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 In Honor of Michele Cohn Tocci, a Distinguished Member of The American Sephardi Federation’s Boards of Directors and President of the David Berg Foundation, whose generous support made the Sephardic Journeys exhibition (now part of the Google Cultural Institute) possible 
8 January 2018
Sephardi Ideas Monthly is a continuing series of essays from the rich, multi-dimensional world of Sephardi thought that is delivered to your inbox on the second Monday of every month.

December’s Sephardi Ideas Monthly featured Professor Arthur Kiron’s article, “Varieties of Haskalah: Sabato Morais’s Program of Sephardi Rabbinic Humanism in Victorian America,” on one of the most important figures of 19th century American Jewry, Rabbi Sabato Morais (1823-1887). We begin 2018 by again featuring Kiron on the great Sephardi scholar from Livorno, this time focusing on the role that Morais played in establishing the original Jewish Theological Seminary.

Rev. Dr. Sabato Morais 
(Photo courtesy of
Kevin Lawrence Hanit/Geni

“Heralds of Duty: The Sephardic Italian Jewish Theological Seminary of Sabato Morais.” 

The Schottenstein-Jesselson Curator of Judaica Collections at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Penn, Kiron directs our attention in this month’s essay to an abbreviated window of time in which Classic Sephardi Judaism was the animating force in an American-Jewish institution of higher learning, even as he sets the record straight regarding Morais’s original influence. 

From the moment in 1851 when Morais set foot in America, in order to assume leadership of Philadelphia’s Spanish and Portuguese Congregation Mikveh Israel, he passionately promoted Classic Sephardi Judaism as embodied in the Andalusian-Italian tradition. Writes Kiron:

Just months after he arrived in Philadelphia, Morais began promoting the golden age of medieval Jewry in Muslim Spain, and the cultural transfer of that legacy to the ‘Italian schools’ after the expulsion, as the model for the youth of his congregation to imitate, ‘Religious and secular lore flourished among [Andalusian Jewry], poetry, the most stirring poetry which speaks to the heart and breaths pious sentiments was cultivated in their academies. No knowledge, however abstruse, no philosophy, however profound, was neglected by the luminaries of our nation.’
Click here to read “Heralds of Duty: The Sephardic Italian Jewish Theological Seminary of Sabato Morais” by Arthur Kiron
While emphasizing the worldliness of the Andalusian-Italian tradition, Morais also pointed to the emphasis the tradition placed on humility, particularly in the writings of one of Morais’s intellectual-spiritual heroes, Maimonides:
Maimonides had assigned primary importance to humility in his ethical writings, even violating his own golden rule of moderation to allow for overzealousness in its practice. Clearly, Morais had taken this teaching to heart. Throughout his ministry, Morais consistently and repeatedly propounded the concept of humility as an essential ethical-religious principle.
It thus comes as no surprise that the principle of humility informed Morais’s vision for rabbinical education at the original Jewish Theological Seminary, an institution that he helped found in 1886. Morais explicitly expressed his hope that JTS would raise a generation of rabbinical leaders knowledgeable in Jewish texts but charged with a profound humility:
‘The knowledge imbibed in our Theological Seminary shall tend to qualify believing Jews to go forth as heralds of duty; not such as is woven into a laurel of a self-glorification, neither such as is forged into a lever to raise up high one’s material interests, but a knowledge free from egotism, fruitful of humanizing and soul-elevating results.’
Unfortunately, the story of Morais’s Andalusian-Italian vision for the JTS doesn’t have a happy ending. Subsequent to the JTS being reorganized in 1902 as the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA), led by Solomon Shechter, followers of Morais soon felt that that the institution was moving away from their teacher’s rabbinic humanism. Kiron notes that, “Morais left his remaining personal library to the JTS on the condition that it continue to uphold the principles he held dear,” but a letter published by Morais’s son Henry in the London Jewish Chronicle in 1910 brought deep dissatisfaction to the surface, “‘The fact remains … that Dr. Schechter’s promise, i.e., that the Seminary under his lead would always stand for those fixed principles set by my father, has gone unfulfilled.’”
Morais’s “Sephardic-Italian rabbinic humanist legacy” thus remains an unfinished chapter in American Jewish history. Sephardi Ideas Monthly calls attention to Sabato Morais’s inspiring yet still unfulfilled vision through Arthur Kiron’s learned and fascinating article, “Heralds of Duty: The Sephardic Italian Jewish Theological Seminary of Sabato Morais.”

The American Sephardi Federation thanks Professor Kiron and the University of Pennsylvania Press for granting permission to reprint his article (from the Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 105, no. 2 (2015): 206-249) for Sephardi Ideas Monthly.
The Monthly Sage החכם החודשי 

Hakham Eliyahu Benamozegh

Hakham Eliyahu Benamozegh (1823-1900), like Sabato Morais, was another scholar-sage from the Italian city of Livorno. Also like Morais, Benamozegh envisioned a deeply learned and traditional but broad and worldly Judaism, and he wrote a number of works in order to share that vision.
The American Sephardi Federation is proud to partner with the Alliance Israélite Universelle-KIAH in publicizing Benamozegh and other Sephardi sages by translating and sharing AIU-KIAH’s “The Daily Sage,” an incredible database featuring the life and writings of over 500 Sephardi sages. Sephardi Ideas Monthly will feature selections with the heading 
החכם החודשי (“The Monthly Sage”) in order to help deepen our readers’ appreciation of “the rich Jewish tradition” of Greater Sephardi communities, “and specifically the open and fruitful meeting of this tradition with modernity.”

For over 150 years, the Alliance Israélite Universelle has promoted “a Judaism that is faithful to tradition, tolerant and open to the modern world.” ASF is honored to join AIU-KIAH in advancing that historic mission by sharing the gifts of Sephardi sages with our readers, beginning by expanding upon this month’s essay with AIU-KIAH’s entry on Benamozegh: 

Hakham Benamozegh confronted secular lore with Torah wisdom, seeking in this way to reveal the Torah’s inherent truth. According to him, all human knowledge contains sparks of the truth revealed to the People of Israel in the Torah. He did not hesitate in applying sciences, considered suspect by other sages of his time, in interpreting Torah.  
Feature Photo:
Mikveh Israel interior, c. 1909
Pictured above is an excerpt of Rev. Dr. Sabato Morais’s sermon on Independence Day, 4 July/17 Tammuz, 1863. An avid abolitionist and proponent of Abraham Lincoln and the Patriot’s cause in the War of the Rebellion then ragging, the sermon Morais delivered at Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel, was republished about a week later in New York’s The Jewish Messenger. From there Morais may “have made a lasting contribution to American rhetorical history” as his then-unique phraseology would subsequently appear, whether deliberately or coincidentally is unknowable, in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (see: Marc Saperstein’s “‘Four Score and Seven Years Ago’: A Jewish Connection”) 

The excerpt reads: “I am not indifferent, my dear friends! to the event [the Declaration of Independence] , which four score and seven years ago, brought to this new world light and joy. I yield to none in the feelings of deep reverence for the sages and patriots that labored for its consummation. The principles enunciated in the document unfolded and first read in yonder hall, command still my highest admiration. But the more intently I gaze upon the bright past, the darker does the present appear to my vision.” 

Thankfully, unlike the Jewish defenders at Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Union defenders repelled their attackers, the Confederate invaders of the North, at Gettysburg on 1-3 July, as Morais found out after his sermon.

(Scan courtesy of The Marvin Weiner Catalogue of the Sabato Morais Ledger (University of Pennsylvania Libraries: Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image), p. 22)
American Sephardi Federation
American Sephardi Federation

Call for Conference Papers!

Portrait of a Jewish boy (center left) with Muslim Yemenis in Suq al Khamis, Najran, Yemen, 1947
(Photo by Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger)

Shared Cultural Values of Jews and Muslims in Yemen and Beyond

Paper submission deadline:
Monday, January 15, 2017

Conference and Concerts:
June 3-5, 2018
Center for Jewish History and United Nations (Closing Ceremony)

E’eleh BeTamar, an organization dedicated to sharing the rich cultural, spiritual, and scholarly history of the Jews of Yemen, is announcing a scholarly and cultural conference in conjunction with the American Sephardi Federation and the Institute of Semitic Studies, Princeton, NJ. 

A limited number of scholarships and travel grants are available.

Please click here for information about suggested topics and how to apply for grants

Upcoming Events:

The AMIA Bombing and the Murder of Alberto Nisman: Is Justice in Sight?

Wednesday, January 17
7:15 p.m.

Leo & Julia Forchheimer Auditorium and

Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
On the eve of the anniversary of Argentinian Prosecutor Alberto Nisman's tragic murder, The American Sephardi Federation is hosting The Algemeiner Editor’s Club for a discussion addressing the dramatic and unexpected latest developments in the struggle for justice on behalf of the victims of the AMIA Jewish Center Bombing and Nisman's posthumous vindication.

The panel will feature The Algemeiner's own Ben Cohen, Toby Dershowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Matthew Taylor, creator of the documentary film Los Abandonados, and will be moderated by Brazilian journalist and TV host Miriam Spritzer.

The discussion will be followed by a Q & A session.

VIP entry includes access to an exclusive reception preceding the talk and reserved seats.

Please click here to purchase tickets

International Ladino Day: A Celebration of Story and Song

Sunday, January 28
2:00 - 5:00 p.m.

Leo & Julia Forchheimer Auditorium and
The Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Great Hall

Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
Join the American Sephardi Federation for a festival of stories and songs celebrating Ladino, the remarkable language also known as Judeo-Spanish.
Dr. Jane Mushabac will perform excerpts from her highly acclaimed 2016 novel, rich with Ladino expressions: His Hundred Years, A Tale. Also hear wonderful singer/accordionist Jane Carver; renowned Sephardic thought leaders, Rabbi Marc Angel and Rabbi Nissim Elnecavé; and a musical finale by the illustrious Trio Sefardi, with Howard Bass, Tina Chancey, and Susan Gaeta, who has toured with the legendary Flory Jagoda.
In 2013 Yitzhak Navon, Israel’s 5th President and Director of the National Authority for Ladino, endorsed the idea of International Ladino Day. Since then, celebrations have been held in Jerusalem, Seattle, Istanbul, Madrid, Dallas, and Forest Hills. This will be the first festival in Manhattan!
Ladino is a bridge between cultures—it’s a Spanish language that includes words in Hebrew, Turkish, Arabic, and more. It was the mother tongue of Jews in the Ottoman Empire for 500 years. In the early 20th century, about half a million people spoke Ladino. Now there are 50,000-100,000 speakers. The international resurgence of interest in Ladino and its culture is seen in distinguished university programs, publications, and events of many kinds.
Co-presented by The American Jewish Historical Society and American Sephardi Federation  

 Light refreshments will be served.

Please click here or call (800) 838-3006 to purchase tickets

Jewish Spain in American Tongue:
The Sephardic Return of Emma Lazarus

Tuesday, January 30
7:30 - 9:30 p.m.

Kovno Room
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011

Emma Lazarus, the nineteenth-century Sephardic American poet and translator, expressed an identity particularly engaged with the Jewish legacy of medieval Spain. This ASF Young Sephardi Scholars Series Lecture by 2018 Broome & Allen Fellow Leonard Stein will explore Lazarus’s proto-Zionism, sexuality, and advocacy for a compassionate American society, positions informed by her readings of al-Andalus and the Spanish Inquisition as interpellated by contemporary German Jewish scholars. Comparing her poetry with these historical sources reveals how her famous work against anti-Semitism and nationalist chauvinism stem from a commitment to her ancestral past. 

Leonard Stein is a Connaught International Doctoral Scholar for the Centre for Comparative Literature in a collaborative program with the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. His research compares medieval Jewish-Iberian identity with modern literature from the Sephardic diaspora. He currently serves as the President pro tem and program chair for the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies and editor for the University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought. His newest publications include “Jubanidad and the Literary Transmission of Cuban Crypto-Judaism” for the forthcoming edited volume, Caribbean-Jewish Crossings: Atlantic Literature and Theory (University of Virginia Press), and “The New Literature of Hip Hop Music” for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Music Studies.

Promotional Co-Sponsors:
American Jewish Historical Society & Leo Baeck Institute

 Reservation required. Space is limited.
Please click here or call (800) 838-3006 to purchase tickets

The IV International Shashmaqam Forever Yunus Rajabi Memorial Concert

Monday, February 5
7:30 - 10:30 p.m. 

Leo & Julia Forchheimer Auditorium
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011

The American Sephardi Federation invites you to join Muslim and Jewish masters of Shashmaqam from Uzbekistan and the USA for performances of classical Central Asian music as it was experienced in the royal courts of the Emirs of the Bukharan Empire more than 100 years ago.

The IV International Shashmaqam Forever, a two-day Festival in Queens and Manhattan, will bring together Muslims and Jews to celebrate the legacy of the Peoples Artist of Uzbekistan, Yunus Rajabi. The Memorial Concert will feature virtuosi vocalists and instrumentalists performing Shashmaqam, one of the world's most sophisticated and refined classical musical systems developed through centuries of cultural collaboration. Shashmaqam was recognized by UNESCO as a masterpiece of humanity's intangible cultural heritage. Literally meaning six maqam ("maqam" is roughly equivalent to the concept of mode or scale in Western music), Shashmaqam is a canon of instrumental melodies and poetic texts set to music.

Previously presented at Carnegie Hall, Shashmaqam Forever has been described as a unique cultural event link[ing] the Bukharian Jewish community, Uzbek-Americans, and their historic homeland. Founded by Bukharian Times Editor-in-Chief and composer Rafael Nektalov and philanthropist David Mavashev, who directs the Izkhak Mavashev Foundation - Institute of Bukharian Jewish Heritage in Diaspora, Shashmaqam Forever is an event like none other, a bridge between communities and a celebration of culture, said Nektalov, Everyone is encouraged to attend.

Festival presenters include The Bukharaian Jewish Congress of the USA and Canada, American Sephardi Federation, Bukharian Jewish Community Center, Turkistan-American Association, Uzbek-American Art Foundation, and MiRaf Entertainment with the support of the Republic of Uzbekistan’s Cultural Ministry, Embassy to the United States, Consulate General at New York, and Permanent Mission to the United Nations. 

The IV International Shashmaqam Forever Concert is dedicated to Yunus Rajabi (1897-1976), a composer, musician, and scholar who collected, systematized, and transcribed more than a thousand songs and pieces from the Shashmaqam repertoire. His life's work ensured that Shashmaqam survived Soviet suppression. 

Shashmaqam masters performing at the Concert will include: 
Khasan Rajabi (Uzbekistan) - vocalist, tanbur (long-necked plucked lute), sato (bowed lute)
Roshel Rubinov (USA) - vocalist, tanbur
Tahir Rajabi (Uzbekistan)  vocalist, rubab (lute with skin-covered deck)
Roman Tolmasov (USA) -vocalist, tanbur
Aziz Rajabi (Uzbekistan) - vocalist, tanbur
Ilyusha Khavasov (USA) - vocalist
Ulmas Allaberganov (Uzbekistan) vocalist, tanbur
Abohay Aminov (USA) - vocalist
Rustam Khajimametov (Uzbekistan)  vocalist
Osher Barayev (USA) - doire (hand drum)
Jahongir Tuvdiev (Uzbekistan) - ghijak (bowed spike fiddle), vocalist
Nodir Djuraev (Uzbekistan) - vocalist
Ezro Malakovs Youth Shashmaqam Ensemble (USA)

The day before the Concert, on Sunday, February 4, a scholarly symposium on Central Asian Classical Music: Yunus Rajabi and his Jewish musical environment, will be held at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center (106-16 70th Avenue, Forest Hills, New York). Researchers participating include: Prof. Walter Zev Feldman (New York University in Abu Dhabi), Prof. Steven Blum (CUNY Graduate Center), Rafael Nektalov (President of the Shashmaqam Forever Festival), Prof. Evan Rapport (Eugene Lang College at the New School), and Zoya Tajikova.

We are grateful for the support and assistance of the following individuals and organizations: Nastel Technologies, Inc., CASC (Central Asia Seed Company), Aziz Mamev, Ben Kurbanov, Michael Yusupov, Versailles Palace, and Star Entertainment.

Media sponsors: The Center for Traditional Music and Dance, Queens Tribune, The Bukharian Times, Zamon Times newspapers, Nadejda - Hope Magazine, KaykovTV.

Reservation required.
Please click here or call (800) 838-3006 to purchase tickets

Nosotros: Strengthening Bonds Between Jewish and Latino Communities

Through February 15, 2018
in ASF’s Leon Levy 
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011

The Philos Project and American Sephardi Federation cordially invite you to “Nosotros," an art exhibit featuring the work of two renowned Latino artists, Angel Urrely (Cuba) and Carlos Ayala (Puerto Rico)--as a symbolic recognition and “step forward” to improving Jewish-Latino relations.  We thank the Dominican artist, Juan Bravo, for exhibiting his pieces for the exhibit’s Opening Night. Each piece reflects the shared roots of Jewish and Latino communities and expresses hope for a more positive future from the perspective of each respective artist.

Each artist has displayed their works in hundreds of exhibits in both the US and Latin America, having many of them included in some of the most coveted collections in the world. We are very excited to bring them and their works to celebrate the importance of uniting us (or Nosotros), the Jewish and Latino communities, and having this art displayed in a very powerful way at the American Sephardi Federation at the Center for Jewish History.

Angel Urrely is to the point. This son of Cuba does not beat around the bush. At least not for what the brush comes to reveal—his theory is clear and sharp. Each frame creates a specific, assertive and brutal connection. The reading of his work is—from the perspective of the viewer—very simple, to the point that if you assume an interpretation of what you are reading, believe me: Urrely is addressing exactly what you are thinking. Urrely has something to tell you and will let you know one way or another.
Carlos Ayala presents himself as the “Benjamin” of the tribes, the youngest of them all. This son of Puerto Rico presupposes that his youth may seem an obstacle to you, so he shows you his clutched fists from the introduction. This young man is fierce. Carlos shows us the deepest pains experienced by man, and brings them to an entertained, distracted and ill-bred public. He does not sit down to dream on the Caribbean coast and wait for boats loaded with promises. He does not have the time for it, but rather wants to remind you that even at the best moments pain is present. And at any moment it can befall us.
We look forward to having you join us!

Please click here for additional information and viewing hours

 and your tax-deductible contribution will help ASF preserve and promote Greater Sephardi history, traditions, and culture as an integral part of the Jewish experience! 

Contact us by email or phone ((917) 606-8266) to learn about giving opportunities in honor or memory of loved ones.

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