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In Memory of Dr. Linda Kay Davidson, A”H, who, independently and together with her husband, Dr. David Gitlitz, did pioneering research on crypto-Jews. Her works include: A Drizzle of Honey: The Life and Recipes of Spain’s Secret Jews, a winner of the National Jewish Book Award’s Mimi Frank Award in Memory of Becky Levy  
9 April 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.

The past two issues of Sephardi Ideas Monthly have been dedicated to exploring the fascinating and contentious issue of crypto-Jewish identity in the American southwest. We began in February with Barbara Ferry and Debbie Nathan’s investigative report from The Atlantic, “Mistaken Identity? The Case of New Mexico’s ‘Hidden Jews.’” In that extended essay the authors cast doubt on the historic roots of crypto-Jewish identity, even as they conclude with the caveat that identity often has little to do with historical truth. 

Ferry and Nathan’s article has been heavily criticized in circles sympathetic to crypto-Jewish identity, while their main academic source, the work of Dr. Judith Neulander, has come in for criticism by other scholars. March’s installment of Sephardi Ideas Monthly accordingly featured an interview and a contrasting perspective with Leonard Stein, the President and Program Chair for the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies. In that interview, Stein offers a severe but reasoned critique of the Atlantic article and Neulander’s work, while offering his own original insights and (sometimes hilarious) experiences.  

Suzanne Selengut
(Photo courtesy of the Jewish Publication Society) 

 
 
The Converso Comeback:
Hispanic crypto-Jews use social media and DNA testing to reconnect with their heritage 


This month’s essay, Suzanne Selengut’s, “The Converso Comeback: Hispanic crypto-Jews use social media and DNA testing to reconnect with their heritage,” explores crypto-Jewish identity from within. Needless to say, it’s extremely difficult to get people to talk openly about an identity that, understood according to its own terms, has been taboo to discuss for hundreds of years.  One of the virtues of Selengut’s essay is that various members of the crypto-Jewish community who have chosen different paths to reconnecting to their Jewishness (some halakhic, some not) openly share their stories. Those stories are usually shot through, in equal portions, with loneliness  ̶  “Even today, those who return make the journey alone, and many encounter disapproving family members”  ̶  and deep connectedness  ̶   “By halachic law, I am not a Jew, because I get my ancestry from my father’s side. But I believe it is part of my duty to honor the memory of my ancestors in some way.”
Click here to read the “The Converso Comeback”
Selengut’s essay also examines how DNA testing is influencing the search for roots in the crypto-Jewish community. Advances in genetic science have opened paths to investigating a past that lacks any textual record but whose test results are often surprising, “In Spain alone, one in 20 Iberian men have DNA markers identifying them as having a Jewish background, while some 15 percent of Hispanic men in the Southwest have those markers.” In this context, new life is also being infused into the crypto-Jewish story thanks to “companies such as MyHeritage, 23andMe, and Ancestry” whose easy-to-access online presence enables people to explore their genetic past. Such tests are, however, a double-edged sword, for, “Some of these tests can be confusing, convincing people with significant Jewish heritage that they have none, and vice versa.”

The potential implications of an awakened Jewish identity among the descendants of crypto-Jews, who number in the tens of millions, are weighty, especially from the perspective of global Jewish politics, and Selengut shines a light on another organization with a significant online presence that is leading the way in helping crypto-Jews reconnect to their Jewish identity, Reconectar. Led by Ashley Perry (Perez), a former adviser to Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2009-2015, Selengut notes how the organization, “is working with the Israeli government and rabbinate to help individuals return to Judaism, and on creating support networks for those in the exploration phase.” For his part, Perry makes clear what’s potentially at stake, “There is nothing else that even comes close to the potential of tens of millions of people who want to reconnect to the Jewish people.”

Sephardi Ideas Monthly is happy to introduce our readers to another dimension of the explosive topic of Crypto-Jewish identity with Suzanne Selengut’s fascinating and revealing article, “The Converso Comeback: Hispanic crypto-Jews use social media and DNA testing to reconnect with their heritage.”
The Monthly Sage החכם החודשי 

     Hacham Yosef Massas


Hacham Yosef Massas, Chief Rabbi of Morocco and Jerusalem, featured on a 2007 Israeli stamp honoring the Moroccan Royal Family 
 
The “Monthly Sage” for the month of April is Hacham Yosef Massas (1892-1974).

Rabbi Massas was born in Meknes, Morocco, and as a young man learned in the city’s Etz Haim Yeshiva. He excelled in his studies there and, after developing into a prodigious scholar known for his literary flair, he served in various rabbinic positions in Morocco and Algeria. R’ Massas also developed into a gifted illustrator, decorating his own books. In 1964 he made Aliya to Israel, settling in the city of Haifa, and in 1968 he was appointed the city’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi.

R’ Massas authored 48 books in Jewish thought and Law. A true spiritual leader, he also became known for his many acts of lovingkindness, “He frequently visited the sick in hospitals, and provided personal support for soldiers wounded in Israel's wars. He was a source of solace and encouragement for bereaved parents. Rabbi Yosef Massass also visiting prisons regularly, where would evoke regret in the hearts of prisoners.”

R’ Massas’ love of Israel and concern for the dignity of every Jew is on display in his response to the question of whether or not religious Jews should offer food when extending hospitality to non-religious Jews, since they do not recite blessings:
Every instance of hospitality has a reason and is an inherent commandment, whether it be receiving guests, brotherly love, granting a favor, domestic harmony, forestalling a threat or obtaining a favor, or unexpected visits that are difficult to send off empty-handed, and it is also a great sin to offend their dignity…
If so, since in each sense there is an aspect of a major or minor commandment, and it is very problematic to embarrass and very problematic to rebuke, and not everyone knows how to rebuke, silence is therefore called for, and amity is best, so that one should receive every person gracefully and provide them with food and drink to their good health, and the Almighty will determine his reward.
Sephardi Ideas Monthly is honored to introduce our readers to one of the great Moroccan sages and leaders of Israel in the 20th century, Hacham Yosef Massas.
                
                                                                                                    Continue reading....
Feature Photo:
Genie Milgrom (pictured here wrapped in her family’s tree) traced her Jewish ancestry to a bordertown between Spain and Portugal in 1405 (Photo courtesy of eSefarad - Emily Michot/Miami Herald
American Sephardi Federation
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Upcoming Events:

The American Sephardi Federation Presents:
A Once in a Lifetime Story: Four Strangers, Three Faiths, One Escape to Freedom



Tuesday, 10 April at 7:00 PM
Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street 
New York, NY 10011

 
A Special Book Launch
The Fox Hunt
A Refugee's Memoir of Coming to America 

Featuring
Mohammed Al Samawi
in conversation with Jonathan Alter
and the first-ever reunion of the team that orchestrated his evacuation

 
Followed by a reception of Yemeni cuisine and book signing


See trailer for The Fox Hunt

Co-sponsored by
Center for Jewish History
Muslim Jewish Advisory Council
The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfusot 
Muslim American Leadership Alliance


 We look forward to having you join us!

Please click here to make a reservation

The American Sephardi Federation Presents:
Unsilencing Sephardic Women Writers: Jewish Magrebi Voices



Wednesday, 11 April at 7:00 PM
Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street 
New York, NY 10011

 
ASF Sephardi Scholars Series Lecture: Join French literary scholar Nina B. Lichtenstein as she "illuminates the shrouded histories and complicated... identities" of a multiply marginalized minority: Magrebi (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian) Sephardic women writers. "Lichtenstein offers valuable perspectives on the Jewish experience...," says Ruth Knafo Setton. Norman Stillman praises her "intimately conversational and academically intellectual" style.


We look forward to having you join us!


Please click here to make a reservation

The American Sephardi Federation Presents:
CYRANO DE BERGERAC by Edmond Rostand



Starring David Serero as Cyrano



Thursday, 12 April at 3:00 PM

Sunday, 15 April at 7:00 PM Opening Night 
(Followed by After Party)

Tuesday, 17 April at 8:00 PM

Thursday, 19 April at 8:00 PM

Sunday, 22 April at 7:00 PM 
(Followed by After Party)



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

 
This well known French classic will be performed in English, featuring Sephardi and Jazz standards for a world premiere adaptation.

The cast includes: David Serero (Cyrano), Mary Albert (Roxane), Andrew Edward Erwin (Christian), Cesar Munoz (De Guiche), Gordon Gray (Ragueneau), Michael Vincent Iannuzzi (Le Bret), Isaac Cruz (Ligniere), Lauren Berkman (Duenna), Cameron Addicott (Valvert), Elena Du Pisanie, Benjamin Culpepper, Shawn Chang.

Plot summary: Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet (nobleman serving as a soldier) in the French Army, is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents. In addition to being a remarkable duelist, he is a gifted, joyful poet and is also a musician. However, he has an extremely large nose, which causes him to doubt himself. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful and intellectual Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness would prevent him the "dream of being loved by even an ugly woman."



We look forward to having you join us!


Please click here to make a reservation

Tickets: $26 and $36

(Including VIP seating and access to an After Party)

The American Sephardi Federation and Alliance Israélite Universelle-KIAH Presents:
HaHaCham HaYomi (The Daily Sage): An Unforgettable Tradition



Tuesday, 24 April at 7:00 PM 
Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street 
New York, NY 10011

 
The ASF and the Alliance Israélite Universelle-KIAH invite you to celebrate the launch of an incredible database featuring the lives and writings of over 500 Sephardi sages, who exemplify the classic moral, ethical, inclusive, and tolerant traditional Judaism of Greater Sephardi communities.


 We look forward to having you join us!



Please click here to make a reservation

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 



Tuesday, 24 April - Georgian Jews (SOLD OUT)
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. 

American Sephardi Federation Presents:

Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Middle Eastern Jewish Civilization Vanished 



Wednesday, 9 May at 7:00 PM
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
 

In Uprooted, Lyn Julius, a British journalist (Guardian, Standpoint) and daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees, explores the mass exodus of Middle Eastern Jewish minority communities, the clamour for recognition, redress, and memorialization, and how their cause can further peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Muslim world.
 
We look forward to having you join us!


Please click here to make a reservation

American Sephardi Federation Presents:
Travels in Jewish History



Tuesday, 29 May 7:00 PM
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
 

Join Irene Shaland, an internationally-published art and travel writer, educator, and lecturer, for a fascinating talk about her travels through Jewish history in Burma, India, China, Cuba, and Cambodia. Seeking Jewish narrative all over the world, Irene with her husband-photographer Alex, has visited close to 70 countries and shared her experiences with audiences and readers in US, Canada, and Europe.
 
We look forward to having you join us!


Please click here to make a reservation

The American Sephardi Federation, עמותת אעלה בתמר, and Institute of Semitic Studies Present:

The Yemenite Conference: Shared Jewish & Muslim Cultural Values



A three day academic and cultural conference exploring the cultural heritage of Jews of Yemenite heritage and their joint cultural commonalities with the Muslims of Yemenite heritage. Learn more at: www.ASFYemenConference.org 



Cultural Evening
Sunday, 3 June at 5:30 pm
@ The Center for Jewish History



Starring Tzion Golan/ציון גולן /صهيون غولان , Avihu Medinah/אביהו מדינהSagiv Cohen - סגיב כהן, as well as Lehakat Bat Nedivim dancers, and Lehakat BirHovot Teiman singers.


International Academic Conference
Monday, 4 June, 9:00am-5:30pm
Tuesday, 5 June, 9:00am-3:30pm

@The Center for Jewish History



Celebrating the culture and history of Yemenite Jews and the rich interactions between Yemenite Jews and Muslims. Topics include Jews and Muslims, spirituality, antiquity, modern culture, and Yemenite women.

Cultural Evening
Tuesday, 5 June, 6:00-8:00pm

@The United Nations
Featuring Yemenite Song and Dance

 We look forward to having you join us!


Please click
here to make reservations 

Nosotros: Strengthening Bonds Between Jewish and Latino Communities

Through April, 2018
in ASF’s Leon Levy 
Gallery
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.

 
Artists:
 
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 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). 

American Sephardi Federation | http://www.AmericanSephardi.org | info@americansephardi.org | (212) 548-4486

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