In Honor of Bruce Slovin, a Brooklyn-born businessman and philanthropist, who combines a scholar’s sensibility for preserving and making accessible primary sources with an entrepreneur’s short attention span. In less than a decade, Bruce brought together five of the world’s leading Jewish institutions—the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Leo Baeck Institute, and Yeshiva University Museum—to create a beautiful 90,000 sq ft space for scholarly study, research, and cultural activity in the heart of Manhattan. In less than two decades, Bruce propelled The Center for Jewish History to become the preeminent “research, historical, and educational institution of the Jewish world, exploring the richness of Jewish life and letters, and showcasing the enormous contributions Jews have made to modern civilization.”
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The migration of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is usually viewed within the context of the re-founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Sometimes, Sephardi and Crypto-Jewish migration to the Americas is also traced back to 15th and 16th century attempts to escape the long arm of the Inquisition. This month’s issue of Sephardi Ideas Monthly, however, expands our understanding of the global movement Greater Sephardic Jews with a brief but meaty post by Dr. Aviad Moreno, “What Do You Know? Jewish Migration to Latin America.” Moreno’s post treats the significant but largely overlooked migrations from the MENA region to Latin America at the turn of the 20th century.
Moreno is a member of the faculty at Ben Gurion University’s Center for the Study of Israel and Zionism in Sde Boker. His research focuses on Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in Morocco. A 2018-19 post-doctoral fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania when he authored the post, Moreno participated in the ASF Institute of Jewish Experience and Association Mimouna’s “Uncommon Commonalities: Jews and Muslims in Morocco” scholarly and cultural conference in June 2019. He also initiated and organized a pioneering academic conference that took place this month in Israel: “New Directions: Sephardi-Mizrahi Migrations in Global Contexts.” Next month’s issue of Sephardi Ideas Monthly will feature an original interview with Moreno; this month’s issue sets the stage.
“What Do You Know? Jewish Migration to Latin America”
Moreno’s piece was posted in response to the question, “Why are there so many Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in Latin America?” After treating some common misconceptions regarding Sephardi/Mizrahi migrations and sketching the contours of the larger historical background, Moreno explains how:
From the last third of the nineteenth century to the outbreak of the first World War in 1914, the world witnessed a new kind of migration on an unprecedented scale… Tens of millions of people moved within Europe, and from Europe to Africa, Asia, and then to the Americas and Oceania, as the world saw momentous industrialization and economic boom times. This era came to be known as the ‘age of mass migration.’
Many American Jews, it should be noted, are deeply connected to these global movements. Their grand-parents (and sometimes great grand-parents) moved to the New World from eastern Europe and Russia in response to these developments. What’s less known is that these migrations included migrations from MENA. But the question remains: why Latin America?
Part of the answer is related to social processes and pressures within Latin American countries:
Brazil and Argentina, major hubs for MENA immigrants, were two global immigration destinations in Latin America that had lately gained independence from Portugal or Spain. National aspirations for economic expansion, coupled with the need for a steady labor supply, led these countries and others to adopt liberal immigration policies, expressed in the slogan ‘to govern is to populate.’
What’s more, the liberalizing of immigration policies was accompanied by an increasingly open attitude to religious minorities:
In Brazil, the Imperial Constitution of 1824 recognized Roman Catholicism as the official religion, but the right to practice other religious rites in private was also signed into law. A later constitution in 1889, during the First Republic of Brazil, guaranteed full religious freedom for all. In the 1880s, the Argentinian congress passed a series of laws that stripped the Catholic Church of many of its prerogatives, paving the way for an officially tolerant religious attitude.
While economic interests and minority rights made immigration to Latin America possible, the deciding factor was linguistic and cultural:
In Morocco, emigration to Latin America was largely a Jewish phenomenon, though no less connected to global and local developments… [I]t was their geographic proximity and cultural connection to the Spanish world that connected them to Latin America... Growing Spanish immigration to northern Morocco overshadowed Haketia, the ancient local Judeo-Spanish dialect, resulting in a momentous and smooth transformation to modern Spanish among Jews.
In other words, Spanish-speaking Moroccan Jews were already at home in Hispanic culture, and Latin America made for a smooth transition. Remarkably, and perhaps also unsurprisingly:
The average Latin American tended to associate Jews from Morocco not with one of the two groups of Jewish immigrants in the country—the ‘Turcos’ (Turks, meaning Arabic-speaking Jews) or the ‘Rusos’ (Russians, meaning Jews from Eastern Europe)—but rather with the non-Jewish Spaniards who flooded the continent in large numbers.
Jewish history is full of interesting twists and turns, and the migration of Jews to Latin America is no exception. Sephardi Ideas Monthly is very happy to introduce our readers to the fascinating movement of Jews from MENA to Latin America at the turn of the 20th century with Aviad Moreno’s own introduction to his eye-opening and original research.
Advertisement ships bound for Latin America in a daily Spanish-language Moroccan newspaper popular amongst Jews and non-Jews, España, 2 October 1956
(Scan courtesy of University of Pennsylvania's Katz Center)
The featured sage for the month of December is Hakham Yom Tov Yedid Halevy (1923-2016).
Born in Aleppo, Syria, young Yom Tov grew up a student of Hakham Moshe Tawil. When Hakham Tawil moved to Israel in 1959, Yom Tov (now Hakham Yom Tov) assumed the position of Rabbi of Aleppo and Head of the Beit HaNassi Beit Midrash. A strict but beloved teacher, Hakham Yom Tov educated the last generation of scholars from Beit HaNassi, scholars who, today, lead communities from Aleppo around the world.
Hakham Yom Tov moved to New York City in 1985 and joined the local Syrian Jewish community. However, he refused to take any public position, choosing instead to devote himself to Torah study.
The author of fifteen books of Biblical commentary that were published during his lifetime, Hakham Yom Tov passed away in 2016. He was buried in the Har HaMenuhot cemetery in Jerusalem.
In the passage below from Hakham Yom Tov’s commentary to Tehilim (Psalms), he articulates a sense of empathy and righteousness that humans and God ideally share in their care for the suffering of the poor from all nations:
‘Arise, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are Your possession.’ Since judges do not necessarily judge faithfully, You must judge the earth and save the oppressed from their oppressors, which is why ‘Arise, O God, judge the earth’ is written. This means judgment of the poor and deprived people of the entire world. I am not chagrined only by the injustice committed towards the poor (of the nation of) Israel but by the oppressed and poor of all the world's nations, whose judges distort their sentence; I pray that You may judge them for You are, indeed, the LORD for all the nations in Your possession. You created them, and commanded them to be just - one of the seven (Noahide) laws. You commanded them, and You are therefore to avenge all the oppressed and sustain them in justice.
This is a unique Mezuzah handmade in the Spanish and Mexican tradition of Talavera pottery - the first of its kind.
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Talavera is a colorful, handmade, style of artisan pottery present in Spain and Mexico. Authentic Talavera pottery originates in only two places: Talavera de la Reina in Spain and San Pablo del Monte in Mexico. In order for Talavera to be deemed authentic, not only must it originate from the previously mentioned places, but it can only be produced in six colors: blue, yellow, black, green, orange, and mauve. Such colors can only come from natural pigments.
Hanukkah in Eight Nights: Bring the Past to Light by Marian Scheuer Sofaer
Celebrate a family Hanukkah with dramatic readings about the feats of the Maccabees. In addition to the candle lighting blessings, Hanukkah songs, recipes and sevivon game rules, this book incudes excerpts from ancient sources and vivid read-aloud stories by Moshe Pearlman for each night that will bring the riveting events of 164 B.C.E. to life. Good for school age children through adults.
~Sponsorship Opportunities Available: Email or Call (212.294.8350) Yves Seban ~
Center for Jewish History
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Come celebrate Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, with acclaimed scholars and musicians. Hear Prof. Gloria Ascher, who has taught courses in Ladino at Tufts University for 17 years; Prof. Dina Danon, whose new book brings Izmir's Ottoman Jewish community to life; two scenes from a New York Ladino play; a panel of Generation Y and Z Ladino enthusiasts; and musicians dear to our hearts, The Elias Ladino Ensemble and Sarah Aroeste.
Since 2013, International Ladino Day celebrations have been held around the world. January 12th marks Manhattan's Third Annual Ladino Day created by Prof. Jane Mushabac for the American Sephardi Federation at The Center for Jewish History.
Ladino is a bridge to many cultures. It is a variety of Spanish that has absorbed words and expressions from many languages, most notably Hebrew, Turkish, Arabic, Greek, and French. The mother tongue of Jews in the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, Ladino became the home language of Sephardim worldwide. While the number of Ladino speakers has sharply declined, distinguished Ladino Day programs like this one celebrate and preserve a vibrant language and heritage for future generations.
This years exhibit explores the Judtice of Zionism through the lens of Jewish and Latino national liberation struggles for independence from European colonialism. A new collection of art pieces will be revealed, including pieces from master artists Norma Lithgow and Deyvi Pérez. It will be a night of celebration of the shared history and culture of the Jewish and Latin communities.
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