I bet you can’t nosh that bagel in Ladino, bubbaleh!
Noshing on a bagel while shlepping his groceries, the klutz fell on his tush.
Need a translation? Probably not.
A majority of Americans not only know exactly what that sentence means — including the four Yiddish words it contains — they’ve even noshed on quite a few bagels themselves.
But can the same be said of five Ladino words? Of Sephardic foods?
Which is precisely why the eighth Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival is upon us.
Neil Sheff, international chair of the Sephardic Educational Center’s young adult movement and co-founder of the festival, hopes the eight films in this year’s lineup will help “educate those who don’t know about the ‘other’ Jews — the Sephardim.”
Although Sheff — a native Angeleno — spoke Ladino growing up, he admits that he used to be embarrassed “to speak a different language, to eat different foods.”
Sheff’s paternal non-Sephardic family thought there was something wrong with his maternal Sephardic family – after all, what kind of Jews didn’t speak Yiddish?
For the Sephardim themselves, who comprise less than 10 percent of the American Jewish population, Sheff says he hopes the festival will foster a sense of pride in their unique “historical experience, customs, foods, music and language.”
Yet Sheff seeks an array of films representing both the diversity and the commonality of Sephardic Jewry. He says he is especially proud of the “eclectic group of films” being presented this year.
Muslim director Ramin Farahani’s documentary “Jews of Iran” and Carole Basri and Adriana Davis’ “The Last Jews of Baghdad” are two offerings that simultaneously explore unique communities and reflect the common Sephardic historic arc of coexistence, repression and exile.
The feature film, “Until Tomorrow Comes,” on the other hand, tells the story of a Jewish Moroccan woman struggling with her aging mother, her daughter’s marital crisis and her own romantic entanglement — universal dilemmas, universal themes. In this way, Sheff hopes the festival can also “be a bridge to those who don’t know much about Jews, to realize what we have in common, maybe bring us a little closer.”
Sheff’s goals, then, are nothing short of lofty: to engender pride in a particular identity, to educate “others” about a minority, and at the same time to create a bridge between cultures.
All by sitting in a darkened theater and being entertained. What more could we ask?
The eighth Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival runs Nov. 12 and Nov. 14-19 (at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills).
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.
For more information on Talk Like a Pirate Day, visit www.talklikeapirate.com.
Click here for a pirate talk translation of this article
A Mother’s Pride
A few weeks ago as the school year ended, my daughter stood on the bimah in the chapel of our synagogue and, with four of her fellow fifth-graders, led her Jewish day school’s Monday Tefillah services. Four girls and a boy shared the honor, and their radically varying sizes bespoke the varying growth spurts that characterize this awkward age. Likewise, their maturity and ability to address their classmates ebbed and flowed during their short moments in the spotlight. But what brought that poignant mix of mother’s pride and prejudice home, watching her among her friends in this holy setting, was just how different and alike my Rachel is from the rest. For, even as she blends in beautifully, she cannot help but stand out — my daughter was born Chinese.
Rachel is a Jewish American girl from China. My husband Richard Core and I enrolled her, starting at age 4, in Temple Israel of Hollywood schools full time. Like every other kid there, she has become somewhat fluent in conversational Hebrew, knows the prayers by heart and has learned her Judaica lessons well. She is not the only Asian girl in her school — there are three, all adopted (two from China, one from Vietnam) — and she says she feels no different from anyone else. But among the mix of mostly Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews that make up our community, she adds a special spice. And in her own discreet style, I believe she has helped teach her friends to be colorblind in ways that could last a lifetime.
Rachel will become bat mitzvah in slightly more than two years, and she has been preparing for that moment since pre-school. As a fourth-grader, she read from the Torah at a day school service, and earlier this year, she gave a d’var Torah before the upper grades. I attended both events, of course, and each time I cried.
To see my child leading prayers is a rite of passage that evokes the deepest emotions. I know I would probably cry to see any child of mine connect with the ancient rituals, taking on the mantel of our ancestors, and I am pleased that Rachel embarked upon this path in the safe, exploratory confines of her school. But when I look at Rachel in this context, I think, also, of her divergent origins, of her birth parents whom we likely will never meet, of her own genetic ancestors and their traditions that she carries, within her as well, in ways that are both conscious and not.
It is a gift to share our lives with a child of mixed culture, because nothing is obvious. As we think ahead to her bat mitzvah ceremony, we are thinking of ways of acknowledging Rachel’s special heritage, whether in the food we serve — how bad could a kosher Chinese buffet be? – or the flowers, or maybe a special prayer. We will give thanks for the good fortune that made her part of our family, for the coincidence of adoption possibilities that led us to a foreign land to meet our daughter.
We will remember, too, as we see her accept the responsibilities of becoming a Jewish adult, that she is also becoming a woman of Asian and American heritage, and that whether she wants to or not, throughout her life she will be opening the eyes of those who look upon her. Rachel does not see herself as anything but one of her group, and she’s mostly right in that. But the other day, when I watched her from afar, on the bimah, saying the Shema, I could not help but be reminded of how far we have come from the state-run orphanage filled with loving caregivers in Southern China, where Richard and I met her more than a decade ago.