Sephardi Ideas Monthly is a continuing series of essays from the rich, multi-dimensional world of Sephardi thought that is delivered to your inbox traditionally on the second Monday of every month.
The past two issues of Sephardi Ideas Monthly (SIM) have explored different aspects of the Ethiopian-Jewish culture. January’s SIM featured an original interview with Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom, head of the newly established International Center for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry at the Ono Academic College, while the February issue introduced Nirit Takele, a young Ethiopian-Israeli painter whose work is on display at the Israel Museum. This month’s issue turns from Ethiopian-Israeli thought and visual art to Ethiopian-Israeli music. To be specific, Ethiopian-Israeli jazz.
Now, the notion that there is such a thing as Ethiopian jazz might come as a surprise to some. But in the 1960s and 70s, (non-Jewish) Ethiopian musicians such as Mulatu Astatke and Getatchew Mekuria pioneered a form of jazz with a distinctive Ethiopian sound that established itself on the global stage thanks, in large part, to the classic Ethiopiques Record Series. “Ethio-Jazz” went on to influence popular forms of music and even provided the soundtrack for the 2005 French-American comedy-drama, Broken Flowers.
How did Ethio-Jazz make it to Israel? The short answer is that Abatte Barihun made Aliyah in 1999.
Abatte Barihun performing with the Tezeta Ensemble, Tel Aviv, Israel, 29 March 2008
(Photo courtesy of Lior Golgher/Wikipedia)
Born in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Abatte Barihun (b. 1967) grew-up in a house sandwiched between the music school of Addis Ababa University and a military base. After falling in love with the brass sound of the military marching bands, Barihun enrolled in the music school, where he was exposed to American be-bop and Ethio-Jazz. In short order Barihun became a professional musician, including a stint in a military band that came under fire during Ethiopia’s civil war. Barihun was shot twice, but survived.
Barihun worked as a jazz musician before making Aliyah, but when he first arrived in the Jewish State, language difficulties and the culture gap compelled him to work as a dish washer by day and a security guard at night. Thankfully, a series of personal encounters led Barihun to jazz pianist Yitzhak Yedid, who teamed up with him to form the, “Ras Deshen Ensemble,” a musical outfit that combined Ethiopian musical modes and free jazz. Barihun’s first big breakthrough occurred when he and Yedid were invited to perform at the 2003 Tel Aviv Jazz Festival. Haaretz jazz critic Ben Shalev attended the show, and in his 2010 feature piece on Barihun, “Breathing Lessons,” Shalev wrote, “I… remember their performance at the 2003 Tel Aviv Jazz Festival… as one of the most exciting musical experiences of my life.”
Today Barihun occupies a respected place in Israel’s rich and varied jazz scene, heading the “Tezeta Ensemble” and the “Tefsa Ensemble,” and collaborating with Ethiopian artists such as Gili Yallo.
Sephardi Ideas Monthly is happy to introduce our readers to Abatte Barihun with Ben Shalev’s feature article, “Breathing Lessons.” Shalev was one of the first to recognize Barihun’s special talent, and his essay captures a crucial juncture in Barihun’s career when the Ethiopian-Israeli musician opened up his own recording studio and began to consciously integrate Israeli sounds into his music. Coming on the heels of our January interview with R’ Dr. Sharon Shalom and last month’s introduction to the work Nirit Takele, Shalev’s piece helps us to gain a greater appreciation of the breadth, depth, and vitality of Ethiopian-Israeli culture.
The featured sage for the month of March, 2019, is Hakham Gad Navon (1920-2006).
Born in Marrakesh, Morocco, as a young man Gad studied Torah with local rabbis from the Marrakesh and functioned as one of the leaders of the Zionist movement in Morocco. After the Second World War, R’Navon moved to France, where he studied Philosophy and Theology at the Sorbonne. While in France he married and had three children.
In 1948, R’Navon and his family made Aliyah to Israel. R’ Navon fought in Israel’s War of Independence, took part in the battle of Beersheba, and spent the rest of his career serving in various rabbinical positions in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In 1977, R’Navon was appointed Chief Rabbi of the IDF, a position he held for 23 years.
R’Navon’s career was mostly dedicated to public service, so he didn’t have time to author scholarly books. However, he did publish a number of legal and philosophical articles in various journals. In the passage below, R’Navon writes about a subject he was intimately familiar with the spiritual and moral foundations of the IDF:
The State of Israel arose in a tempest of bloody war, yet it is nevertheless important to emphasize the power of our nations' spirit rather than its force. We hold the words of the prophet before our eyes: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the LORD of Hosts.’ Although we are commanded to apply the power of Israel's army, we remember the power of the spirit, for without it we could never withstand our enemies, who surround the State of Israel. This being the case, it is highly important that we commemorate Independence Day as a day of the power of Israel's spirit. This does not mean we are to renounce the power of force which remains vital to protect our security and to ensure peace for our citizens. The condition, however, is to remember the uniqueness of the spirit of Israel, as in the prophet's words, ‘but by My spirit—said the LORD of Hosts’. We must be committed to strengthening the spirit of Israel in Israel's military forces; we must strengthen the fighters to maintain their level of supreme morality, which is the unique mark of Israel's military.
Watch and listen as Abatte Barihun and Nisan Ventura extend the blues in a distinctly Ethiopian-Israeli key with a live, intimate, and electrifying performance of Barihun’s song, Kadosh (“Holy”). Barihun appears on vocals and soprano saxophone, with Ventura on electric guitar.
6-20 March 2019 Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York City
The American Sephardi Federation’s NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festivalshowcases contemporary voices steeped in the history, traditions, and rich mosaic culture of Greater Sephardic communities. This year’s ten-day NYSJFF features a record 12 première film screenings, intriguing stories, evocative documentaries, Q&As with filmmakers, our first Master Class, as well as special honorees and guests. Each night of the Festival is a different themed program honoring the rich and diverse communities the ASF represents. The Pomegranate Awards Ceremony on Opening Night celebrates Sephardi excellence in the arts.
The Pomegranate Award is sculpted by Baghdad-born artist Oded Halahmy
Thursday, 12 March, at 7:00PM Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York City
Matti Friedman's new book, Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel tells the unknown story of four of Israel's first Sephardi spies. Recruited by a rag-tag outfit called the Arab Section before the 1948 War of Independence, they assumed Arab identities to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations. At the height of the war the spies posed as refugees fleeing the fighting, reached Beirut, and set up what became Israel's first foreign intelligence station. Spies of No Country not only tells a breathtaking and true espionage story, it also explores a different story about how the state was founded and raises many questions that are relevant today.
In a wide-ranging, First Person conversation, Matti Friedman speaks with the Cairo-born, awarding-winning Sephardi author Lucette Lagnado (The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit) about his journalism career in the Middle East and what Spies of No Country reveals about Israel in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Please register here Ticket Info:
$15 general; $12 seniors, $10 members and students
A Festival to celebrate Ladino, the remarkable language also known as Judeo-Spanish
Tuesday, 26 March - Bukharian Jews
Tuesday, 16 April - Georgian Jews Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York City
Please register here
or call: 1.800.838.3006 Light dinner reflecting the cuisine of Bukharian, Georgian, and Kavkazi Jews will be served
Back by popular demand, the American Sephardi Federation’s Young Sephardi Scholars Series is excited to once again host a 3-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 multimedia learning series will provide a unique opportunity to explore the multilayered and rich stories of the three communities.
Co-sponsored by JDC Entwine. This project was created as part of the COJECO BluePrint Fellowship, supported by COJECO and Genesis Philanthropy Group.
Ruben Shimonov is a Jewish educator, community builder, and social innovator based in New York City. His multilayered identity as an immigrant, Bukharian, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Russian-speaking Jew continuously informs his commitment to the cultural and global diversity of the Jewish people. Ruben has previously brought this passion to his work at Queens College Hillel as Director of Cross-Community Engagement and Education, where he had the unique role of cultivating Sephardic-Mizrahi Jewish student life on campus. Ruben is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Sephardic-Mizrahi Q Network—a one-of-a-kind, grassroots movement that works to build a vibrant and supportive community for LGBTQ Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. He also serves as Vice-President for Education and Community Engagement on the American Sephardi Federation's Young Leadership Board, as well as the Director of Educational Experiences and Programming for the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee of New York. Ruben was recently named among The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” emerging Jewish communal leaders and changemakers. He is also a 2018 ASF Broome & Allen Fellow, as well as a 2018 COJECO Blueprint Fellow. His speaking engagements include presenting at the Limmud Festival in the United Kingdom, one of the largest annual Jewish learning conferences in the world.
Please register here
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Join Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America for the Birthright Israel - Sephardic Israel Trip this Summer from June 27 - July 7! For 10 days, you'll be able to travel around the country with amazing people with Sephardic, Greek, and Turkish backgrounds, all while exploring everything Israel has to offer. You'll be able to ride camels in the desert, raft down the Jordan River, explore the Old City in Jerusalem, and a whole lot more. especially for Sephardic Jews from across the United States.
The American Sephardi Federation’s friends at The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies (SCJS) invites papers on the crypto-Jewish experience from any discipline (e.g., anthropology, history, sociology, genealogy, philosophy, literature, music, art, etc.).
This year’s conference highlights the crypto-Jewish experience as defined
by the origins of Sephardic Jews in Iberia and the greater Mediterranean, Europe and North Africa, and the New World, both pre-and post Inquisition-era through today.
Topics should be relevant to the descendants of crypto-Jews, conversos, and anusim, with particular emphasis on how migration and nationality shapes behavior, as well as group and individual identity.
SCJS welcomes scholarly papers on all aspects of the Sephardic experience and that of other global communities exhibiting crypto-Judaic phenomena. We are particularly interested this year in research covering all areas of the Western Hemisphere.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
Crypto-Jews in Modern America, Emerging Communities in Latin America,
Evolution of Sephardic Customs or Language Sephardic Culture Outside Iberia, Biographies of Conversos in Old or New Spain Transmission or Discovery of Family Traditions, Conversos in Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Communities, Inquisition-Related Studies.
Personal stories or anecdotal research relating to crypto-Judaic experiences are also welcome, either for individual presentations or for specific panel discussions related to peers and/or a target audience. Proposals must include speaker contact details, a title, a 200-word abstract or summary, and a 100-word bio. Please indicate if research is completed or in progress.
Proposals must be received by March 15, 2019; accepted speakers will be notified shortly
thereafter. Send proposals or inquiries to: Professor Seth Kunin Ph.D, Program Chair at CryptoJewish.Conference@gmail.com
Note: Presenters will benefit a special discounted registration rate and the opportunity to network and expose their work to the attention of leading researchers in the field. For more information on SCJS, visit: www.cryptojews.com
Thursday, 11 October, at 7:30PM Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York City
Admission is complimentary! The Philos Project and American Sephardi Federation cordially invite you to “Nosotros," an exhibition composed of pieces by Latino artists celebrating the shared history and culture of Jewish and Latino communities, and expressing hope for a more positive future. Latin American artistry is rich with Sephardi and Crypto-Jewish allusions and symbols.
The exhibit is titled “Nosotros,” the Spanish word for “us,” and all of the art represents the growing relationship between the Jewish and Hispanic communities in New York and around the world. The exhibit is one of the many things Jesse Rojo, The Philos Project's Hispanic Affairs Director, is doing to bridge the gap between Hispanics and the Middle East.
Rachael Reynolds, a graduate from our 2018 Philos Leadership Institute (PLI) cohort, is one of the featured artists. She will be showcasing portraits she took on PLI that compare the lives of Christians living freely in Israel to the lives of Christian refugees in Jordan. Through her project, Rachael is not only advocating for the protection of Christians in Arab states, but also elevating Israel as the model for state protection of religious freedom in the Middle East.
We look forward to seeing you!
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