In Memory of Ezra K. Zilkha, A”H, a well-respected and renowned financier with tremendous geopolitical savvy, philanthropist, and scion of an illustrious Babylonian Jewish family that pioneered international banking and commerce. New York became a lesser place with his passing. He was uniquely and highly respected, beloved and well-known in so many circles, including business, politics, the arts, and for the disabled. The Zilkha family patriarch, Khedouri Zilkha, arrived to NYC in 1941, fleeing the possible arrival of Rommel into Cairo; he had been a target for the Nazis. Ezra was 16 when he came to NYC with his parents. After WWII the Zilkha Bank established its headquarters in NYC ahead of the expropriation of its branches in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt by Arab nationalist regimes. Ezra Zilkha, while lifetime head of Zilkha and Sons, also served on the boards of many leading companies (CIGNA, Handy & Harmon) and became a generous benefactor of many important institutions, including Princeton University (where he established the Khedouri A. Zilkha Professorship of Jewish Civilization in the Near East), Wesleyan University (which houses the Zilkha Gallery), Shearith Israel: The Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, and The American Sephardi Federation. He was a trustee of The International Center for the Disabled, The American Society of the French Legion of Honor, a trustee emeritus of Wesleyan University, and an honorary trustee of the Brookings Institution. He was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ezra Zilkha is the author (with Ken Emerson) of From Baghdad to the Board Room: My Family’s Odyssey and was interviewed by Tamar Morad as part of her book with Robert and Dennis Shasha on Iraq’s Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Modern Babylon (the interview can be listened to here). His wife of 67 years, the former Cecile Iny, A”H, passed in 2017. Mr. Zilkha passed away quietly at his home in NYC on 2 October 2019 at the age of 94. They are greatly missed by so many dear friends here in the U.S. and in Europe. They are survived by three children as well as a large and loving family.
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Sephardi Ideas Monthly is a continuing series of essays and interviews from the rich, multi-dimensional world of Sephardi thought that is delivered to your inbox every month.
The present issue of Sephardi Ideas Monthly features Ronnie Perelis’ original essay, “Arousal from Above and Below: Medieval Poets and their Modern Alchemists.” Perelis is the Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Associate Professor of Sephardic Studies at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies of Yeshiva University, and the author of Narratives from the Sephardic Atlantic: Blood and Faith (Indiana University Press), an exploration of family and identity in the Sephardic Atlantic world. He previously sat down with Sephardi Ideas Monthly in May, 2017, to talk about his book and serves on the organizing committee of the next ASF Institute of Jewish Experience conference dedicated to the history, culture, and communal dynamics of the Western Sephardim, The Global Nação: The Spanish & Portuguese Global Jewish Community.
“Arousal from Above and Below: Medieval Poets and their Modern Alchemists”
Perelis cuts a distinctive figure in academia, as he takes his educational responsibilities as seriously as his scholarship. He engages the past with an eye towards contemporary concerns in his many public talks for wider audiences at synagogues, community centers, and museums across the country. He also loves exploring the complexity and dynamism of Sephardic history with his graduate and undergraduate students at Yeshiva University.
For this month’s essay, Perelis does both. Preparing both himself and his students for the fast approaching Days of Awe, Perelis begins by tracing how the earthy yet spiritual dynamism of the Sephardi literary tradition finds new life in the work of Ehud Banai and Barry Sakharof, two contemporary Israeli musicians. He especially luxuriates in, “Sakharof’s rough gravel honey of a voice,” a voice that gives the words of the 11th century Sephardi poet, Shlomo Ibn Gabirol, “the immediacy and depth they deserve.” This, after all, is the power of poetic traditions: a fire from the past ignites another flame, here and now, and while the energy is transferred, the source is again confirmed.
In the essay’s second section, Perelis invites us to take in the “wild and often surprising images and juxtapositions” that animate the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, the late, great Canadian-Jewish troubadour. Perelis stands in wonder at Cohen’s capacity, “like the Hispano-Hebrew poets,” to move in two directions, “The erotic feeds and moves through evocations of the Divine, and the poet’s attempts to reach the Divine seize on the sensual as the door to the soul.” This is the “arousal from above and below” referred to in the essay’s title.
Sephardi Ideas Monthly is thrilled to feature Perelis’ wonderful essay for our November issue. Not only is the essay an exploration and celebration of the power of the Sephardi tradition in its past and present forms, it is itself an extension of that tradition, a contemporary English-language elaboration of the classic Sephardi sensibility. Enjoy.
The sage for the month of November is Hacham Benzion Shmuel Vidal Coyanca
Born in Jerusalem’s Old City to Abraham and Bechora-Donna, young Benzion gave his first pubic address at age nine, and by age eleven he was already writing his own Torah commentary.
In 1882, Benzion had become Hacham Benzion, and after marrying, Benzion and his bride moved to the Ohel Moshe neighborhood, just outside the Old City. For the next seventeen years, Hacham Benzion was financially supported by his father Abraham and free to devote himself entirely to learning. In 1889, Hacham Benzion continued the classic Sephardi practice of combining a livelihood with one’s studies by joining his father's business.
Hacham Benzion stepped out into the public sphere in 1896 by founding a journal, HaMe'asef, that featured original Torah commentary written by his rabbinic peers. In 1897 he was appointed rabbinic judge, and, in 1898, began to serve as head of the legendary Tiferet Yerushalaim Yeshiva. Hacham Benzion dedicated himself to his labors for the next thirty-three years, branching out into communal work in 1906 by founding the Sephardic Community Home for the Aged. The peak of Hacham Benzion’s career came in 1931, when he was appointed to serve as the Chief Rabbi of the Holy City of Hebron. But the community of Hebron came to a tragic and violent beginning with the massacre of 1929 and culimating with the evacuation of 1936 during the during the British-backed Mufti Haj Amin al-Husayni’s “Great Revolt.” Hacham Benzion passed away later that same year.
Three of Hacham Benzion’s works have been preserved: Hoshia Zion, sermons on the Torah; Tiferet Zion, a legal work based on the Talmud; and Sefer HaZichronot VeHaToladot, an autobiography. The following passage, a visceral reminder of the importance of unity that Hacham Benzion discerned while returning fallen tobacco to its tin, is taken from Tiferet Zion:
The tobacco tin dropped from my hands and all the tobacco in it fell and scattered. I reached out to return it to the box and…lo and behold! Those leaves that were bound one to another I was able to pick up with two fingers. They were returned to the tin just as they were, while the remaining leaves – those not bound on to the other – dropped and scattered. They cannot be returned to their place. They will be crushed by all those passing by, and amount to nothing. So it is with unity – its value and virtue.
The Alhambra Decree A Historical novel about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain
by David Raphael
Three momentous events in the history of Spain took place in 1492: Columbus’ discovery of America, the fall of the last Moorish bastion in Granada, and the expulsion of the Jews.
The Alhambra Decree is a well-researched novel that vividly reconstructs the forces and the events surrounding the Edict of Expulsion declared by Ferdinand and Isabella, and that graphically relates the misfortunes and calamities that befell the dispersed Jewish exiles. Focusing upon the Jewish community of Segovia, the book describes the mass uprooting and dispersion of Spanish Jewry. Based upon original medieval Hebrew and Spanish documents, many of them eye-witness accounts, the horrifying tale of the expulsion is told as never before.
The Essential Pele Yoetz: An Encyclopedia of Ethical Jewish Living by Rabbi Eliezer Papo; Translated by Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel
Pele Yoetz ("Wondrous Advisor") is a work of ethical literature (musar) written by Rabbi Eliezer Papo (1785-1828), who was venerated by Turkish Sephardim as a saint and sage.
The Essential Pele Yoetz: An Encyclopedia of Ethical Jewish Living encompasses ethical precepts, religious guidance, moral instruction, and practical advice as they apply to all aspects of daily Jewish life. This volume is an abridged edition of the original work.
~Sponsorship Opportunities Available: Email or Call (212.294.8350) Yves Seban ~
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York City
For thousands of years Jews have lived across North Africa and the Middle East. Despite the long history, 1948-1967 marked the effectual end of many of these Jewish communities. The Dahan Center, together with the American Sephardi Federation and Yeshiva University, seeks to explore this history through research and personal anecdotes.
Join us as we host international scholars, as well as local students, to share stories of the rich life that once was and the events across the region that caused the majority of Jews to leave.
Among our distinguished speakers will be Hakham Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, Dr. Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah (Leiden University), Dr. Samuel Torjman Thomas (ASF Broome & Allen Fellow), and multidisciplinary artist Ms. Dana Avrish!
The conference is organized in collaboration with Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry for Social Equality.
The American Sephardi Federation represents the Sephardic voice in diplomatic and Jewish communal affairs as a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and World Jewish Congress. In this capacity, we encourage our constituents to attend this event organized by Israel’s Permanent Mission to the UN with JIMENA.
Please RSVP here Please note that this RSVP is not transferable.
For further inquiries please contact the Mission of Israel to the United Nations at UNInfo@Newyork.mfa.gov.il
United Nations Headquarters
752 United Nations Plaza
New York City
In honor of the fifth anniversary of Israel's Official Day to Commemorate Jewish Refugees from North Africa and the Middle Middle East, Israel's Permanent Mission to the UN and JIMENA, in partnership with The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, World Jewish Congress, American Sephardi Federation, and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, invite you to a commemoration gathering highlighting unique voices from the Middle East.
Distinguished speakers will discuss current events related to anti-Semitism, religious minority rights in the Middle East, and international efforts to protect the heritage of Jewish People from North Africa and the Middle East:
Elan Carr - U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism Sarah Idan - Former Miss Iraq, Founder of Humanity Forward, and an advocate against anti-Semitism Ambassador Danny Danon - Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations
This gathering will take place in the Trusteeship Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Government issued identification with individual tickets is required by each guest for entry.
The American Sephardi Federation with the Jewish Community of Urmia, Iran and participants from Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkey present:
~Sponsorship Opportunities Available: Email or Call (212.294.8350) Yves Seban ~
Center for Jewish History
15 W 16th Street
New York City
The first of its kind to take place outside of Israel, an evening featuring an international team of scholars exploring the history, culture, language, and traditions of the Nash Didan, the Aramaic speaking Jewish communities of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.
Featuring NY State Senator Anna Kaplan, a native Nash-Didan speaker
Performance by Israeli-Nash Didan Star Hadassah Yeshurun
Centro Primo Levi and the Rhodes Jewish Historical Foundation in partnership with Kehila Kedosha Janina and the American Sephardi Federation present:
Conversations on Jewish Life on the Island of Rhodes
A multimedia pop-up installation
On view 29 October through 24 November, 2019
Sunday through Thursday: 1:00PM to 9:00PM
Friday: 1:00PM to 4:00PM
Saturday: 5:00PM to 10:30PM Bourekas, sweets, coffee and tea will be served during opening hours
148 West 4th Street
New York City
Los Corassones Avlan is dedicated to centuries of Jewish life in Rhodes. It expands the ideas of the Rome Lab, a 2017 installation created by Centro Primo Levi and the Jewish Museum of Rome, which challenged traditional museum narratives by playing on the tension between personal memory, official history and ongoing research debates.
Conceived as an old funhouse, made up of objects, projection and rotating soundscapes, the new installation will juxtapose ambiguities, uncertainties and discontinuities onto linear representations of the past. It will invite the public to imagine a world that was profoundly different from ours and to question stereotypes and prepackaged depictions of other cultures that increasingly restrict the way in which we experience the present.
The project will be installed in a 19th century carriage house on West 4th street that shares the courtyard with the historic night bar named after Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s novel Vol de Nuit. The bar was once a popular eatery and cabaret called The Samovar, which the photographer Jessie Tarbox Beals seized in one of her legendary images of lower Manhattan and where Al Jolson is believed to have performed in his early career.
During the month of November, the carriage house, which is usually closed, will become home to the exhibition and to roundtables, readings, talks, film and music presentations, where the public will experience the little-known story and traditions of the “Rodeslis,” the Jewish community living on the island of Rhodes for an unknown number of centuries until its destruction in 1944.
*Centro Primo Levi’s public program is made possible in part through the generous support of the Viterbi family. The Rhodes installation was made possible through the generous support of Peter and Mary Kalikow and Bruce Slovin.
Total cost: $900
(includes airfare, hotels, sightseeing, and meals)
• Berlin, Hamburg, and United Germany!
• The Holocaust and the Nazi Era (including a visit to a former Concentration Camp)
• Germany's current politics and its relationship with the US and Israel - including a meeting with German Federal Officials!
• Jewish Life in Berlin, past and present, and Sephardi communities in Germany
Please click here to apply
Applications Close on 25 November!
~If you have any questions about the application or trip,
please contact ASF Young Leaders~
Travel to Germany with the American Sephardi Federation - ASF Young Leaders and Germany Close Up this spring! This will be Germany Close Up’s first-ever partnership with a Sephardic group – join us and make history! This trip has been tailor-made just for us to connect with our past. We’ll interface with what remains of the Portuguese Jewish community in Hamburg, dive into artifacts of the Turkish Jewish community in Berlin, and explore other Sephardic histories on our journey. We will find out how Germany is relevant to a more diverse Jewish story – including Sephardic Jews!
About Germany Close Up:
Founded in 2007, Germany Close Up introduces young Jewish professionals to modern Germany. The Germany Close Up experience is administered by the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, the New Synagogue Berlin Centrum Judaicum Foundation, and the German government’s Transatlantic Plan.
Anti-Semitism is once again on the rise, just 75 years after the Holocaust. This irrational hatred of Jews and the world’s only Jewish State harms both innocent victims and perpetrators infected by bigotry. The resurgence of anti-Semitism poses a challenge to all people of conscience: How can we work together to stop anti-Semitism?
This contest is crowd-sourcing new solutions to help end “the world’s oldest hatred.” The contest is sponsored by the CombatAntiSemitism.org Coalition.
People of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities are encouraged to participate by creatively addressing one of the categories.
Round 1 Deadline: 1 December 2019 Future Rounds Coming Soon
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.
Donate now 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.