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In Honor of ASF 21st NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival Pomegranate Award Recipients: Na’ama Keha (Ronit Elkabetz, A”H, “Rising Star”), Saïd Ben Saïd (Artistic Courage), and Innov Ganawa with Itamar Borochov (Musical Conservation, Creativity, & Coexistence). The Pomegranate Awards are sculpted by the renowned Baghdad-born artist, Oded Halahmy.  
12 March 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.

Last month’s issue of Sephardi Ideas Monthly (see: “Continuity and Controversy: Crypto-Jews in the American Southwest”) featured Barbara Ferry and Debbie Nathan’s extended essay from the December, 2000, issue of The Atlantic, “Mistaken Identity? The Case of New Mexico’s ‘Hidden Jews.’” That essay, influenced by the scholarly work of Dr. Judith Neulander, casts a critical eye at crypto-Jewish identity.  

Leonard Stein delivered an ASF Young Sephardi Scholars Series Lecture, Jewish Spain in American Tongue: The Sephardic Return of Emma Lazarus, at The Center for Jewish History, 30 January 2018. The lecture was co-presented by the American Jewish Historical Society and Leo Baeck Institute.
Southwestern Crypto-Judaism: Fighting Opprobrium and Erasure 

Neulander, however, has come in for criticism in scholarly circles, while The Atlantic article has been criticized as an exercise in journalistic insensitivity, if not arrogance, by groups sympathetic to crypto-Jewish identity. This month, Sephardi Ideas Monthly continues our investigation of crypto-Jewish identity in the American southwest by featuring an interview with Leonard Stein, the (temporary) President and Program Chair for the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies.

Leonard Stein 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 and 2018 ASF Broome & Allen Fellow. His research compares medieval Jewish-Iberian identity with modern literature from the Sephardic diaspora, and he currently serves as editor for the University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought. His newest publications include “Jubanidad and the Literary Transmission of Crypto-Judaism” for the forthcoming edited volume, Caribbean-Jewish Crossings: Atlantic Literature and Theory (University of Virginia Press).

Click here to read the interview with Leonard Stein
In the interview, conducted via email, Stein offers a thoughtful but severe critique of Ferry and Nathan’s essay, evaluates the recent upsurge in academic and journalistic interest in crypto-Jewish life, and recounts the process that moved him to investigate crypto-Jewish literature. He also tells a hilarious story about how a pious, Christian descendant of crypto-Jews thought he was offering up a mystical prayer whenever he entered church when, in reality, he was saying a Hebrew curse, “which his Marrano ancestors used to… anathemize the church they were entering as a place of idolatry!”
The Monthly Sage החכם החודשי 

     Rabbi Yehudah Alkalai

(Photo courtesy of Zionism & Israel Information Center)
This month’s sage is Hacham Yehuda Alkalai, a 19th century, Sarajevo-born, Ladino-speaking proto-Zionist rabbinic scholar and leader, who advocated for the return to the Land of Israel and the revival of the Hebrew language.
Hacham Alkalai promoted his ideas in writing, authoring nine works, and in person, travelling across Europe in order to inspire communities to move to the Promised Land. He made aliyah to Israel in 1874, but he passed away in 1878, without seeing the realization of his vision.  Alkalai’s students founded the city of Petah Tikvah, and the city of Or Yehuda bears his name. Most intriguingly, Theodor Herzl's paternal grandfather, Simon Loeb Herzl, attended Alkalai's synagogue in Belgrade, and he reportedly owned Alkalai’s works.
Hacham Alkalai’s deepest aspiration was to unite the Jewish people in the land of their forefathers, as is evidenced in the following passage:

To unite the people of Israel to become one people of one heart, one society and one language, with one Torah and united in custom, the custom of Israel, as promised by the prophet "and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me"…to draw the people of Israel close one to another, to make them one people in the land, in the hills of Israel (The Writings of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai, Volume 2, Shivat Zion, (Mossad Harav Kook Press: Jerusalem, 1974), p. 664).

Sephardi Ideas Monthly is happy to introduce our readers to Hacham Yehuda Alkalai, a pioneering figure who combined the traditional Sephardi loves of the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel.
Feature Photo:
Mikveh Israel interior, c. 1909
A Star of David on a gravestone in Sandoval County, New Mexico, 2008 (see: Cary Herz, New Mexico’s Crypto-Jews: Image and Memory (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007))
American Sephardi Federation
American Sephardi Federation
Upcoming Events:

The 21st NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival

5-15 March 2018
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011

The American Sephardi Federation’s NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival showcases contemporary voices steeped in the history, traditions, and rich mosaic culture of Greater Sephardic communities through NY premiere film screenings, intriguing stories, evocative documentaries, Q&As with filmmakers, the Pomegranate Awards (sculpted by Baghdad-born artist, Oded Halahmy) Ceremony, and special guests.

This year’s ten-day festival has film entries focused on Iraqi, Syrian, Mexican, Egyptian, Israeli, French, Tunisian, Ethiopian, and Greek communities. Each night of the Festival features a themed program honoring the rich and diverse communities ASF represents.

Reserve a FESTIVAL PASS: (includes Closing Night, All Screenings, and All After Parties) $100/$150  (VIP Seating)
$85 for ASF Pomegranate Card Members

Schedule at a Glance


Passes & Tickets

SINGLE SCREENING: $10/$15 (VIP Seating) 

FILM PASS: (includes only Film Screenings on 7, 10, 11, 13, and 14 March) $50/$80 (VIP Seating)
$35 for ASF Pomegranate Card Members

For additional information:

Email us here to discuss sponsorship and advertising opportunities

ASF Young Sephardi Scholars Series Presents:
At the Intersection of Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Russian-Speaking: A Three-Part Learning and Cultural Series on the Greater Sephardic Communities of the Former Soviet Union 

26 February - Kavkazi (Mountain Jews)
20 March - Bukharian Jews
24 April - Georgian Jews

ASF’s Sephardi Scholars Center

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

The American Sephardi Federation’s Young Sephardi Scholars Series, in partnership with COJECO BluePrint Fellowship, is excited to host a three-part learning and cultural series about the Russian-speaking Jewish (RSJ) communities of the Greater Sephardic world. The cultures and histories of Bukharian, Georgian, and Kavkazi (Mountain) Jews are situated at the fascinating, yet lesser known, intersection of RSJ, Sephardic, and Mizrahi life. Led by Ruben Shimonov, this interactive multimedia learning series will provide a unique opportunity to explore the rich and multilayered stories of the three communities. 

Ruben Shimonov, 2018 American Sephardi Federation Broome & Allen Fellow, was born in Uzbekistan and grew up in the vibrant Greek and Turkish Sephardic community of Seattle. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations, Near Eastern Studies, and Jewish Studies from the University of Washington. As a Bukharian Jew—whose own multilayered identity lies at the intersection of Mizrahi, Sephardic, and RSJ—Ruben roots his work as an educator, social innovator, and community builder in a deep passion for the diverse cultural mosaic of the Jewish people. This has informed his active leadership and community organizing endeavors within organizations such as the American Sephardi Federation (where he is the Young Leadership Board’s VP of Education and Community Engagement), JDC Entwine, Moishe House, and OneTable. He has also brought this passion to his work at Queens College Hillel for the past four years—most recently as Director of Cross-Community Engagement and Education—where he had the unique role of engaging, empowering, and creating meaningful Jewish experiences for Sephardic and Mizrahi students. Ruben is currently pursuing Master’s degrees in both Public Administration/Nonprofit Management and Judaic Studies at New York University. Ruben was recently named a COJECO Blueprint Fellow and is working on community projects that highlight the intersectional identities of Russian-speaking Greater Sephardic Jews. He is also the founder of the Sephardic-Mizrahi LGBTQ Shabbat Dinner Series and annual retreats, which provide a one-of-a-kind platform for LGBTQ Jews from Sephardic and Mizrahi backgrounds to build a vibrant and supportive community.

We look forward to having you join us!

Please click here to make a reservation
Light dinner reflecting the cuisine of Bukharian, Georgian, and Kavkazi Jews will be served

Please note: a limited number of tickets are still available. The first lecture sold out. Tickets will not be sold at the door. 

The American Society for Jewish Music Presents:
Songs of Devotion and Desire:
The Musical Heritage of
Jewish Spain

Sunday, 25 March, at 3:00 PM

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

The American Sephardi Federation is proud to co-present The American Society for Jewish Music’s program featuring Sephardic music from the 16th to the 20th centuries, by Alonso Mudarra, Wolf Simoni, Alberto Hemsi, Roberto Pla, Zhul Levy, and Paul Ben-Haim. Performers include Heather Buck (soprano), Janice Meyerson (mezzo soprano), Valeriya Sholokhova (cello), Lorne Richstone (piano), with commentary by Dr. Raymond Scheindlin.

Please click here to RSVP or call SmarTix at 212.868.4444

Centro Primo Levi Presents:
Money Must Stay In The Family

Sunday, 25 March, at 6 PM
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011

The American Sephardi Federation is proud to co-present Centro Primo Levi’s program on Italian novelist, essayist, and journalist Alain Elkann, who follows the flight from fascist Italy of an upper class Jewish family from Turin, the fictional Ottolenghis, through their arrival and settlement  on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1939.
The plot, loosely inspired by the author’s maternal family, the Ovazzas, unfolds around the foresight of the matriarch, Olga Ottolenghi who, sensing that the family is succumbing to an inner centrifugal force, conceives of a will that will keep it together.
The gravitational center of the story is New York: the place of safety, new beginnings, mixing, and eventual return. Here, people who left behind everything re-invent themselves and at the same time reinforce their century-old attachment to their Jewish-Piedmontese origins.
The program includes a screening, for the first time in public, of a rare record of Italy’s Jewish elite’s daily life before the Shoah, part of the Ovazza family archive, and will be presented by Alain Elkann’s brother, Giorgio Barba Navaretti. The footage was filmed by Vittorio Ovazza starting in the early 1930s up to shortly before the promulgation of the Race Laws, and shows travels and festivities in Italy, France, Lybia and New York.

We look forward to having you join us!

RSVP Required: Molly Engelmann 

Reception to follow

Please note: Tickets will not be sold at the door. 

Nosotros: Strengthening Bonds Between Jewish and Latino Communities

Through April, 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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The American Sephardi Federation is a proud partner of the Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th St., New York, NY, 10011). 

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