From L.A. to Casablanca and back again

On May 16, 2003, a series of suicide bombings struck Casablanca. The target: Jews. Luckily, the suicide bombers were not particularly savvy, and the Jewish targets they struck were empty for Shabbat. Although no Jews were killed, nearly 30 Muslims died as a result of the blasts. In response to the bombings, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI staged a rally to demonstrate his support for the Jewish community; this was right in the middle of the Second Intifada. That’s Morocco for you — a country that in turn enchants and surprises, according to the Jewish-American singer Vanessa Paloma. When Paloma visits Los Angeles this week to perform with Noreen Green and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, she’ll be bringing a musical taste of the country she loves and now calls home.

“I moved to Morocco in 2007,” Paloma said, speaking on the phone while sitting under a tree on the campus of Indiana University, her alma mater, on a warm spring day. Paloma, who’d just finished performing, recounted the journey that took her from a mostly secular life in the United States to an observant Jewish one in Morocco. 

The impetus for her journey, she said, was the time she spent in Los Angeles after college, when she founded a musical group, Flor de Serena (Siren’s Flower), which performed Sephardic music. As she dug deeper into the music, she started to see that “maybe there’s actually something a lot deeper going on here.” After spending some time in Israel, she said, she decided it was time “to make my life more whole, to practice what I was singing, in a way.” And so she applied for and received a Fulbright Scholarship and headed off to Morocco.

The first thing you have to understand about Casablanca, she said, is that “it’s a huge city. Casablanca is really a metropolis. … There are about 7 million people.” And sprinkled among those millions of Moroccans is a small but thriving community of Jews. “It’s a city that has kosher restaurants, many synagogues, three Jewish clubs and four Jewish schools,” she said.

Nevertheless, Paloma soon found that integrating herself into the Jewish community was harder than she expected. “It’s a pretty insular community,” she said. “Fifty or 60 years ago, there were 350,000 Jews in Morocco, and they existed on all different levels of the society.” Today, the community numbers one-hundredth of that.

Paloma found it easier to be accepted outside the Jewish community. “I have a project that I’ve been doing with a Moroccan woman singer and with a Spanish woman; we do the three … women and three religions, and we’ve performed that all over Morocco. … It’s actually been easier for me to have friendships in the Muslim community and in the foreign community,” she said.

But she didn’t give up. As a feminist, it was hard for her to deal with the fact that “all the communal organizations are completely run by men,” she said, but she soon learned that the women of Morocco held a hidden power. “The women might not have a lot of formal power, but they have a significant amount of informal power. … Many times people try to get to a decision-maker through the female side of [their] family.”

The songs of these Moroccan-Jewish women particularly appealed to Paloma. They apparently had also appealed to the 19th century painter Eugene Delacroix. “Delacroix … stayed in a Jewish house in Tangiers when he came to Morocco,” said Paloma. “He has a very famous painting of a Jewish mother and daughter in Tangiers, it’s this family Ben Shimon, who were a very prominent family.”

Paloma also learned to love her new country despite the difficulties. She told one tale of having to communicate with a blind oud player who only spoke Arabic, and how they eventually learned to make music together. “Even when you have seemingly nothing that can connect you to somebody else, you can actually really communicate in a very beautiful and powerful way.”

Noreen Green, artistic director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and music director of Valley Beth Shalom, plans to put Paloma’s talents and Spanish skills to use during her March 31 performance with the symphony. “We use Sephardic music as a bridge between the Latino population and the Jewish population,” Green said. The concert Paloma will be performing in kicks off a celebration of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony’s 18th anniversary. 

“We’ve really made a mark on L.A. in the last 18 years, and it’s a wonderful celebration,” said Green. “We’re doing other Mizrahi songs, I have a Persian woman singing some Persian songs and the choir singing some Ladino songs.”

Paloma will also perform a piece about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. “It turns out that the show is on … the anniversary of the signing of the edict of expulsion from Spain,” said Paloma. When Paloma realized the significance of the date, she asked her friend, composer Michelle Green Willner to compose a piece, which will be premiered that night.

Paloma married a Moroccan Jew, and their child attends a Jewish academy in Casablanca. She’s also busy at work trying to build a Jewish music legacy in her new home. “I’m actually in the process of founding a Moroccan-Jewish sound archive in Morocco, because I feel like its very important for Moroccans to have access to these memories, the music and also the oral histories,” said Paloma, who’s simultaneously doing doctoral studies at the Sorbonne.

“I really feel that Morocco can be a very important example for the whole world, not just toward the Arabs, but toward the West to show a different way of understanding Jewish-Muslim relations,” Paloma said. “Any relationship has moments of tension, so I think that realizing that there is a place today where people still live in this coexistence that we always look back to” — the Golden Age of Spain — “we’re still living it in Morocco.”

Memories and Music

Before going inside, every visitor had to sign a waiver agreeing not to sue in case, say, a stray piece of wood or plaster fell on them. It felt, for a moment, like myself and the other members of the audience were embarking on a risky enterprise. But Boyle Heights’ Breed Street Shul, though a hardhat area nowadays, held no such dangers.

We were here, on this April Sunday for a noon performance by The Cuarteto Latinoamericano. Three of the four members of the string quartet are Mexican Jews — adding a fitting resonance to this location in a neighborhood that was once filled with Jews (living side by side with Japanese, Molokan Russians, Latinos and others) and is now a Latino enclave.

For many, the air was filled with nostalgia as well as music.

Gary Platt, 80, whose company manufactures casino furniture in Nevada, walked around the old shul — now in the midst of reconstruction — breathing it in, looking at it as if each piece of folk art and stained glass held a personal history.

“There were other, smaller shuls,” Platt said, “but this was the queen bee. We moved to Boyle Heights in 1934, and I had my bar mitzvah here in 1938. I have wonderful memories of this place. We had all these big social events here. The place was jumping during those years. [This neighborhood] was a fun place in which to grow up.”

Many Los Angeles Jews, often recently arrived immigrants, settled in Boyle Heights and surrounding areas in the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually, most would move to the Fairfax district, then to the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys and the Westside, as wealth and resources permitted, leaving Boyle Heights to other immigrants, often Latino, also seeking their fortune and future in America.

In Los Angeles, as in other American cities where Jews have moved out en masse from their old neighborhoods, they not only left dwellings behind, they also left behind synagogues, social centers, stores and street corners that connected them to a certain time in their lives and to a particular era in their collective past.

The Jewish community, it seems, is always wandering, though it’s part of the human condition, as well — always moving to the next area, the next neighborhood, always thinking that a better life awaits us, while at the same time remembering with profound nostalgia the old neighborhood we left behind.

Some Jews who once lived in Boyle Heights, or whose forebears did, and others want to preserve and celebrate those memories, which is the impetus behind the renovation going on at the Breed Street Shul, whose official name was the Congregation Talmud Torah. Even after nearly all Jews moved out of Boyle Heights in the 1950s, the shul continued to function.

“My bubbe and zayde were members of this shul,” said Ethel Kaplan, 63, a member of the Jewish Historical Society. “Even after my family moved to the Westside, we would come here for High Holidays and sometimes for other holidays and Shabbat, as well.”

But finally — in 1996 — the shul closed its doors. In subsequent years, it was subject to vandalism and decay.

Now the shul, the last remaining building in the neighborhood under Jewish auspices, is being rebuilt by the Breed Street Shul Project, a subsidiary of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. Both organizations are headed by Steve Sass, vice president at HBO.

The project is funded by government and foundation grants, as well as by private donations. Supporters still need to raise $3 million to complete the restoration.

“In reconstructing the Breed Street Shul,” Sass said, “we want to build bridges with the existing community. We want to bring in volunteers to teach English or do other community work, but we don’t want it to be that it’s all one way: We want to not only help the Latino community that lives here now, we also want to learn from them, to have them help us.

“That way we can engage one another and jointly learn from one another,” he continued. “We want to be supportive neighbors, and we really don’t have any models for this. So we have to devise our own models as we go along.

“In other cities where Jews moved out and left shuls behind, the old shuls, the historic ones, have sometimes been demolished, or else they’ve been renovated and turned into museums. We don’t want either of those things to happen here….

“We want this place, the Breed Street Shul, to live again, not as a functioning shul, not as a museum, but as a space that respects its Jewish past [while also serving] the cultural and educational concerns of those who live in the community now. We want it to become an important gathering place for both communities.”

With that in mind, Sass and MaryAnn Bonino, head of Da Camera Society’s Chamber Music in Historic Sites series, devised a program to bridge the gap between Boyle Heights’ Jewish past and its Latino present.

“Steve Sass and I are friends,” said Bonino, “and we’ve talked about doing an event together for some time.”

The Cuarteto Latinoamericano was scheduled to play a concert elsewhere in East L.A. in the middle of the afternoon on that same Sunday, April 9, so Sass and Bonino folded into the day’s events — in Sass’s words — a “forshpeiz,” or appetizer: a miniconcert performed by the group in the Breed Street Shul.

The result was astonishingly, heartbreakingly beautiful.

The Cuarteto Latinoamericano played David Stock’s “Sue?os de Sefarad,” which means “Dreams of Spain” in Ladino, and the music did indeed weave traditional Ladino/Sephardic melodies into its musical fabric. The acoustics were lush and rich in the historic synagogue.

The sounds evoked the nostalgia felt by Sephardic Jews remembering the Spain from which they had been ejected. The crowd consisted of more than a few like Platt and Kaplan, for whom the walls resonated with their own nostalgia for the Boyle Heights neighborhood where they and their families had once lived.

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An Unaccustomed Sound

Today’s schools tend to have only limited resources for music instruction, and Jewish day schools are no exception. And in an American Jewish community dominated by Ashkenazic-descended households, Sephardic culture remains a mystery to many Jewish children. Happily, the Maurice Amado Foundation has stepped in to address both of these problems.

The third annual Amado grant, to the tune of $40,000, has once again brought The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) into day schools with a program designed to introduce fourth-graders to the lively, haunting music of the Sephardic world. (The program’s initial year was funded by the Jewish Community Foundation.)

Beginning in January, teaching artists from LAJS visited classrooms at 14 day schools. Over the course of four weeks, they introduced students to the instruments of the orchestra, outlined basic concert etiquette, and discussed the role of music within Spanish and Middle Eastern Jewish culture. Students got the opportunity to sing along in Ladino. (One perplexed girl asked, “When you say Ladino, do you mean Latino?”)

They also experimented with hands-on art projects that transformed Sephardic-style musical color, texture, and folkloric elements into a visual medium. Ilizabeth Gilbert, LAJS educational director, explains that the goal was for the children “to create a work of art that parallels the music they’re studying.”

The method is heartily endorsed by Esther Alfassi, fourth-grade teacher at Harkham Hillel Academy, who notes that for youngsters chiefly accustomed to rap and rock, “it’s very important to get all the senses involved, not just to listen.”

On a recent Wednesday morning, teaching artist Leslie Leshinsky was leading her final session at Harkham Hillel. A professional bassoonist who once played with the Israel Philharmonic, Leshinsky also serves on the faculty of the Art Center College of Design. She frequently collaborates with visual artists and is adept at helping kids interpret musical ideas through art activities. In a previous session, she had explained to the students how the Sephardic-themed music played by the LAJS derives from folk tunes reflecting the daily concerns of long-ago Jews.

Under her direction, the children came up with stories and legends from their own families, then adapted these into simple songs. Some of these compositions turned out to be funny, like one boy’s ditty about dancing the Macarena on a trip to Chicago. Other songs conveyed moments of pain and fear: Elianna Mellon recalled her recent dental surgery; Ori Maouda sang about his grandparents’ flight from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

In the weeks that followed, the children chose the instruments that would properly convey the spirit of their songs. For the final session, on the topic of musical “texture,” Leshinsky produced bags of fabric remnants. Displaying a shiny swath of silver lamé, a tightly woven upholstery fragment, and an intricate scrap of lace, she talked about the type of instrumentation each suggested. The children then had fun choosing appropriate fabric bits to illustrate their own musical compositions. The results would decorate the walls of the auditorium where the culminating LAJS concert was held.

On concert day, the Harkham Hillel kids were joined by contingents from four other area day schools. The stage was filled with nearly 30 professional musicians.

Conductor (and LAJS artistic director) Noreen Green provided kid-friendly commentary, explaining how Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Concerto No. 1 reflected his nostalgia for his family’s Judeo-Spanish heritage. She also demonstrated the various instruments in the ensemble and led the youngsters in a nifty shouting exercise to capture the underlying rhythms of Meira Warshauer’s “Like Streams in the Desert.”

Understanding the natural restlessness of 10-year-olds, Green began by warning her audience that the bright red program booklets they held could prove distracting to the musicians on stage. She urged the children to “shake them! Get all the noise out! Then put them in your laps.”

Inevitably, more than a few kids got the wiggles during the hour-long performance. But they sprang to attention with the playing of Joseph Ness’s “Suite Sephardic,” which had been used extensively in the classroom presentations, and they readily clapped along with its rollicking finale, “Cuando el Rey Nimrod.”

Their reaction confirmed young Elliana Mellon’s enthusiastic description of Sephardic music: “You can’t listen to it without moving your hands. It takes away your anger.”

Along with its Sephardic curriculum, the LAJS has devised a lesson plan for introducing Klezmer music to schoolchildren. Its hope is to find a benefactor willing to underwrite this program so that it too can be introduced into Jewish schools.

For many members of the orchestra, school appearances are a reward in and of themselves. Jack Cousin, bassist for the LAJS as well as for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, insists that “one of the pleasures of playing music is to share it with kids.”

Enrico Suavé

In 1961, a saddened and disheartened 23-year-old Algerian school teacher and musician named Gaston Ghenassia was merely one of the thousands of refugees on a ship bound for France, leaving his homeland in the aftermath of the Algerian Revolution. Little did he know at the time how defining a moment it was to become in his life.

For it was on that very ship ride that Ghenassia wrote “Adieu, Mon Pays” (“Goodbye, My Homeland”), the song that would not only launch his music career, but make him one of France’s hottest singer-songwriters and an international star.

Almost 40 years and more than 500 songs later, the entertainer, now known as Enrico Macias, tours the world playing sizable venues. In fact, his appearance next week at the Universal Amphitheater will complete his current tour of North America, where his loyal fans will appear yet again to see him perform his hits; compositions — such as “Oh Guitare, Guitare” and “Ma Maison, Ma Maison” — which have managed to reflect his Sephardic spirit even as they captured the imagination of France.

Born in Constantine, Enrico Macias lived a pied -noir existence in Algeria, often playing local concerts with his greatest creative influence — his musician father-in-law. But it was following his exile from Algeria that a deep social consciousness began to permeate Macias’ songwriting with tunes like “La Tolerance.”

“Always misunderstanding comes with the silence,” Macias recently told the Journal, “And I hate the silence…my job is to break the silence [through my music]…to build dialogue.”

Macias’ Jewish lineage is also at the heart of many of his signature recordings. He has sung Ashkenazi standards “Kol Nidre” and “Poi Poi Poi” and wrote “Six Millions De Larmes” (“Six Million Tears”) as a reaction to the Holocaust. One of his most popular songs, “Juif Espagnol” (“the Spanish Jew”), synthesizes his twin musical interests — his heritage and global brotherhood — in a simple and vulnerable first-person plea:

“I am a Spanish Jew/

I am a Greek-Armenian/

I am a French Creole/

I am a Jewish Arab/

I am every place where people reach out to each other.”

Over the course of his stellar career, Macias has toured the world many times over. He has recorded tracks in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic. He sang before Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, and entertained Israeli troops on the front lines during the 1967 Six Day War. In 1997, Macias was designated a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, alongside Actor Michael Douglas.

But one of the greatest highlights of Macias’ life came in September 1979, when he played a command performance for a very special fan — Anwar Sadat. Meeting the Egyptian president made a great impact on the singer, and when Sadat was assassinated only weeks later, Macias was compelled to write the song “Un Berger Vient De Tomber” (“A Shepherd Just Fell”).

“He was a martyr for peace,” says Macias of Sadat. “He gave us the example and now we follow his example…When Rabin died, they asked me to write a song for Rabin. I said that I already wrote the song – “Un Berger Vient De Tomber.” Unfortunately the song is the same.”

Macias’ latest release, an album dedicated to his father-in-law mentor titled “Hommage au Chef Raymond,” takes the entertainer full circle back to his classic Algerian roots. As for his work as a U.N. emissary, Macias — who has met with refugees all over the world and spoken to the presidents of their countries — says that he finds himself in a privileged position.

“I cannot change the world,” says the singer. “I can only be an example. I am a witness, not a moralist.”

Enrico Macias will culminate his North American tour at the Universal Amphitheater on Nov. 4 at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call (310) 273-2824.

Skirball’s Sephardic Festival

When you grow up in the States, all you know is Ashkenazi Jewish culture,” laments Moroccan-Jewish musician Ron Elkayam. “But that is such a small part of the continuum of Jewish life.”

Elkayam helped found the musical group Za’atar in late 1997 to bring U.S. Jews a taste of the Mizrahi music he grew up with: The music of Jews who lived for centuries in the Arabic world. The seven-piece ensemble will be a highlight of the Skirball’s third annual Sephardic Arts Festival on Aug. 1, which is dedicated to introducing Angelenos to every non-Ashkenazi group in L.A.

Next Sunday, you can catch Za’atar members performing swirling Middle Eastern melodies on oud (Arabic lute) and ney (cane flute) and dumbek (goblet drum). It’s music Za’atar founder John Erlich and colleagues have meticulously reconstructed by studying recordings secured in Israel and in obscure record stores.

Another musician who will appear at the Festival traces her family history to a different part of the world: To the Spanish Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism in the wake of the Inquisition. Consuelo Luz, who will perform ancient Ladino songs from her new CD, “Dezeo,” was raised as a Catholic in a privileged diplomatic household in such countries as Greece, Peru and the Philippines. Her father’s family is descended from Spanish nobility; her mother’s from a medieval Spanish saint who is known to hail from a family of conversos. At the Skirball, Luz will sing the ancient Ladino ballads and prayers that are helping her to reclaim her Jewish roots.

Wander a short distance from the Festival stage, and you can check out Sephardic tales courtesy of professional storyteller Devorah Spilman or peruse Sephardic antique ketubot in the museum’s core collection. There will be henna hand-painting; make-your-own shesh-besh (backgammon); and two films, “Girona, Mother of Israel-The Jews of Catalonia” and “Morocco Body & Soul,” a documentary about Andalusian music.

If you’re hungry, munch the Tunisian veggie fritada, Spanish salmon paella or almadrote de berenjenna, a cheesy, baked eggplant savory that was created in the Jewish ghetto of Venice, Italy.

Parking for the festival, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.will be available at the Skirball and at auxiliary sites, with regular shuttle buses available on Aug. 1. Admission is $8 for adults and free to Skirball members and children under 12. For advance tickets, which are strongly recommended, call 323/ 655-8587.

Cover Story

The expulsion of Jews from the IberianPeninsula 500 years ago brought a tragic end to a Jewish presencethat had thrived for centuries in Sepharad, the Hebrew word forSpain. It also set in motion the dispersion of Sephardicculture.

Strictly speaking, Sephardic Jewry includes thecommunities that fanned out across North Africa, Italy, Turkey, theMideast and Greece after the expulsion. But in today’s colloquialsense, the word Sephardic has come to include most non-Ashkenazim.Jews from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Yemen, whose communitiesoriginate with the First and Second Temple exiles, never sojourned inSpain or Portugal, but are generally included within the broaddefinition of Sephardim. In Israel, these Jews are known as Mizrachi,usually translated as Middle Eastern or Oriental.

Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews hold fast tocustoms, food, music, liturgical style and Hebrew pronunciation,which are distinct from the Ashkenazi community. Within Sephardicsubcommunities, traditions vary widely, depending on where theculture evolved. That diversity is reflected in Los Angeles, home toan estimated 100,000 Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews.

This listing is just a partial menu of theorganizations that constitute Los Angeles’ Sephardic communities.They will be featured and celebrated at the Skirball Cultural Center,beginning with a festival this Sunday (see article) and continuingthroughout the month. The array of synagogues, restaurants andschools listed here testify to the rich history and colorfultraditions that characterize Sephardic Judaism. — Julie GruenbaumFax, ReligionEditor

From left, sculpture by Claudie LaToussier Oliver,Oudist John Bilezikjian and Mezzo-soprano Isabelle Ganz will be atthe Sephardic Arts Festival . Below, Detail from “Purim” by NessimSibony, one of the Sephardic Festival artists.

Sephardic Guide to

Los Angeles

By Naomi Pfefferman,

Entertainment Writer


Ivri-NASAWI (National Association of SephardicArtists, Writers and Intellectuals): Amulticultural group that emphasizes Sephardic and Mizrachi arts andhumanities, and produces a quarterly newsletter, salons, festivals,concerts, symposia and a National Sephardic Literary Contest. 1033 N.Orlando Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90069. (323) 650-3157.

The Society for Crypto-JudaicStudies: With an annual conference andquarterly newsletter, the society gathers and exchanges informationabout “Crypto-Jews,” those descended from Jews who were forced toconvert to Catholicism in 15th-century Spain and Portugal. 333Washington Blvd., No. 336, Marina del Rey, CA 90292. (310)821-5141.

Sephardic Educational Center: Founded as the first worldwide Sephardic center in 1979,the SEC has 16 active chapters from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles,where you’ll find Shabbatons, popular singles “Classes for theMasses” and more. Some 16,000 youths have attended the SEC’s programsin Jerusalem, where an accredited, one-year university program inSephardic studies will begin next year. SEC also publishes aquarterly newsletter, Hamerkaz. 10808 Santa Monica Blvd., LosAngeles, CA 90025. (310) 441-9361.

Sephardic Women’s Division of the United JewishFund: The some 40 active participantsraised $110,000 in 1997 for the UJF. 5700 Wilshire Blvd., No. 2815,Los Angeles, CA 90036. For information, call Florence Klatzko (323)761-8312.

Maurice Amado Foundation: Established in 1961 by a Sephardic Jew who emigrated fromTurkey to the United States in 1903, the foundation perpetuatesSephardic heritage and culture by financially supporting Sephardicactivities, institutions, educational programs and events — such asthis year’s Sephardic Arts Festival at the Skirball Cultural Center.1801 Avenue of the Stars, No. 942, Los Angeles, CA 90067. (800)295-4950.

The Hyman Jebb Levy Foundation: Supports a scholarship fund and a wide variety ofSephardic organizations in Los Angeles. (213) 623-6277.

The Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aging(LASHA): A support group of the JewishHome for the Aging, LASHA also has outreach programs that linkSephardic Jews to the Home’s some 35 Sephardic residents. Lashon isthe group’s bimonthly newspaper. 7150 Tampa Ave., Reseda, CA 91335.(818) 774-3330.


Sephardic Temple TiferethIsrael: Founded some 75 years ago byTurkish immigrants, Los Angeles’ largest full-service Sephardictemple and only Ladino-speaking congregation now serves 800 families.The shul also has a 110-student religious school, an upcomingSephardic museum and two Ladino-rich libraries. Rabbi DanielBouskila. 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. (310)475-7311.

Kahal Joseph SephardicCongregation: Perhaps the only synagogueon the West Coast to worship in the ancient Baghdadi Minhag, KahalJoseph’s 400 families are primarily Iraqi but also include Jews fromSingapore, Indonesia, India and Myanmar. Fifty children attend theHebrew school. Rabbi Hillel Benchimol. 10505 Santa Monica Blvd., LosAngeles, CA 90025. (310) 474-0559.

Em Habanim SephardicCongregation: Moroccan immigrants foundedthis shul in a storefront in 1974; today, the near 400 participantsworship at headquarters in North Hollywood or at satellites inBeverly Hills, West Hills or Cal State Northridge Hillel. A $1.2million, 8,000-square-foot community center is under constructionnext door to the main shul, where Haim Louk, a renowned Andalusianmusic virtuoso, is the cantor and rabbi. 5850 Laurel Canyon Blvd.,North Hollywood, CA 91607. (818) 762-7779. Rabbi Moshe Benzaquenheads the West Coast Torah Center/Em Habanim of Beverly Hills, 415 N.Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 474-6508.

Torah Ohr:Specializing in outreach, this Sephardic Orthodox shul draws some 200participants with four daily Judaica classes and lectures on line.Rabbi Eliyahu Kin. 7200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (213)939-6763 or (323) 933-3111.

Hashalom Congregation: A new Orthodox shul with a kabbalistic slant. Rabbi HagayBasri. 1010 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310)652-9014.

Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel: Some 100 families, led by a Moroccan-born rabbi,participate in weekly Torah classes, a Talmud-Torah and Shabbatservices. Rabbi Samuel Ohana. 13312 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA91401. (818) 901-1598.

Magen David Congregation: Originally founded by Syrian Jews, the shul, which tracesits minhagim to Alepo, Syria, hosts daily minyans and some 150Shabbat worshippers. 322 N. Foothill Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.(310) 285-9957.

Adat Yeshurun Valley SephardicCongregation: Composed of Jews from NorthAfrica, the shul follows the Moroccan minhag; welcomes 100 Shabbatworshipers; offers mikvah services for men and women; and recentlybought property to create a day school. 12405 Sylvan St., NorthHollywood, CA 91606. (818) 766-4682.

Minyan Yaniv Moshe:Founded in the memory of two young Sephardic Jews, Yaniv Sidis andYosef Hami, the shul is now looking for a new place to congregate.(310) 273-5731.

Pinto Torah Center:An outreach center for Israelis, Persians, Sephardim and Ashkenazim,the center holds daily services, classes in several languages, andShabbat services for about 100 congregants. The center, one of 10around the world, is run by Rabbi Yaakov Pinto, grandson of thelegendary Rabbi Chaim Pinto, the great kabbalist of Morocco (seearticle). 8660 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 659-6700.

Yismach Moshe Congregation: 7675 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (213)939-2681.


Maimonides Academy:Founded in 1969, this coed Orthodox institution, one of the oldestSephardic schools in Los Angeles, offers secular and religiousstudies that emphasize Sephardic heritage and tradition. 310 N.Huntley Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (310) 659-2456.

The Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies atUCLA: A professor who teaches andorganizes an annual colloquium (this year’s chair was renowned Ladinoexpert and author Dr. Moshe Lazar). UCLA also has a series of MauriceAmado distinguished lectures in Sephardic studies; a planned visitingchair in Judeo-Persian language and an impressive Sephardiccollection at the university research library.

Book & Record Stores

B’er Moshe: Operatedby the Pinto Torah Center, this Judaic shop offers a variety ofritual objects, music, jewelry and books at discounted prices. 8662W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. (310) 659-6700.

Matilda Seror Sisterhood Gift Shop at SephardicTemple Tifereth Israel: Carries assortedSephardic and Ladino-language CDs and books, including Albert M.Passy’s unprecedented English-Ladino dictionary. 10500 WilshireBlvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. (310) 470-2787.

Hatikvah Music:Sports perhaps the largest collection of Sephardic and Ladino CDs intown, including Jewish music from medieval Spain, Judeo-baroque musicfrom Italy and traditional Yemenite and Jewish Bukharan fare. 436 N.Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (323) 655-7083.


Hadar Restaurant:Family-style glatt kosher Chinese, Moroccan and Middle Eastern food.A Chinese-born chef serves up the chow mein while owner-catererYvonne Ohana supervises the Sephardic chow. Sunday-Thursday, 11a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. until an hour before Shabbat. 12514Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91607. (818) 762-1155.

Golan: Glatt kosherChinese and Moroccan-Israeli-style dishes, including spinach andmushroom bourrekas, spicy fish with tomato-and-pepper sauce, andkubbeh (semolina stuffed with ground beef). 13075 Victory Blvd.,North Hollywood, CA 91606. (818) 763-5344 or 989-5423.

Magic Carpet: Glattkosher Yemenite and Middle Eastern specialties, including Moroccanroast chicken (with saffron, lemon and green olives), marguez(Moroccan spicy sausage) and more. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.;Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. 8566 W. Pico Blvd.,Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 652-8507.

Nessim’s:Specializes in Moroccan dishes and is the only kosher restaurant intown with a regular sushi bar. Sunday-Thursday, 12 p.m.-3 p.m. and 5p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 12-3 p.m. lunch, and Shabbat takeout, 8 a.m. to5 p.m.; Saturday, one hour after sundown until midnight. 8939 W. PicoBlvd., Los Angeles, CA (310) 859-9429.

Classic Restaurant:Glatt kosher Persian-Jewish and Chinese cuisine, from Kung Paochicken to kebabs to ghormeh savizi, a Persian stew. Also providescatering, a banquet center and live Persian music on Wednesday andSaturday evenings. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Friday,11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday, after dusk until 2 a.m. 1422 WestwoodBlvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. (310) 234-9191

Beverly Hills Cuisine: Glatt kosher Chinese and Persian food, including exoticrices, chicken and shish kebab. 9025 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA90211. (310) 247-1239.

Sharon Restaurant:Glatt kosher Persian restaurant with six or seven eat-in tables, butmostly does catering or takeout. 18608 1/2 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, CA91356. (818) 344-7473.

Kolah Farangi Kebob and ChineseFood: Glatt kosher kebabs and Chinesecuisine. 9180 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310)274-4007.

Persian Community

Eretz Cultural Center: One of the largest Iranian-Jewish community centers in LosAngeles, Eretz hosts concerts, films, acculturation programs, Englishclasses, Shabbat services for up to 1,000 people, and more. The EretzAlliance School, a preschool and kindergarten housed in the new $1.6million building next door, will expand to include first-graders anda total of 90 students this fall. The center’s address is 6170 WilburAve., Reseda, CA 91335. (818) 342-9303.

International Judea Foundation (aka SiamakOrganization): With 800 members, thenonprofit group is dedicated to bridging the old culture and the newwith activities such as singles events, a tikkun olam committee, HighHoliday services and a Paradise Judea teen group. A 110- to 140-pageEnglish- and Farsi-language magazine, Chashm Andaaz, published aboutnine times a year, covers everything from politics to parenting.Foundation: 520 S. Sepulveda Blvd., No. 201, Los Angeles, CA 90049.Magazine: P.O. Box 3074, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. (310)471-9427.

Iranian American JewishFederation: An umbrella group that nowincludes 16 California Iranian-Jewish organizations, the Federationalso publishes an 80- to 100-page English and Farsi monthly magazine,Shofar, and hosts Shabbat services at the Wilshire Theater (8440Wilshire Blvd.). 5700 Wilshire Blvd., No. 2510, Los Angeles, CA90036. (323) 761-8945.

Iranian Jewish Senior Center: A nonprofit group that provides Persian-Jewish staff,services, entertainment and food for 20 Iranian residents of theBeverly Hills Guest Home. 1019 S. Wooster St., No. 228, Los Angeles,CA 90035. (310) 289-1026.

The Magbit Foundation: A 3,000-member group that provides interest-free studentloans for Iranian and émigré college students inIsrael. 433 N. Camden Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310)273-2233.

Persian Hillel, UCLA: A social, cultural and religious outreach organizationthat helps Iranian students balance their Persian-Jewish and Americanidentities. Coordinator is Bahareh Rinsler. c/o UCLA Hillel, 900Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024. (310) 208-3081.

Iranian B’nei Torah MovementMagazine: Introduces Orthodox Jewry andPersian traditions to assimilated Iranian Jews in America. P.O. Box351476, Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 652-2115.

Nessah Educational and CulturalCenter: Provides programs such asimmigration counseling, an afternoon school, social activities andShabbat services for 500. 1537 Franklin St., Santa Monica, CA 90404.(310) 453-2218.

Ohr HaEmet Institute: Houses an Iranian synagogue, an Orthodox girls’ highschool (currently there are 52 students), and plans to open apart-time seminary and a women’s learning center. 1030 S. RobertsonBlvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 854-3006.

Center for Iranian Jewish OralHistory: Dedicated to the history ofcontemporary Iranian Jewry, the center sponsors an annual conference,publishes a book a year and is in the process of interviewing some250 diverse Iranians for an audiotape oral history project. c/o HomaSarshar, P.O. Box 2543, Beverly Hills, CA 90213-2543. (310)472-3012.

Torat Hayim Hebrew Academy: The largest Persian-Jewish school in Los Angeles, thisOrthodox academy teaches 320 preschool-through-eighth-grade boys andgirls in English and Hebrew. 1210 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles,CA 90035. (310) 652-8349.

Ohel Moshe Congregation: 9820 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310)652-6593.

Cohen Synagogue:18547 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, CA. (818) 705-4557.

Torat Hayim Synagogue: 1026 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035.

Beth David Congregation: 5554 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana, CA 91356. (818)344-8523.

Orit Arfa and Shahram Siman contributed to thisguide.

Prominent Leaders

Jordan Elgrably, Ivri-NASAWI

The author/journalist, who is halfFrench-Moroccan, grew up in an “American, assimilated, Ashkenaziworld, with the idea that being Jewish was going to be defined byreading I.B. Singer and Saul Bellow…. By my early 20s, I felt Iwasn’t whole.”

Elgrably moved to France and then to his father’sancient family home of Granada, Spain, to “put the fragments backtogether.” In the early 1990s, when he realized that there was nonational organization to promote work by Sephardic artists andintellectuals, he decided to create Ivri-NASAWI. “Our goal is topromote a more universalist view of Judaism, with roots in the East,”he says.

Dr. Jose Nessim, Sephardic EducationalCenter

Two decadesago, the Paraguayan-born gynecologist couldn’t help but notice thatthere wasn’t a single Sephardic center in the Jewish world. Sephardicteen-agers were assimilating and knew little of their rich Jewishpast, he worried. Nessim responded by founding the SephardicEducational Center, which now has 16 active worldwide chapters and acelebrated youth program in Jerusalem. “We aim to educate theSephardic world about their Jewish roots,” he says.

Arthur Benveniste, Society for Crypto-JudaicStudies

A definingmoment for Benveniste came when he first read about the Crypto-Jews,the descendants of those forced to convert to Catholicism in15th-century Spain and Portugal, and who became the first settlers ofNew Spain after fleeing the Inquisition. Today, Benveniste, whosefamily comes from Rhodes, edits the society’s quarterly newsletter,Halapid, which focuses on the descendants of Crypto-Jews now livingfrom Peru to Portugal. “Half of Spanish Jewry was lost in theInquisition and Expulsion, and now we’re finding them again,” saysBenveniste, who is also co-chair of the Los Angeles Sephardic FilmFestival.

Albert M. Passy

An ex-Marine sergeant with Turkish-born parents,Passy grew up speaking Ladino. But when he searched for aLadino-to-English dictionary to help him decipher an old book in1986, he discovered that there wasn’t a single one. So Passy tookmatters into his own hands. He read hundreds of Ladino books; usedSephardic old-timers to help him with words he didn’t understand;perused a Ladino-French dictionary; and, in the early 1990s,published his unprecedented, approximately 300-page “Sephardic FolkDictionary,” which now sits in university libraries and will soon gointo its fourth edition.

Raquel Bensimon

“The moment I came to L.A. from Morocco in 1961, Ibecame involved with Sephardic Temple [Tifereth Israel]. But I foundthat women had little to do there,” says Bensimon, now a temple vicepresident who’s active in an array of Sephardic groups. On Bensimon’surging, in the 1970s, women earned the right to vote on templematters. Immediately thereafter, Bensimon became the first woman toserve on the synagogue board and, a year later, the first to serve onthe executive board. Over the years, fund raising to build thecurrent Westwood temple site has been her special passion. “I feelthere’s a little piece of me in every stone,” she says.

Dr. Lev Hakak, UCLA

Professor Hakak, coordinator of Jewish studies atUCLA’s department of Near Eastern languages and cultures, emigratedfrom Bagdad to Israel in 1951, where his once-wealthy family livedfor several years in tents and shacks. Hakak, who was 6 at the time,chronicles the difficult Iraqi aliyah through the eyes of ayoung protagonist in his first novel, “Strangers Among Brothers”(1977), which was a critical (and controversial) success inIsrael.

He further explores Iraqi and Sephardic life inthree more works of fiction and several scholarly books: For example,”The Image of Sephardic Jews in Modern Hebrew Literature,” whichraised more eyebrows in Israel, explores stereotypes about Sephardim.Hakak also organizes Iraqi cultural events in Los Angeles and edits asemi-annual newsletter, Yosef Hayim, for Iraqi Jews.

Rabbi Jacob Ott

Ott, a pioneering Sephardic leader in Los Angeles,happens to be Ashkenazi. That did not stop him from serving as rabbiof Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel for 34 years, where he guided,shaped and strengthened what is now one of the most vibrant SephardicJewish communities in the Southland.

Ralph Amado

In 1925, Amado’s Turkish émigrégrandfather, Rafael, was a founder of what would ultimately becomeSephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, perhaps Los Angeles’ largestfull-service Sephardic synagogue. Amado’s uncle, Maurice, created theMaurice Amado Foundation, a prominent benefactor of Sephardicendeavors. Ralph Amado, a commissioner on the Los Angeles MunicipalCourt, continues the family work as a director of the foundation anda past president of the temple. Among other activities andaccomplishments, he’s the recipient of the synagogue’s prestigiousSephardic Heritage Award.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Sephardic TempleTifereth Israel

Bouskila, adescendant of the great Pinto kabbalist-rabbis of Morocco, was just31 when he became senior rabbi at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.Today, he has brought a significant number of young families back tothe shul, and apreschool is in the works. “My dream is to create a SephardicBeit Midrash atthe temple,” he says.

Rebecca Amato Levy

The matriarch and backbone of the Jewish communityfrom the Island of Rhodes, Levy preserves the Sephardic legacy bothscholarly and deliciously. She is famous for her recipes andpreparation of Jewish foods from Rhodes. And in her widely acclaimedbook, “I Remember Rhodes,” she has chronicled with astoundingaccuracy and detail the people, streets, names, places, customs,celebrations and culture of the Jewish community of Rhodes. Today,Levy is a sought-after source of information for culturalanthropologists and Sephardic Jews who want to know about theirhistory.

Songs and Stories at

the Skirball

The Skirball Cultural Center’s Sephardic ArtsFestival is back, bigger and better than ever. More than 4,000 peopleare expected to turn out on July 19 for the second annual festival,which will feature the music, art, food and storytelling of everynon-Ashkenazi group in Los Angeles.

The festival begins with a preview evening on July16, when visitors will experience medieval Judeo-Spanish music, aliterary reading and an exhibit of eight mostly local Sephardicartists.

On Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., park at theSkirball or take a shuttle bus from auxiliary sites; at the museum,you can participate in a Sephardic-object treasure hunt or peruseMoroccan inlay boxes and tapestries at the artisans’ exhibit.

Munch on spinach bourekkas or paella at Zeidler’s restaurant,and entertain the kids with storytelling and artists’ workshops thatfeature henna-handpainting, make-your-own-hamseh and more. In between,catch concerts by Ladino music expert Stephani Valadez; Judeo-Spanishsongs by mezzo-soprano Isabelle Ganz; or the eight-piece MiddleEastern ensemble, Za’atar.

The Sephardic event has become the largest annualfestival at the Skirball, says program director Dr. Robert Kirschner.”We aim to reach all the diverse communities of Los Angeles,” hesays, “and the place to begin a pluralistic vision [of L.A.] is witha pluralistic vision of the Jewish people.”

Admission is $8 for adults and free forchildren. Advance tickets are strongly recommended. Call (213)660-8587. –Naomi Pfefferman

Above, eight-piece Middle Eastern ensemble Za’atar, who willperform at the Sephardic Arts Festival July 19. Below, participantsin last year’s festival. The Sephardic event has become the largestannual festival at the Skirball. Included will be artwork, aboveleft. Photo below by Peter Halmagyi.