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?

Probably not.

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).

For more information visit

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

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.

Jack and Katy Seror: Help Knows No Age


At first glance, 87-year-old Jack seror and his wife, Katy, are a kind, yet unassuming elderly couple, members of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel and loving grandparents. However, they are also leaders of the Greek Jewish community that resisted and survived the Nazis to build flourishing new families in America.

Founders of the Sephardic Holocaust Committee, which still holds annual events that draw up to 350 people, Jack seror has also served as chairman of the synagogue’s fundraising unit, the Living Memorial Committee and the senior citizen group for more than 20 years. His wife has served as president of the sisterhood and oversaw the Activities Committee.

The serors cite their war experiences as a major motivation for their intensive commitment to community service. Jack seror’s work in the Greek resistance molded his desire to continue to help those in need. He and Katy met while working for the British government in Greece after the war. Later, Katy seror used her knowledge of English to accompany Greek refugees in the United States to hospitals and banks as a translator.

Although she suffered a stroke a few years ago and her husband does most of the talking, it is clear that his words speak for them both. He describes their reception in Boston by the Jewish Family Service as “so impressive … it brought tears to our eyes.”

Their first landlady thought that the serors were non-Jews, because they spoke Greek, Ladino and English but no Yiddish.

“So,” seror said, “I cried out, ‘Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad,’ and then she believed that we were Jews.”

The landlady helped the serors adjust to America, but the harsh winters and sweltering summers were oppressive, and the serors moved to Los Angeles in 1951. They set off with a firm goal in mind: to take their turn helping others, as the families in Boston had helped them.

Two and a half decades ago, the serors sold their successful grocery business and devoted their time to becoming involved in community service. They spearheaded daily senior citizen events for survivors from Salonica and Rhodes.

The annual Holocaust memorial services take an immense amount of planning and have become one of the largest Sephardic gatherings for remembering the Holocaust’s effects on Mediterranean Jewry. Speakers, such as Israeli officials and Danish resistance members, fly in from around the globe. The serors are no longer at the forefront of the organizing.

“We are too old now,” he said with a laugh. “I do not even drive. But we still have a havurah meeting once a month to discuss the parasha or have dinner. And we get together with our friends. We are happy to see the synagogue grow to 800 families. This is very special to us, who saw 96 percent of the Greek community perish in the Holocaust.”

When complimented upon their inspirational story and actions, seror brushes off personal recognition.

“You should try to help Israel as much as you can, be dedicated to your temple and try to help people … not for a reward but just to make a difference.”

MORE MENSCHES

The Forgotten Culture


He calls them the "other" Jews. That’s because Neil Sheff is partly one of those "others" (i.e., Sephardic Jews). In promoting the fifth annual Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival, Sheff, whose ancestors came from the island of Rhodes, promises that anyone who comes to the festival will learn much about a culture that is often forgotten.

Sheff co-founded the Sephardic Educational Center’s program, which runs Nov. 4 to Nov. 11, after he noticed that Jewish and Israeli film festivals in town were ignoring the Sephardic experience. "The emphasis was always on Ashkenazi and Yiddish culture. But I don’t speak or relate to Yiddish. I relate to Ladino."

So do many of the protagonists in the 10 movies scheduled to screen at the 2001 Sephardic festival. The documentary "The Last Marranos" features a secret community of Portuguese Jews — descendants of people forced to convert to Catholicism in 1497 — who attend Mass but covertly light Shabbat candles.

Judeo-Arabic is the Sephardic language of choice in the festival’s opening night movie, "La Veritte; Si Je Mens! 2" (Would I Lie to You? 2), Thomas Gilou’s 2001 hit French caper about several North African Jews who concoct an outlandish scheme to get ahead in business. Along the way, they invoke superstitions and wear hamsehs, hand-shaped amulets intended to ward off the evil eye. The comedy, set in Paris’ Sephardic-dominated garment district, also depicts a North African Jewish henna ceremony — which has helped make the movie a cult classic among Sephardic Jews in Los Angeles. "A lot of people have watched bootlegged copies of the videotape," Sheff confides. "But our screening — which also happens to be the U.S. premiere — will be the only one with English-language subtitles."

"Dad on the Run" (2000), by French filmmaker Dante Desarthe, also illustrates the pull of tradition on the most assimilated of Sephardic Jews. A Paris musician playing a bar mitzvah suddenly realizes he has only a few hours to complete what he thinks is a crucial North African family custom: burying his son’s foreskin three days after circumcision. "So he runs all over town trying to find a place to bury it," Sheff says. "He thinks he’s found a good place by a tree, until he remembers what dogs like to do to trees."

Sheff says that the goal of the festival is simple: "To expose the exotic and fascinating aspects of Sephardic culture to the Jewish and general communities," he says.

Actress Lainie Kazan and Hollywood businessman Bob Israel will be honored at the festival’s opening night gala at the Directors Guild. For information about any the gala, screening times or to attend a filmmakers’ seminar, of the events, call (310) 273-8567.

A Place of Their Own


Reuben Dahan lives just down the block from his nearest synagogue. Yet every Shabbat, for the past seven years, Dahan, an Israeli immigrant who grew up in Petach Tikvah, has gone the extra mile, literally, to worship at a place he calls his spiritual home.

“I live near Chabad,” he says, “but I walk 20 minutes.”

Dahan is a member of Yad Avraham.

A small Sephardic congregation that has been meeting for the past 10 years in a converted storefront on Burbank Boulevard, Yad Avraham has built a loyal following among its members and a reputation for its warmth. Yad Avraham has attracted foreign-born Jews who have turned to the synagogue as a way of retaining their native culture.

The congregation is predominantly Israeli, and many believe their sabra roots form the unifying bond within the synagogue.

“This synagogue helps us keep our culture,” says Shmuel Nouriel.

“We like to have an Israeli place,” adds Avi Edry.

Others say it is the very welcoming and family-like atmosphere of the synagogue that keeps them coming back.

“This synagogue is unique. It is a big family,” says Nouriel, who has attended Yad Avraham since its inception in 1987.

“It is very warm,” says Ramah Palmari. “If you come from the outside, they make you feel at home.”
According to Palmari, who joined the synagogue two years ago, recent immigrants “are thirsty for like-minded people. Here, you are never alone.”

The synagogue has a Shabbat hosting program that helps new attendees meet other members of the congregation.

Although predominantly Israeli, many of the members’ parents immigrated to Israel from various countries including Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Morocco and Syria.

Unlike many Sephardic congregations in the neighborhood that pray according to Moroccan tradition, or nusach, Yad Avraham uses a more generic Sephardic style, according to Rabbi David Adatto.
“The point was to make everyone feel comfortable,” he says.

However, at communal Shabbat lunches, various culinary heritages meet.

“We share cultures,” says Edry, the synagogue producer. “We mix all the foods. One week we all eat couscous, the next week we’ll eat kubeh.”

Most members of Yad Avraham were secular and became ba’al tshuvah (returned to Judaism) after joining the congregation.

According to Adatto, many were first drawn to the synagogue solely for cultural reasons. “Secular Israelis in America want something Israeli,” he says. “Before you knew it, they were part of the community.”
Joshua Assis believes his commitment to Orthodoxy is an outgrowth of his work with the synagogue.
“I was here from the beginning,” says Assis, the synagogue treasurer. “It is like raising a baby. It becomes part of you, your blood.”

Besides weekly services, the synagogue holds weekly classes for men and women on Jewish studies or issues relating to upcoming holidays. Rabbis from nearby synagogues, including Ashkenazic ones, lecture at Yad Avraham.

Sun., Sept. 24, after spending the past decade renting space, Yad Avraham finally broke ground on a permanent home.

The new building, scheduled to be completed in time for next Rosh Hashanah, will be located on Chandler Boulevard near Whitsett Avenue.

“It will be a place that we can truly call our own,” Adatto says. “It will enable us to increase our base. From there we will be able to expand, grow and reach out to the community”

Along with a synagogue, Yad Avraham also plans on opening the Jerusalem Israeli Community Cultural Center within the new facility.

“We want to build an Israeli culture center to teach the children,” says Edry.

Members of Yad Avraham say the center will also cater to the social needs of immigrants, especially to the thousands of Israelis who have moved to the Valley during the 1990s.

Along with social programs, members of Yad Avraham believe that the center will be a window on the their little slice of Israel in North Hollywood.

“We want to show the outside the love and joy we get from our community,” says Edry.

The Trouble with Testing


As if we don’t have enough problems, it seems there’s an unlimited supply of horrific hereditary diseases just waiting to ensnare Jews and their children. Tay-Sachs cripples infants before their first birthday and eventually kills them, Gaucher disease erodes healthy bones and organs, Niemann-Pick, cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s, Canavan and dozens of others. And that’s just among Eastern-European Ashkenazi Jews. A host of other hereditary diseases affect Sephardic, Iraqi and Persian Jews. Does somebody up there hate us?

Not according to Dr. Jerome I. Rotter, co-director of the Medical Genetics-Birth Defects Center at Cedars-Sinai. “While the Jews are very special,” he says, “when we talk about the distribution of disease, they’re not all that special. Every population has a susceptibility to its own set of hereditary diseases.” It’s an important point to make, coming as it [did] at the conference “Genetic Medicine and the Jewish Population,” was held at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Oct. 24.

While science has made enormous strides in creating tools to fight the genetic diseases that afflict many Jews, the impact of those tools have a profound and intimate effect on all of us, Jews and non-Jews alike. And as a result, our society is now confronted with some of the most complex and difficult questions we’ve ever had to face.

Our genes are the code that stores all the information needed to build a human being. Occasionally, through the process of evolution, a single gene can mutate, confusing that information and rendering an individual susceptible to disease. Sometimes an individual is just a carrier, meaning he will never develop symptoms of the disease, but might pass on that susceptibility on to his children. For recessive diseases, like Tay-Sachs or Gaucher disease, both parents must be carriers, and both must pass on an abnormal gene for a child to develop the disease.

Over the last half-century, scientists have developed methods to pinpoint specific mutations on individual genes, allowing them to test individuals for genetic diseases. And although most of us are aware of this work, few of us seem to understand its profound implications: In a very real way, science can now tell the future. Suddenly, we’ve entered a brave new world of medicine, and the benefits we already reap from this new paradigm are great.

This is uniquely apparent in breast and ovarian cancer, two of Ashkenazi women’s most serious health concerns. While all women are susceptible to these diseases, Dr. Maren Scheuner, director of the GenRISK genetic testing and counseling program at Cedars-Sinai, says that when a family history of breast cancer is present, Jewish women are at a much greater risk than non-Jews of developing the disease.

While there are currently no easy cures, women who test positive for one of the genetic mutations that cause breast cancer can take steps to improve their chances of survival if the cancer does develop. “For high risk women, you’ll just have a higher suspicion and start all the screening much earlier, usually around 25,” says Scheuner. Now, most women begin screenings at age 40.

Genetic medicine’s new tools mean that we can screen entire populations to find healthy carriers of a disease and prevent that disease from spreading, eliminating the need for any treatment at all.

Dr. Kaback is intimately familiar with this process, being one of its pioneers. He began the first screenings for Tay-Sachs in Baltimore in 1969, and in Southern California in 1971. Since then, his program has voluntarily tested more than 1.4 million adults, identifying and counseling almost 1,400 couples at risk for bearing children with the disease. “These families have had over 3,200 pregnancies, and of those, 620 were Tay-Sachs-identified,” says Kaback. “With the exception of about 20 of them, the families elected to terminate the pregnancy.” Certainly, abortion is an extremely difficult decision, but many parents found it a better alternative to watching their child develop this disease by six months of age, deteriorate into mental and physical paralysis, and finally die before age 5.

It’s estimated that one in 25 Ashkenazi Jews is a Tay-Sachs carrier. Prior to genetic screening, the disease was so common among Jewish populations that hospitals across the country had special wards to care for these children. Today, only three to four Tay-Sachs babies are born in North America each year. Similar screening programs have been implemented to help prevent Gaucher disease, Canavan disease (a neurodegenerative disease) and cystic fibrosis, among other genetic diseases .

So genetic screening is wonderful, right? Not always. The process can quickly transform the most logical questions of science into sticky ethical dilemmas. Even such issues as a doctor’s responsibility become obscured. “If I know that my patient carries a certain genetic trait, he may not be at risk for that problem, but his sister may be at risk,” says Dr. Kaback. “Do I have an obligation to contact his sister? Suppose I don’t contact her, and she has a child affected with that condition. Do I have any legal responsibility in that context?”

And the questions get even more existential. “If I’m tested for a genetic trait and have it,” says Kaback. “Instantaneously the doctor who does that test knows that my brothers and sisters are at a 50 percent risk of having that same genetic trait. They know that my children have a 50 percent chance of having that trait. Who is the geneticist’s patient? Is it the client sitting across the desk, or is it their extended family? Or is it the entire population group from which that individual is derived?”

The problem is that genetic screening can tell us the future, and knowing the future is always a double-edged sword. When you screen healthy individuals, you may find a gene for a disease that won’t show up for years. “How does it affect the person’s self-image,” asks Dr. Kaback. “To know that they have a gene that’s going to possibly cause them to have cancer or mental illness or some neurological problem or heart disease later in life? How does it affect their upbringing? How many Willie Mayses or Sandy Koufaxes might never have achieved excellence athletically, if someone knew they had a predisposition to some illness later in life when they were children?”

Dr. David L. Rimoin, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Medical Genetics-Birth Defects Center, and one of the organizers of the conference would agree.

“The reality is that we can screen for every disease,” he says. “And every one of us in the population, of any population, will be found to be carriers of several genetic diseases.”

But Rimoin feels that this knowledge can do so much good, as it’s done with Tay-Sachs, that it shouldn’t be ignored. That’s why he organized the conference, and why he is trying to start a Jewish genetics center at Cedars-Sinai.

A Sephardic Celebration


Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Mizrachic, or just out for a good time — whatever their background, Jews poured into the Skirball Cultural Center last Sunday for the first annual Sephardic Arts Festival. The event was a success beyond its organizers’ wildest dreams. Attendance, estimated at more than 4,000, was more than double the anticipated turnout, making it the largest audience for any one-day event since the Skirball opened in April 1996. Despite long lines for shuttle buses and food, the mood of participants — a mix of generations and ethnicities — was festive and good-humored. Many people bumped into relatives and friends — often literally — while searching for seats, program notes or restrooms.

“I think it was a remarkable success,” said Skirball program director Dr. Robert Kirschner, who also said that he had spoken with Moroccan, Yemenite, Turkish, Iraqi, Iranian and Israeli Jews, representing both Sephardic and Mizrachic communities, as well as many Ashkenazic Jews at the festival.

Recognizing the diversity of the Jewish people and promoting the ideal of diversity as an American democratic value was part of the Skirball’s mission, he said. “That’s why this event was so gratifying to us.”

Estimated at about 100,000, Los Angeles’ Sephardic Jews are part of “a vital and emerging community,” Kirschner said. The goal, he said, is to make the festival an annual tradition.

Jordan Elgrably, founder of the National Association of Sephardic Artists, Writer & Intellectuals (NASAWI) and editor of the NASAWI News and the forthcoming Ivri magazine, estimated that about 60 percent of those attending were Ashkenazi Jews.

“I had the impression they were really excited to learn more about this kind of culture. It was a real coming-together all across the board,” said Elgrably.

It was Elgrably who first approached the Skirball about producing the Sephardic Arts Festival. He also lined up the co-sponsors, which, in addition to his own organization, included the Sephardic Educational Center, the Israeli Consulate’s Department for Cultural Affairs, the Consulate General of Spain, and the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity.

Elgrably also programmed the day’s musical entertainment, which took place in the crowded Skirball courtyard. Among the performers were Judy Frankel, who sang Ladino songs; Adam and Laila Del Monte, who presented Sephardic flamenco music and dance; and Rivka Riki Zabary, who demonstrated Yemenite dances. Israeli singing star Yair Dalal made his Los Angeles debut, improvising on oud and guitar and singing in Judeo-Arabic and Hebrew.

The cultural diversity was equally notable in the art exhibit “Beyond Boundaries,” in which artists from Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Syria, Iran, Morocco, Yemen and Iraq revealed a wide range of styles and subject matter in paintings, sculpture, an installation and print work.

Children engaged in art projects that reflected the festival theme as well — making clay hamsas, henna paintings and Turkish puppets.

Early in the day, it was standing-room-only for “Island of Roses: The Jews of Rhodes in Los Angeles,” the award-winning film by Gregori Viens that documents the history, customs and memories of this little-know group of Sephardic Jews on the Island of Rhodes and in Los Angeles.

The food, prepared by the Skirball culinary staff with input from the Sephardic community, included lamb and chicken kabob, falafel, salmon paella and spiced beef sausage; it ran short as the day wore on and the lines continued to grow.

“We thought it was fabulous,” said Lucienne Aroesty, who was accompanied by four generations of her family — her husband, parents, daughter and granddaughter. An Ashkenazi married to a Sephardic Jew, Aroesty said that the festival “met an incredible need in the community, and the turnout really proved it.”

She hoped to see an expanded program that was more “hands-on” in the future, including food demonstrations and dance and song workshops.

“But, overall, there was a terrific feeling of community,” Aroesty said. “As a Jew, it felt wonderful to be with so many other Jews that were interested in this.”