) 831-6075 or e-mail kim@knockfoundation.org.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks for September 13-18: When Ladino met klezmer, Torah Slam, a lawerlyy


SAT | SEPTEMBER 13

(COMMUNITY FAIR)
The City of Los Angeles and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sponsor an annual emergency preparedness fair as part of the Great Southern California ShakeOut: Are You Prepared? The fair seeks to educate Angelenos on the importance of being prepared for disasters, natural or manmade, such as earthquakes and riots. Activities will include live safety demonstrations, disaster preparedness exhibits and interactive programming for children. Sat. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Also, Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 (different locations). (213) 978-2222. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.afhu.org.

(LECTURE)
” vspace = 8 hspace = 8 align = left border = 0>is perhaps nothing he enjoys more than writing about religion. Today, Kirsch will discuss his latest book, “The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God,” which explores persecution and violence in the name of righteousness. Sat. 2 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, 1201 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. (310) 260-9110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.valleycitiesjcc.org.

(SINGLES)
We live in a city where summer continues well into December and so do the pool parties, picnics and barbecues that the rest of the country bid farewell to after Labor Day. Taking advantage of our unique environs, Jewish Singles Meeting Place, for singles in their 40s and 50s, is inviting you to a Gourmet Western BBQ Party at a home in Sylmar. Be sure to R.S.V.P. before noon on the day of the event. Sat. 8 p.m. $12. Sylmar. (818) 750-0095.

SUN | SEPTEMBER 14

(BENEFIT)
In addition to facing paralyzing fear, families of children with cancer have to deal with financial hardships, emotional and mental strain and the difficulty of keeping a family intact. Larger Than Life offers aid to families in Israel who are struggling through just such a crisis. Larger Than Life’s annual gala in Los Angeles ” target=”_blank”>http://www.largerthanlifela.org.

(MUSIC)
Learn about klezmer and Ladino music, enjoy brunch and receive a free pass to the Autry National Center, all at the “Klezmer-Ladino Convergence.” ” vspace = 8 hspace = 8 align = right>, which was founded by singer, scholar and ” target=”_blank”>http://www.autrynationalcenter.org.

(BOOKS)
The Von der Ahe Library at Loyola Marimount University is hosting a five-part reading and discussion series. In “Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature, Identity and Imagination,” theology professor Saba Soomekh, who has written several essays about California’s Persian Jewish community, will lead the book-based discussions on the theme “Neighbors: The World Next Door.” Books discussed will include “Journey to the Millennium” by A.B. Yehoshua, “Red Cavalry” by Isaac Babel and “Mona in the Promised Land” by Jen Gish. Sun. 2 p.m. Through Dec. 7. Free. Collins Faculty Center at Loyola Marymount University, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-4584. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thirtyyearsafter.org.

(MUSIC)
The man known as the “Yiddish Indiana Jones,” Yale Strom, and his band Hot Pstromi, will ensure that “Angels & Dybbuks: The First L.A. Klez Fest” is an event to remember. Strom delves into all that is Yiddish, whether it’s music, books, film, theater or photography. Strom will also offer workshops on klezmer instruments and history. Sun. Events begin at noon. $20-$80. McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 828-4497. motek11111@yahoo.com.

MON | SEPTEMBER 15

(HEALTH)
A pudgy toddler whose cheeks are delightfully doughy may be cute, but a plump preteen could turn into an obese adult with myriad health problems. Educate yourself about the dangers of pediatric obesity at the Children’s Health Forum, which is sponsored by the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Professor Ronald Nagel, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and professor Francis Mimouni, chair of the department of pediatrics, will speak. Kosher lunch will be served. Mon. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $50 (requested donation). Luxe Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 229-0915. westernregion@acsz.org.

TUE | SEPTEMBER 16

(TORAH SALON)
Everyone is invited to Los Angeles’ first cross-denominational public Torah study. With the High Holy Days coming up, The Journal decided to get everybody together for a “Torah Slam,” ” vspace = 8 hspace = 8 align = right>a knock-your-socks-off Torah study with five great rabbis: Elazar Muskin (Orthodox), Ed Feinstein (Conservative), Mordecai Finley (Reform/Chasidic), Haim torahslam@jewishjournal.com.

WED | SEPTEMBER 17

(LECTURE)
Jordan Elgrably’s resume reveals that he’s had a prolific career as a Sephardic writer and activist. Tonight he speaks about his personal journey as an American with roots in multicultural Morocco in “The Loquat Tree, or the Art of Being an Arab Jew.” His audiovisual presentation is sure to be moving, funny and insightful. Wed. 6 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Public Library, Robertson Branch, 1719 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 657-5511. ” target=”_blank”>http://levantinecenter.org.

THU | SEPTEMBER 18

(CASINO NIGHT)
Good cause. Unlimited alcohol. Cold, hard cash prizes. So, come get some chips at the fifth annual No-Limit Texas Hold-‘Em Poker Event benefiting Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles’ mentoring programs, which help children reach for their dreams. Thu. 6:30 p.m. (lessons), 7:30 p.m. (tournament). $200 (advance), $230 (door). Hollywood Park Casino, 3883 West Century Blvd., Second Floor, Inglewood. (323) 456-1159. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.gelsons.com/services/CC/index.asp.

(VOLUNTEERING)
Tikkun olam is a monumental Jewish value. Jewish teens can get involved with the Friendship Circle, an organization that supports children and young adults with special needs. The Friendship Circle Teen Volunteer Open House offers a chance to learn about the organization’s many volunteer opportunities. Thu. 8 p.m. Free. Friendship Circle, 9581 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-3252.

Language institute helping Ladino revival


” target = “_blank”>Hebrew Songs.com

Ahoy, mateys ! Thar be Jewish pirates!


There’s no arrr-guing that pirates are in.

 
As of last weekend, Disney had plundered $1 billion worldwide with “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” and International Talk Like a Pirate Day — that’s Sept. 19, for you landlubbers — has gone from an inside joke between two friends to a mock holiday celebrated in more than 40 countries.

Yet tales of Jewish piracy, which stretch back thousands of years, aren’t in the public’s consciousness, and Hollywood even has been known to remove a pirate’s Jewish background. As a result, we’re stuck with portrayals of pirates as wayward English seamen on a murderous rampage.

But now a forthcoming book hopes to change that image by focusing on Ladino-speaking Jews whose piracy grew out of the Inquisition.
“The Jewish pirates were Sephardic. Once they were kicked out of Spain [in 1492], the more adventurous Jews went to the New World,” said Ed Kritzler, whose yet-untitled book on Jewish pirates will be published by Doubleday in spring 2007.

Jewish piracy has been around since well before the Barbary pirates first preyed on ships during the Crusades. In the time of the Second Temple, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records that Hyrcanus accussed Aristobulus of “acts of piracy at sea.”

Kritzler has studied pirates for 40 years, and said that the public is fascinated with them because they’re “rugged individuals in a world of conformity. They carved their own identity, independent of the rules and strictures of society.”

But determining the exact number of Jewish pirates is difficult, Kritzler said, because many of them traveled as Conversos, or converts to Christianity, and practiced their Judaism in secret.

While some Jews, like Samuel Pallache, took up piracy in part to help make a better life for expelled Spanish Jews, Kritzler said others were motivated by revenge for the Inquisition.

One such pirate was Moses Cohen Henriques, who helped plan one of history’s largest heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques set sail with Dutch West India Co. Admiral Piet Hein, whose own hatred of Spain was fueled by four years spent as a galley slave aboard a Spanish ship. Henriques and Hein boarded Spanish ships off Cuba and seized shipments of New World gold and silver worth in today’s dollars about the same as Disney’s total box office for “Dead Man’s Chest.”

Henriques set up his own pirate island off the coast of Brazil afterward, and even though his role in the raid was disclosed during the Spanish Inquisition, he was never caught, Kritzler told The Journal.

Another Sephardic pirate played a pivotal role in American history.
In the book “Jews on the Frontier” (Rachelle Simon, 1991), Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman recounts the tale of Sephardic Jewish pirate Jean Lafitte, whose Conversos grandmother and mother fled Spain for France in 1765, after his maternal grandfather was put to death by the Inquisition for “Judaizing.”

Referred to as The Corsair, Lafitte went on to establish a pirate kingdom in the swamps of New Orleans, and led more than 1,000 men during the War of 1812.
After being run out of New Orleans in 1817, Lafitte re-established his kingdom on the island of Galveston, Texas, which was known as Campeche. During Mexico’s fight for independence, revolutionaries encouraged Lafitte to attack Spanish ships and keep the booty.

But in the 1958 film “The Buccaneer,” starring Yul Brynner as Lafitte, any mention of the pirate’s Jewish heritage was stripped away.

Arrrgh!

For more information on Talk Like a Pirate Day, visit www.talklikeapirate.com.

Click here for a pirate talk translation of this article

Top Ten Halachic Questions for a Jewish Pirate

Glimpses of Jews’ Past in Andaluc­a


Spain’s Andaluc­a is romance. It’s orange blossoms perfuming the air. It’s golden drops of sherry sliding down your throat in a smoky bodega. It’s fingers dancing on the strings of a flamenco guitar.

This southern wedge of the Iberian Peninsula, known for whitewashed villages skirting the Mediterranean Sea, was once the center of a vibrant Moorish kingdom whose link with Jewish history is bittersweet.

When this Muslim region was known as al-Andalus, it was home to thousands of Sephardic Jews, who settled here after the fall of the Second Temple. Jewish and Islamic cultures entwined to produce a legendary golden age beginning in the 10th century, during which time Jews thrived as diplomats, physicians and poets. After Christians conquered Moorish realms, Jews found themselves expelled from Spain in 1492; the ordinance was not officially rescinded until 1968.

A tour of the region offers some tantalizing glimpses of the Jewish past, set against Muslim and Christian landmarks of incomparable splendor. But traces of modern Jewish life in Andaluc­a are harder to find.

At the heart of historic Cardoba, Spanish architectural traditions overlap and blend in impressive fashion. The huge Mezquita (mosque), built between the eighth and 10th centuries, is pierced at its center by a soaring gothic cathedral, added in the 16th century once the Christians had consolidated their power.

Not far away is the tourist-friendly La Judera quarter. A modern statue representing Maimonides, the great 12th-century scholar and physician who was born into a distinguished Cardoban rabbinical family, stands guard outside one of Spain’s few medieval synagogues, its stucco walls still etched with Hebrew phrases.

Seville, Andaluca’s largest city, is known for its enormous cathedral, flanked by the graceful Giralda bell tower that was once a minaret. Preserved in the cathedral’s treasury are, quite literally, the keys to its Jewish past. Two intricate iron objects on display are the ceremonial keys to the city’s Judera, as presented in 1248 to the conquering Ferdinand III of Castille by his new Jewish subjects. An inscription in both Hebrew and Spanish reads: “The king of kings shall open, the king of all the earth shall enter.”

Public buildings in Seville are painted in brilliant shades of yellow and red. After a visit to the opulent halls and lush gardens of the Alca¡zar palace, the traveler can slip through a narrow covered passageway into the quaint Barrio de Santa Cruz. Despite its very Christian name, this is Seville’s old Jewish quarter, now home to fine restaurants and the city’s best flamenco show. Where once Jewish scholars swayed over sacred texts, you can now hear the staccato beat of high-heeled boots on wooden floors, punctuated by shouts of “Olé! ”

Granada can boast one of the world’s architectural masterpieces, the breathtaking Alhambra. This hilltop fortress and palace complex covers a variety of styles, but its crown jewel is the 14th-century Nasrid Palace, a fantasia of vaults, domes, graceful columns and stucco friezes embellished with elegant tile work and swirling Arabic calligraphy.

Interlocking patios reveal a series of enchanting vistas. None is more delightful than the Courtyard of the Lions, whose central fountain is rumored to have come from the mansion of a powerful 11th century Jewish courtier, Joseph ibn Nagrella.

Off the Courtyard of the Lions is one of the palace’s most exquisite rooms, the Hall of the Ambassadors. Standard guidebooks don’t mention that this was the site where on March 31, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella signed the decree banishing all Jews from Spain. Some commentators believe that the tragedy of that edict continues to haunt the Spanish people, many of whom have long-denied Jewish roots.

It’s heartening that King Juan Carlos, who ascended the throne in 1975 after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, has been a staunch defender of religious tolerance. He freely displays his fascination with Spain’s Sephardic heritage, and his wife, Queen Sophia, attended a well-publicized service at Madrid’s modern synagogue.

Most visitors to Andaluc­a travel from Madrid by car or by rail, a trip of about three hours. A worthwhile stopover between Madrid and Cardoba is the magnificent walled city of Toledo, which contains two of Spain’s best-preserved synagogues (see sidebar). These historic landmarks, however, have not functioned as Jewish houses of worship since the time of the Inquisition.

Of functioning synagogues, Spain has only a handful, but Andaluca can claim two of them. One is in Ma¡laga, the seaside capital of the Costa del Sol. The other, a charmingly decorated building that includes its own mikvah, is just down the coast in the upscale resort town of Marbella.

Jaén, a small Andaluc­an city that calls itself the olive oil capital of the world, contains no synagogue. But in a quiet square far off the tourist route, the traveler to Jaén will stumble onto an unexpected sight. Atop a square column stands a seven-branched menorah, erected to commemorate the Jewish families dispersed from Spain after 1492. Below is a plaque, written both in Spanish and Ladino. Its message is poignant: “The footprints in which they walked together can never be erased.”

 

Ladino “Flor” Show


Singer Vanessa Paloma loves to perform Ladino songs. “The stories are so amazing,” said Paloma, 33. “They’re like little tidbits of a society that has been spread around the whole world.”

Prior to the 15th century, the Spanish word Ladino translated as “the other,” as in cultural outsiders. Since then, however, it has become shorthand for the Judeo-Spanish people.

The Ladino songs that her musical group, Flor de Serena (Siren’s Flower), will perform in “A Tapestry of Songs and Stories” at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Sept. 19 are part entertainment and part a historical-cultural document of a Jewish community that was dispersed after the Spanish expulsion of 1492. While the tunes themselves tend to interpolate melodies with origins in Catholic Spain, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, Holland and other countries where Sephardim migrated, the lyrics often dwell on female bonding between women — between mother and daughter, between the young woman and las tias (the aunts). Some songs even contain cooking recipes.

“Ladino songs were really a woman’s repertoire, a Jewish woman’s tradition,” said Paloma, whose Sephardic mother is Columbian and whose American father is from the Midwest.

One song from Peru advises men to only marry dark-skinned, dark-eyed beauties and to avoid the blond devil. One of the songs that Paloma performs, “Una Matica de Ruda,” is a love song featuring a rue plant.

“My grandmother would say it’s very good luck to have a rue plant, but you can’t buy it for yourself, someone must give it to you,” Paloma recalled.

Flor de Serena formed in 2000 following Paloma’s time in Israel, where she met Sephardic community leader Itzhrak Navon and Kohava Levy, widow of a leading ethnologist on Ladino music. When she returned to Los Angeles, Paloma turned to her friend, guitarist Jordan Charnofsky, for whom, it turned out, Ladino is the nexus of all of his musical interests and training.

“It was very natural,” Charnofsky said, “because I specialize in classical and Spanish guitar and Jewish music.”

The pair recruited Vic Koler on bass and David Martinelli on percussion, and Flor de Serena was born. Flute player Martin Glicklich, cellist David Mergen and Latin percussionist Kim Diaz will fill out the group’s sound on Sept. 19.

“Ladino can serve as a bridge to help the Jewish community outreach to the Hispanic community,” said John Rauch, director of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, where Paloma has worked for four years. Non-Jewish Mexican singers, such as Jaramar, perform Ladino music, and Paloma would like to see Los Angeles’ Latino population embrace Ladino, too.

Charnofsky enjoys the idea of excavating the dormant melodies and bringing them to a wider audience, which will be the point of the CD that Flor de Serena is currently recording.

“We’re going to focus on lesser melodies that people haven’t heard before,” Charnofsky said. “It’s part of preserving the culture and moving it forward, making it known to people. It’s not only entertainment, but preserving the Jewish culture in different forms.”

Disseminating Distortions


The Internet may prove a valuable tool for preserving a language spoken by Jews for 500 years. Sephardi Jews from around the world could help compile a dictionary of Ladino by providing their input via the Internet, according to Winfried Busse, a professor of philology at the Berlin Free University. Making the suggestion at a recent conference in the southern Croatian city of Dubrovnik, Busse said the Internet could serve as a global workshop for people to create the dictionary.

Ladino, which is also known as Judeo-Spanish, dates back to the Spanish Expulsion of 1492, when it became a specifically Jewish language.

Several dialects are still spoken in the Balkans. In recent years, there has been a boom of interest in the language among young people, especially within Israel.

During the conference, Busse suggested that speakers of Ladino could use the Internet to provide words, sentences, phrases, proverbs, even whole stories, using Ladino.

The software for such a dictionary was created by the Philological Institute of the University of Cologne in Germany, he said, adding that it has already been used to make a dictionary of the language used on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

A dictionary of Ladino could take one of two forms, he said. It could include all the varieties of the language that are known in various regions. Or it could create out of all the varieties a common, standard Ladino.

He added that the choice of how to proceed would have to be made by the Alta Autoridad de Ladino – the High Authority for the Ladino Language – a body created by Israel’s Knesset.

Building a Ladino Dictionary


The Internet may prove a valuable tool for preserving a language spoken by Jews for 500 years. Sephardi Jews from around the world could help compile a dictionary of Ladino by providing their input via the Internet, according to Winfried Busse, a professor of philology at the Berlin Free University. Making the suggestion at a recent conference in the southern Croatian city of Dubrovnik, Busse said the Internet could serve as a global workshop for people to create the dictionary.

Ladino, which is also known as Judeo-Spanish, dates back to the Spanish Expulsion of 1492, when it became a specifically Jewish language.

Several dialects are still spoken in the Balkans. In recent years, there has been a boom of interest in the language among young people, especially within Israel.

During the conference, Busse suggested that speakers of Ladino could use the Internet to provide words, sentences, phrases, proverbs, even whole stories, using Ladino.

The software for such a dictionary was created by the Philological Institute of the University of Cologne in Germany, he said, adding that it has already been used to make a dictionary of the language used on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

A dictionary of Ladino could take one of two forms, he said. It could include all the varieties of the language that are known in various regions. Or it could create out of all the varieties a common, standard Ladino.

He added that the choice of how to proceed would have to be made by the Alta Autoridad de Ladino – the High Authority for the Ladino Language – a body created by Israel’s Knesset.

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