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Sephardic Traditions

Sephardic History and Culture

Sephardic Jews
Ron D. Hart, Ph.D.
Sephardic Jews have been the example of cultural achievements in the Jewish world from their origins in Spain to later leadership in the Americas. After the Expulsion from Spain, Sephardic Jews settled around the Mediterranean, where they made major contributions to the Ottoman Empire and the countries of North Africa. Today, Sephardic Jews live primarily in Israel, France, and in various countries in the Americas.



Jews under Morccan Skies: Two Thousand Years of Jewish Life
Raphael David Elmaleh and George Ricketts
“No chapter in the long history of the Jewish people has more power and more relevance to our contemporary world than Moroccan Jewry. And it is the least known, by far! This wonderful book will draw you into its mystery, captivating and capturing your imagination. If you don’t want to be tempted to travel, don’t read this book...It is a gem!”
—Peter Geffen, Founder of The Abraham Joshua Heschel School, New York







Haketía: A Memoir of Judeo-Spanish Language & Culture in Morocco
Estrella Jalfón de Bentolila
Haketía is the Judeo-Spanish language of the Jewish community in northern Morocco. It was the vernacular language of Jews in the region and dates back to the Expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. A description is given of the cultural context and the sayings associated with it. With the twentieth century diaspora of the Moroccan Jewish population, Haketía was carried to the Americas, France, Israel, and other countries.





Sephardic literature



The Kuzari
Judah Halevi
Rabbi Judah Halevi is the most famous Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet from the Medieval period. Among his other writings, in 1140 he wrote Kitab al Khazari (The Kuzari in English), the classic statement of Jewish thought from that period. It is the hypothetical account of the invitation by the king of the Khazars to a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian to represent each of their religions for him to decide to which he would convert. The Kuzari is an extended dialogue between the rabbi and the king in which the rabbi explains the essence of Judaism. Although the king calls in the Christian and the Muslim to clarify some points, almost all of the text is the exposition of Judaism.



Sephardic Women's Voices: Out of North Africa
Nina B. Lichtenstein, Ph.D.
Sephardic women’s voices are significant in contemporary discourse on francophone immigrant identity in general, and Jewish identity in particular. These women’s contributions to the discussion on what it means to be Jewish in post-colonial France help increase the understanding of non-Ashkenazi Jews both in Europe and in the wider international community, as can be seen in the impressive number of memoirs and novels by Jewish women with backgrounds from Islamic countries being written today.





Emma Lazarus: Sephardic Woman of Letters
Orit Rabkin, Ph.D.
Emma Lazarus is the first well-known Jewish American woman writer. Born (1849-1887) in New York, she was the daughter of Sephardic parents, Moses Lazarus and Esther Nathan. She grew up in a multi-lingual family and became interested in literature at an early age. In addition to poetry, she wrote articles, short stories, plays, an a novel. Lazarus is best known for her sonnet, "The New Colossus" (1883), which is placed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. With that she became the voice of America.




Sephardic Music



Lyrical Eroticism in Judeo-Spanish Songs
Silvia Hamui Sutton, Ph.D.
Judeo-Spanish songs are frequently sung in the life cycle events and include symbols from nature with reference to the earth, fruits and flowers, trees, birds, dawn, night, dreams, water, raing, the sea, rivers, and springs, all of which can have erotic overtones. The woman and her beauty are often compared to the beauty of nature. The lyrics of popular music are a reflection of the esthetics and symbolic values of the group.




Moroccan Sephardic Romancero: Anthology of an Oral Tradition
Susana Weich-Shahak, Ph.D.
Winner Euorpean Folklore Prize 2014
Finalist Best Book/Anthology 2014 (New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards)
“Susana Weich-Shahak’s anthology of the Moroccan Sephardic Romancero vividly brings to life the Judeo-Spanish ballads transmitted by Moroccan women...this volume serves both to document a remarkable repertory in great detail and to memorialize the women who sustained these songs. This is a collection that speaks eloquently to the importance of music in Jewish life.”
— Kay Kaufman Shelemay. G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music, Harvard University





Sephardic Legacy: Stories & Songs from Jewish Spain
William Samelson, Ph.D.
Sephardic Legacy is Dr. Samelson’s record of his family’s Sephardic heritage from the Turkish tradition, using the Ladino romance (Judeo-Spanish ballad) as the means of telling this story. He summarizes Sephardic history, as well as the history of the Sephardic ballad, which developed from the Spanish romance tradition. Sephardic Legacy is a unique record of Sephardic culture and history.







Cantos Judeo-Españoles: Simbología Poética y Visión del Mundo
Silvia Hamui Sutton, Ph.D.
Cantos judeo-espanoles: simbología poetica y vision del mundo is the first complete ethnomusicological study of Judeo-Spanish music from the various countries of the Sephardic diaspora. It includes music from Morocco to Salonika, Rhodes, Turkey, and Israel among others. All of the major song texts are included with an interpretation of their use in life cycle ceremonies and other life events.





Young Adult Readers



The Mountain, the Desert and the Pomegranate: Stories from Morocco and Beyond
Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, ABD
Paloma Elbaz is the Director of KHOYA: the Jewish Sound Archive of Morocco, and it is drawn from stories of her own experiences living in Morocco. The stories weave together the fantasy of traditional beliefs to the urban realities of life today for Jews in that country. Finalist for Best Book Award (New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards).





Dreaming of Safed
Angelina Muñiz-Huberman
“The uniqueness of Angelina Muñiz-Huberman’s historical novel lies in its combination of poetic prose, apparent simplicity, and a happy ending. Within the structure of the archetypal journey of the hero, a Jewish teenager in sixteenth-century Spain manages to avoid the Inquisition by joining a perilous Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He is assisted by a magical muleteer who appears and disappears periodically until the protagonist and his beloved Miriam are safely settled in the northern town of Safed."—Seymour Menton, Ph.D. University of California




Beacon of Hope
Sandra K. Toro
Beacon of Hope is about the life of Doña Gracia Nasi, a powerful woman of sixteenth century Europe, who used her wealth to provide new lives for Jews who had been expelled from Spain and conversos escaping from that country. She is an example for young women of what can be and has to be achieved sometimes in the face of adversity. From an untried young woman she became the head of a commercial empire and the greatest philanthropist of the sixteenth century.





Abran and Isabella's Hidden Faith
Mario X. Martinez
Although the Inquisition had ended by the late 1800s in traditional New Mexico, it was still forbidden to be Jewish. Abran and Isabella were engaged to be married when they discovered the Jewish roots of both of their families. After the grandfather’s death, Abran and his uncle, Moises, discovered a family journal in a trunk that documented the family’s Jewish history. Isabella also learned that her family had been Jewish, and this link was at the core of the relationships between their two families. Their beginning to practice Judaism leads to dramatic results.



Conversos & the Inquisition



Guardians of Hidden Traditions and Hidden Shabbat
Isabelle Medina-Sandoval
These two historical novels tell the epic story of the women and families who kept alive their Jewish identity in the mountains of New Mexico for centuries when it was illegal at first and later socially unacceptable to be Jewish. Drawing from accounts in her own family Medina Sandoval recreates the lives of her ancestors. “This book is a masterpiece of scholarship and literature. Isabelle Medina Sandoval skillfully threads the untold cabalistic histories of several generations with the artistry of storytelling to reveal the secret Jewish-Hispanic tapestry that is rightfully part of New Mexico history.”—Daniel Díaz-Huerta, Executive Director, New Mexico Center for Crypto-Judaic Studies & Culture.












Mario X. Martinez
The author borrows stories from his family to create this historical novel of powerful Dons, daring youth, and the foreign priest who did not understand New Mexican life and culture. This combustible mixture leads to conflict, revenge and the suspicious death of the priest as he was conducting mass. Converso is a story about small town life in northern New Mexico during the 1870’s. Abran Espinosa along with his uncle, Don Moises Espinosa, discover their Jewish birthright through an old family journal. The resulting story is compelling and surprising. Converso draws from the oral histories and recollections shared by the author's deceased grandmothers and other relatives.




Secrets Behind Adobe Walls
Sandra K. Toro
The author brings the reader to New Mexico and the experience of crypto-Jewish families that honored their Jewish heritage in defiance of the threat of the Inquisition. Toro’s style of vivid character portrayals and lively narrative keep the reader intrigued and interested. “Sandra Toro brings to life the turbulent history and clash of cultures, religion and politics of colonial New Mexico. Toro’s meticulously researched novel is a fast paced and fascinating look into the fears and fires that ignited prejudice in the 18th century.”—Susan Seligman, Former New Mexico Regional Director, Anti-Defamation League






























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