Ladino Music: Romansas, folksongs CD

“Ladino Reflections” is a double CD set of Ladino romansas and folksongs, released by Hazzan Isaac Azose of Seattle.

Tracing the Tribe met Hazzan Ike in Seattle when visiting our Jassen family. He is a beloved friend of our family and of the Sephardic community.

For some 40 years, he has dedicated himself to the preservation of Mediterranean Sephardic traditions. Although he retired as the hazzan of the Sephardic Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, he wrote me that he’s busier than ever with many projects on his desk. Think of the energizer bunny!

“Ladino Reflections” has been 20 years in dreaming and six months in production.

Hear the samples and find ordering information here. If you enjoy authentic Ladino music, this CD will make you happy.

Songs on the first CD:

Pasharo Dʼermozura, A La Una Yo Nasi, Alta Alta Es La Luna, Arvolikos Dʼalmendra, Durme Durme, Una Matika de Ruda, La Roza Enflorese, Yo Me Akodro Dʼakeya, Noche, Avre Este Abajour Bijou, Yo Tʼadmiro, Kuatro Anyos Dʼamor, La Serena, Sos Muy Ermoza, Los Kaminos de Sirkedji, Puncha Puncha, Eskalerika de Oro, Noches Noches

On the second CD:

Avre Tu Puerta Serrada, Adio Kerida, Ijika Dile a Tu Mama, Esta Montanya Dʼenfrente, Arvoles, Yorran Por Luvyas, La Vida Do Por El Raki, Misirlu, Morenika, El Dyo Alto, Mama Yo No Tengo Visto, Povereta Muchachika, Tres Ermanikas, Eran Siempre Te Ami, Avrij Mi Galanika, Por La Tu Puerta Yo Pasi, Porke Yorraj, Blanka Ninya, Kuando El Rey Nimrod

For ordering information ($28, includes $3 s&h/US orders only), click here.

Readers interested in Sephardic liturgy as sung at Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, should click here, listen to the samples and order this double CD ($23, includes $3 s&h/US orders only).

For international orders for the new CD or the liturgy CD, click here to contact Hazzan Azose.

Look at the calendar – Pesach isn’t that far off. Want to learn the Sephardic melody and the Four Questions in Ladino? Click here.

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Sephardim: Museum of Family History exhibits

The virtual Museum of Family History also has material for researchers of Sephardim.

Holocaust Memorials in Havana and Santa Clara, Cuba

Synagogues of Asia: Burma, China, Hong Kong, India, Lebanon, Singapore, Tajikistan, Turkey [Asian side].

Synagogues of Turkey: (European side of Istanbul)

Synagogues of Spain. The photo at left is the El Transito Synagogue in Toledo.

— Postcards from Home: Turkey

Museum creator Steve Lasky wishes to include more pre-war family photos. Readers with such photos are invited to contact Steve.

Bulgaria: Jewish surname dictionary online.

Bulgaria’s Jewish community is a fascinating one and a new database on SephardicGen.com will help researchers of this mostly Sephardi community.

If your families of interest lived in Bulgaria at one time, search the Dictionary of Jewish Bulgarian Surnames at Jeff Malka’s site, which offers extensive resources for Sephardi genealogists looking for information on family that lived in many countries.

With nearly 800 surnames – most found all over the Balkans – the details include the surname, its variants, its etymology (and original language), meaning and a reference to historical background in medieval Spain.

The notes on name origin are fascinating and offer a different perspective. Even if your family doesn’t come from Bulgaria, the notes will help when looking at any list of Jewish Sephardi surnames.

Search with only the first letter of a name, unless you know the exact spelling; that’s the simplest method. For example, enter “A,” check “begins with,” receive a list of all names beginning with A.

Unfortunately, only 10 at a time are shown and you’ll have to keep hitting “next 10” to see the rest. I found that mildly annoying and wished for a way to choose how many names to display for each search. But the benefits of this database far outweigh the slight annoyance with having to click on succeeding screens.

Mathilde Tagger of Jerusalem wrote the introduction to the database at the link above. It includes the history of Jewish surnames in the former Ottoman Empire, information on various alphabets and spelling curiosities, in addition to a large bibliography for more information.

She writes that these surnames have been detailed in only three publications, which Tagger analyzes. They include Asher Moissi’s booklet on Greek Jewish names, Baruch Pinto’s Sephardic Onomasticon (mostly on Turkish Jews), and Isaac Moskona’s 1967 article.

Moskona’s list of 509 surnames was based on three sources (1895-1967), but gave meanings for fewer than half. Current research covers 798 surnames, and additional ones were found in the passports of Bulgarian Jews when they immigrated to Israel (1948-49). The passports are on microfilm in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (Jerusalem).

Where do Bulgarian Jewish surnames come from?

Take a look at this chronology of immigration into Bulgaria:

2nd century BCE: Romaniote Jews are recorded arriving after the destruction of the Second Temple. Their names are Hebrew or Greek.

1376: Hungarian Jews, without surnames, are expelled; some reach Bulgaria. They receive mostly Turkish nicknames.

1394: Some Jews are expelled from France and reach Bulgaria via the Danube River. Their names reflect places from where they came. (NOTE: Some may have been Jewish refugees from the 1391 riots across Spain who fled by going north into southern France.)

1470: Bavarian Jews are expelled by King Ludwig X, many settle in Bulgarian localities along the Danube and in Sofia, the capital. Few have surnames and receive mostly Turkish nicknames.

1492: Expelled Sephardim from Spain find safety in the Ottoman Empire and reach Bulgaria after 1494, settling in towns where Jews already lived. They soon became the majority and leaders of the community. Spanish Jewish surnames had Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese origins.

1493: Expelled Sicilian Jews reach the Ottoman Empire with Spanish and Italian names. (NOTE: Many Sicilian Jews are originally from Catalunya in Spain, who come to the Catalan-speaking island after the 1492 Expulsion. They thought they would be safe in Sicily, and they were – but only for one year and were expelled again in 1493. Most cross the Straits of Messina into Calabria.

1566-1574: Jewish immigrants from Calabria (southern Italy) arrived; many are descendants of Spanish Sephardim who went to Sicily following the 1492 Expulsion. They had Italian and Hebrew surnames.

Over the next 200 years: all Jews regardless of their origin (including the descendants of the Hungarian and German Jews) meld into the Sephardi community, with Ladino as their common language.

Late 19th-early 20th century: Ashkenazi Jews arrived from Ukraine, Romania and Russia, but the SephardicGen Bulgarian dictionary only includes Sephardi surnames.

Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire 1378-1878, so Turkish was a major influence on the Jewish community.

The introduction includes the quirky transliteration rules of Cyrillic, concerning the non-existent H (which became G in Russia and KH in Bulgaria), as well as letters with the sounds of SH, J, K

Istanbul: Jewish community records



Those with Jewish roots in Istanbul or other Turkish geographical connections will find this resource of interest, as will Sephardic researchers of surnames in many countries.

Music professor Daniel Kazez of Wittenburg University (Ohio) produced a major database of Istanbul’s Jewish community records, with the cooperation and generosity of many individuals and organizations in that community. It was online for some time until privacy complaints took it offline.

There are some 100,000 Jewish records available, including more than 35,000 marriage records (Chief Rabbinate 1887-, Ashkenazi community, 1923-, Italian Congregation 1870s-), and some 30,000 burial records for the following cemeteries: Hemdat Israel 1899-, Italian burial list 1918-, Italian Şişli Cemetery 1800s-, Kuzguncuk Cemetery 1913-, Ortaköy Cemetery 1939-, Yuksekkaldirim Synagogue 1916-.

Remember also that there has been an Ashkenazi community in the city (formerly Constantinople) since the 14th century, that a very large number of Spanish Jews were invited following the 1492 Expulsion, that Crimean Jews were resettled there, that a large Italian Jewish community existed and that Istanbul welcomed many European Jews prior to the Holocaust.

The Istanbul Jewish community provided access to these precious records to enable translation from archaic handwriting (solitreo) and alphabets, by so many volunteers, who also typed and proofread them. Generous donors also funded the microfilming of records and converting them to digital images.

Consistent with Turkish privacy laws, the database is no longer publicly searchable. However, researchers can request a records search. Write to the Istanbul Chief Rabbinate’s Office to request a search. In your email, include the following: 1) details on the person about whom you seek information (surname, given name, approximate birth year, names of parents or children) and 2) how you are related to the person about whom you seek information. Allow a week for a response.

For more information on these names, check out the searchable databases at Jeff Malka’s SephardicGen and the name search engine at Harry Stein’s Sephardim.com.

At Dan’s site (link above) see all the names in the database, organized by frequency of records for each name, ranging from 4,332 for Levi, down to only one instance for thousands of names.

The complete list of names demonstrates the diversity of the community with names from Spain, Italy, across the Mediterranean and from Europe.

Here’s a section of the most frequently mentioned surnames:

4332 LEVI, 3802 BEHAR, 2269 KOHEN, 2214 ESKENAZI, 1516 MIZRAHI, 1087 KOEN, 841 BARUH, 549 MENASE, 481 SARFATI, 479 FRANKO, 470 MITRANI, 449 KAMHI, 438 PINTO, 434 FRESKO, 432 OJALVO, 406 TOLEDO, 402 GABAY, 393 BAROKAS, 388 MESULAM, 364 PARDO, 360 ESK., 342 HASON, 341 YERUSALMI, 337 BENEZRA, 329 NAHMIAS, 324 ROMANO, 312 DANON, 308 OVADYA, 307 CIPRUT, 293 SALOM, 292 HABIB, 288 VARON, 281 GERSON, 279 PINHAS, 277 RAZON, 275 BICACI, 272 NAMER, 270 LEON, 268 RUSO, 262 ARDITI, 256 ANCEL, 255 VENTURA, 253 GERON, 251 ABUAF, 251 SABAN, 248 AMON, 242 HALFON, 240 KARAKO, 233 AZUZ, 228 ADATO, 228 ALFANDARI, 225 FARHI, 223 KASTORYANO, 220 UZIEL, 218 ELNEKAVE, 218 PAPO, 215 GALIMIDI, 215 TARAGANO, 213 ACIMAN, 209 PEREZ, 205 BERAHA, 203 KRESPI, 203 YANNI, 202 SEVI, 201 BENSASON, 195 MOLHO, 193 NASI, 188 RODRIG, 187 MALKI, 186 BAHAR, 184 ASEO, 183 AMRAM, 182 SAUL, 182 TREVES, 180 BENBASAT, 180 CUKRAN, 180 KORDOVA, 179 SASON, 177 SEVILYA, 176 NAHUM, 176 NATAN, 174 HATEM, 173 BALI, 168 SALTI, 167 KANETI, 166 ROMI, 154 MAYA, 152 KATALAN, 151 FIS, 150 MENDA, 148 KAZES, 148 YAHYA, 147 ADUT, 147 MOTOLA, 143 SURUJON, 141 KARMONA, 140 HAZAN, 139 GOLDENBERG, 138 SARANGA, 137 MATALON, 135 MEDINA, 133 FUNES, 133 NIEGO, 132 ALTARAS, 130 GRUNBERG, 130 TOVI, 129 ALMALEH, 129 ASA, 129 BABANI, 129 YAES, 127 BARZILAY, 127 ELI, 127 YOHAY, 126 MORENO, 126 RODITI, 123 HAYON, 122 KONFINO, 121 LEVY, 121 ZAKUTO, 118 CIVRE, 118 ROFE, 117 BENVENISTE, 117 KALAONRA, 117 PALACI, 117 ROZANES, 116 ALBUKREK, 116 BICACO, 116 COHEN, 116 DUENYAS, 116 PENSO, 115 HODARA, 115 KARIO, 115 POLIKAR, 114 FILIBA, 114 PALOMBO, 113 AVIGDOR, 113 MORHAYIM. …

The list also includes a very long list of names which appear only once or twice in the records. Here are some which appear only once (a section of the As and an ending section). The records were hard to decipher and produced various interpretations of the old handwriting and alphabets (see many names with question marks):

AADATO, AARDEAN?, ABAH LEVI, ABAH? IMANU?, ABALAFYA, ABARBANEL, ABARESE?, ABARESI, ABARGI, ABAT, ABAT LEVI, ABATA, ABATLEVI, ABAUAF, ABAUKSEK, ABAYARA, ABCHEM, ABDALLA, ABDULLA?, ABDULLARHIM, ABDURAHMAN, ABEH, ABEHAR, ABEL, ABEN COIR, ABEN HABIB, ABEN HABIP, ABEN-HABIB, ABENDAVID, ABENDAVIT, ABENHALUP, ABENI ALAR, ABENI? (ALLELU? ALBENI?), ABENI? (ZENA)?, ABENSEL, ABENSSUSAN, ABERSMUKLER, ABGIN, ABIBOCHE, ABIGADOL (AVIGDOR), ABILDA, ABINOLI, ABJANAK?, ABLAMAN, ABLU, ABN? ALU? ISAK, ABOAF?, ABOCHONEETS?, ABODARA, ABOIF, ABOLOFYA, ABOLOFYA, GIBIGILI, ABORESE, ABORESI?, ABORESSI, ABOROSI, ABOUD?, ABOUF, ABOUHAIRE, ABOUKSEK, ABOUREU, ABRAAM, ABRAHAM OF KAVALALI, ABRAM, ABRAMO, ABRAMOVIC [ABRAMOVIÇ], ABRAMOW, ABRAMOWITS, ABRASAV, ABRAVANOL, ABRAVONEL, ABRAVRYA, ABRAYA, ABRENAYA, ABREUAYA, ABREUNAEL, ABREUYA, ABREVANET, ABREVAYA?, ABREVAZA?, ABRICHAMTCHI, ABRISAMETCI, ABUAF (HALON?), ABUAFOGLU, ABUAGLEAG, ABUALAF, ABUAT, ABUB (KHAJ), ABUCI, ABUDAR, ABUH, ABUHAIR, ABUISAK CICEKOGLU, ABUIZAN, ABULHAYRE, ABUMOMY?, ABUOF, ABUOUS, ABURDARAM, ABUT?, BARISAK?, ABUTBUL, ABUZAK, ACAMI, ACAR M, ACAR [AÇAR], ACATON, ACCHIOTI, ACCO?, ACEM, ACEMI?, ACHIOTE, ACHIOTTI, ACHITUF, ACHTER, ACIBEL, ACIBIL, ACIKBAS?, ACIL ACUBEL, ACIMAL?, ACIMAN YORGI MALGOCI, ACIMAY, ACIMON, ACINAN, ACITTONE, ACLYON?, ACUBEL (LEVIN), ACUBEL / ALUBEL, ACUBEL B. …..?, ACUDUR, ACUNAN, ADALAR?, ADALMI, ADALO, ADAMAL, ADAR, ADATO HAKER, ADATO PINHAS, ADATO SEMUEL, ADATOS, ADATOZ, ADE TOLEDO, ADEFINA?, ADEM (ADONI), ADENADUT, ADENI, ADES, ADETO, ADETOLEDO …

YOHAY? YOHAZ?, YOHAZ?, YOHEY, YOL, YOLAD, YOLAK, YOLAP, YOLMAN, YOM LEVI, YONATAN?, YONAYOF, YONCOLGU?, YONNEZ?, YOOFA?, YORDAN, YORGANC OGLU / YORGANCOGLU, YORGANCIOGLU, YORGI MALGOCI, YORGOF?, YORKIN?, YOROHON, YOSEFOVIC, YOSEFOWITZ, YOSELEVIC, YOTAN, YOUR?, YOURKOVITZKI, YOZEF, YSAYA, YSRAEL, YUCAEM?, YUCAER, YUCEL?, YUDA? EZRA?, YUDELZON, YUDIT, YUFAN, YUGSAG, YUKARDI, YUKBATTI, YUKCU?, YUKEN, YUKLEKIN KALMAN, YUKSEKYILDIZ, YULA?(HASON), YULBAHAR, YULCU, YULER SEN, YULNIHAL, YULSEN, YUMER, YUMMIT TALAROWITZ, YUMUSTAS, YUNA?, YUNAY, YUNCEK?, YUNCI, YUNER, YUNIS KABAZ?, GUMUS MAKAZ?, YUNLU, YUNUS, YUNUSOF, YURIDA, YURKOVESKAYA, YURUK?, YUSELBERG, YUSUF, YUZUGULER?, YVASSMER?, YVNER, ZABAR?, ZABARO, ZABES?, ZABIT, ZABRANESKY, ZABUAN, ZABURI?, ZACCOUM, ZACHAROFF, ZAFERA, ZAFFIRA, ZAFIRA, ZAGARI, ZAGUTO, ZAHAHIYE, ZAHAR, ZAHARI, ZAHAROF, ZAHARYA LAZARI?, ZAHNAN?, ZAHURI?, ZAHUTO, ZAKALON, ZAKAT? TAKAT?, ZAKHAIM, ZAKMITZ, ZAKODA, ZAKOVALOF, ZAKUTO (DE), ZAKUTO LEVI, ZAKUYTO, ZALIA?, ZALMAN (FANRA)?, ZALMEN, ZALUNA?, ZALVISA, ZAMBAKA, ZAMBUKO, ZAMLOF, ZAMLOKA?, ZANANA, ZANARRO, ZANBOKA, ZANDLER, ZANDOKABO?, ZANDOKADO?, ZANGURSKI, ZANONO, ZANUNU, ZAPDIDISVILI, ZAPOZ, ZAPOZ?, ZARA, NARDEA, ZARAGANO, ZARAO, ZARCHIN, ZARKO (ALPDOGRUL?), ZARKON (SAULYA), ZARKOZ, ZAROCH, ZAROF, ZARY?, ZASKEWITSCH, ZASKIOVIC [ZASKIOVIÇ], ZAVARRO (YALDIZLI?), …

Additionally, there is an alphabetical list of given names.



Readers may find the spellings difficult to understand. Note that C=SH (CIPRUT=SHIPRUT), that Y=I (YSAYA=ISAYA), and other common variants, such as ABEN=BEN. Some individuals with very Hebrew surnames may have adopted more Turkish-sounding names.

Do check the complete list of names at the first link above.

New York: Jews in the Turkic World

Although Tracing the Tribe missed reporting on this conference earlier, readers should know about such events which shed light on relatively unknown Jewish communities.

On November 23, the Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA) and Azerbaijani-American Council (AAC) joined the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), the “Turk of America” magazine and the Uzbek Initiative organized a one-day symposium on “Jewish Identity in the Turkic World,” at New York’s Center for Jewish History.

Note that Azerbaijan was part of Iran and that Farsi is spoken there as well as Azeri, a Turkic language. Additionally, the city of Baku was famous for its oil production in the early 20th century, and many of our ancestors from Belarus (including some of mine) and elsewhere, moved there to work in the new industry.

The region is also important as many Russian Jews were evacuated to Uzbekistan and other areas at the time of WWII. Each of these Jewish communities had indigenous Sephardic components as well as Ashkenazi communities.

For centuries, the Jewish peoples have lived in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and other parts of the Turkic world. Tens of thousands of “Sephardi Jews” lived in present-day Turkey since 1492, when Ottoman Turks provided shelter and acceptance to the Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition. One of the largest Azeri-speaking communities in America are the Mountain Jews. They settled in Azerbaijan over two millennia ago and tens of thousands of them continue to live in northern parts of Azerbaijan today, enjoying prosperity and acceptance. The Bukharian Jews of Uzbekistan thrived in this region for 2500 years in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect.

The program included speakers representing the Jewish communities of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Jews in Turkey: History and Presence

David Saltzman (Turkish Coalition of America)
Yildiz Yuksek Blackstone (President, Luca Luca)
Alan R. Cordova (Columbia University):
“Sephardi Jewish history in Rhodes and Marmara region “

Jewish Heritage in the Turkic World

Sergei Weinstein (International Charity Fund of Mountain Jews):
“Islam and Judaism in Russia”
Rashbil Shamayev (Azerbaijani Jewish Community):
“Azerbaijani Jewish community relations with Azerbaijan”
Farkhod Muradov (Uzbek Initiative):
“Bukharian Jewish Congress of the U.S. and Canada”

Art, Music & Film Industry

Barry Habib (Broadway producer, “Rock of Ages”)
Victoria Barrett (filmmaker):
“Desperate Hours,” Screening and Talk on the role Turkish diplomats played in saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

Habib and Blackstone spoke about their life experiences. Paintings by Stass Shpanin were displayed along with the copies of historical documents from the Ottoman Archives which illustrated Ottoman-Jewish historical relations.

The conference was also co-sponsored by the International Charity Fund of Mountain Jews (STMEGI), the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TACCI), the Bukharian Jewish Community of the US and Canada, the Turkish American Action Committee and “Kavkaz” Jewish Youth Center.

For more information, click here.

France: New issue, Sephardic gen journal

The new issue of ETSI, the Sephardi Genealogical and Historical Review is now out.

Among the articles:

— In “An unfulfilled dream – The saga of Anusim families.” Raphael Benghiat traces the history of the previous owners of Montfavier castle in the Gironde, France. It likely belonged to Jews of the Bordeaux and Bayonne area, where many New Christians (Conversos, Anousim) settled.

— Laurence Abensur-Hazan explores the 1841 fire which partially destroyed Smyrna, Turkey. The Jewish residents were the ones most affected by this catastrophe.

— There’s also a book review of the recently published “Tanger, entre Orient et Occident.” The Jews of Tangier (Morocco) were never required to live in a specific geographic area. The book details many aspects of this community, such as Jewish businesses, the city’s first Freemason society, and provides information on the Fuente Nueva quarter where many Jews lived.

To see the indexes for this and past issues, click here. For membership information, click here. Here’s more about ETSI:

“Etsi” (my tree, in Hebrew) is the first Sephardi Genealogical and Historical Society, founded in 1998 in Paris by: Mrs Laurence Abensur-Hazan, Anne-Marie Rychner-Faraggi, Lucette Marques-Toledano, Mr Sidney Pimienta, Jimmy Pimienta, Philip Abensur, Claude Missistrano

The purpose of “Etsi” is to help people interested in Jewish Genealogical and Historical Research in the Sephardi World. “Etsi”‘s field of study covers the Ottoman Empire (Turkey, Greece, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Egypt…), North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia), Spain, Portugal, Italy and Gibraltar. The study of every Sephardi community or family who lived in other regions is equally within the society’s aim.

The objective of the founders is to create an international exchange forum for genealogists and historians interested in research into the Sephardi world.

“Etsi” supports and encourages all research work on Sephardi Genealogy and History, especially archives records, cemeteries records, ketubbot (Jewish marriage contracts) and circumcisions registers inventories.

To obtain this issue or back issues of ETSI, contact Philip Abensur in Paris, France.

Turkey: A Ladino newspaper

Tablet Magazine has a story by Robin Cembalest on a Ladino newspaper in Turkey that is seeing a revival.

At the bottom of this post, also see Tracing the Tribe’s note about “Mountain Spanish” still spoken in northern New Mexico (and elsewhere) by the descendants of the old families who arrived at the end of the 16th century.

Read A New Dawn here.

Ladino or Judeo-Spanish was brought to Turkey post-1492 Expulsion by the Jewish refugees from Spain. For Tracing the Tribe’s Ashkenazi readers, think of it as the Sephardic equivalent of Yiddish. Both Jewish languages created literature, poetry, music and other hallmarks of history and culture.

When Sephardim arrived in New York in the early 20th century, many Ashkenazi Jews didn’t believe they were Jewish because they didn’t speak Yiddish – they never knew that Ladino was a major hallmark throughout Jewish history.

Ladino nearly died as a result of numerous factors. Ladino-speakers and Yiddish-speakers alike were decimated by the Holocaust as just one reason.

The average age of native Ladino speakers is at least 70, according to Karen Gerson Sarhon, coordinator of the city’s Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Culture Research Center and editor of El Amaneser (The Dawn), one of the world’s few remaining Judeo-Spanish periodicals, when I reached her office. “Ladino is dying,” she told me matter-of-factly in English, before switching at my request to Judeo-Spanish. I was surprised how much I understood. “Now more people are interested in learning the language,” she added, “but it’s too late. It’s more feasible to learn modern Spanish—and Spanish gives them access to their heritage.”

The editor noted that in the 1970s, it was expected that Ladino would have disappeared in 10-15 years. In the 1980s, Turkey allowed freedom on traveling abroad, and its Jewish population realized that with Ladino they could communicate in Spanish-speaking countries. The 500th anniversary of the Expulsion brought Sephardic scholars to Turkey, and raised awareness of Ladino – and acceptability – to the community.

The research center opened in December 2003, to research, archive, and transmit the language, music, and history of Turkish Jewry, a difficult task because very little was written down. Another problem was that Ladino switched from the Hebrew Rashi alphabet (called solitreo) to the Latin alphabet in the 1920s.

Only a handful of people can still read the old alphabet, which makes genealogical research difficult in Turkey, as the records were written in solitreo.

Today’s El Amaneser was founded in 2005. Ladino publishing began in 1842 with Izmir’s La buena esperansa. During the period between WWI and WWII, more than 300 Ladino periodicals were published in Turkey and the Balkans. In the 1920s, some 85% of Turkish Jews said Ladino was their mother tongue, although even then, the article states, it was dying. It was supplanted by Western Europe’s language of culture French and then by Turkish in 1923.

The new government promoted Turkish and suppressed Kurdish. Ladino was not suppressed, but according to scholars, the community itself helped to suppress it.

In Eastern Europe, where scholars were promoting Yiddish literature and education, Turkish Jews felt Ladino was backward and didn’t transmit it down the line. Says Gerson Sarhon, because the Jews were notorious for speaking Turkish with horrible accents, they thought they should give up Ladino and assimilate with Turkish.

In this century, at a time when Yiddish continues to be used as the primary language in chasidic households around the globe, Ladino has “lost its function in the home,” said Gerson Sarhon, who wrote two master’s theses—in social psychology and applied linguistics—on Judeo-Spanish.

Jews today who are 50-70 years old, learned Ladino from their fluent parents who spoke it at home. Those who are younger may have learned it from their grandparents or not at all.

Gerson Sarhon is heading an effort to record the vanishing generation of native speakers and post sound files to the Internet as part of a study to analyze vocabulary and accent. As a lead singer in the Los Pasharos Sefardis musical group, she also documents Turkish Jewry’s musical traditions.

The center has already published a new book on Turkish synagogues, although it focuses on publishing the monthly El Amaneser and the Salom weekly (in Ladino until 1983’s switch to Turkish). Salom also prints a monthly Ladino supplement with some 4,000 subscribers. Amaneser goes to readers in Turkey, and also to Spain, China, Latin America and the Philippines.

While Salom publishes hard news—mostly stories from the Diaspora that don’t necessarily make it into the local papers—Amaneser provides a space for community news, history lessons, book and film reviews, memoirs, short stories, and recipes, many of them sent in by readers from all over the world and edited by the mostly female, mostly volunteer staff.

Along with the features and stories, ranging from music to recipes, each issue spotlights a transliteration of the Rashi (Hebrew character alphabet) with a Judeo-Turkish proverb. The example given is No ay koza ke trae yoro al mundo kuanto el vino (“Nothing makes the world cry more than wine”), from a Ladino commentary on the Torah published in the 18th century.

The article also covers an excellent interview by Gerson Sarhon with Spanish scholar Paloma Díaz-Mas who specializes in Sephardic culture.

Still, Díaz Mas comments, the revival highlights the way people use language to define their cultural and ethnic identity. The new generation, she says, is looking for a connection to the language “that identifies them as Sephardim, not only among non-Jews but among Jews of other origins.”

Read the complete article at the link above. To hear spoken Ladino, listen to this podcast with author Marcel Cohen (“In Search of a Lost Ladino: Letter to Antonio Saura”)

[NOTE: In northern New Mexico, the descendants of Converso settlers who arrived as early as the late 16th century, still speak “Mountain Spanish.” In reality, it is 16th century Ladino, and scholars who have visited them have been amazed at how well the language has been transmitted down through the generations. When people move away from that area, they need to learn modern Spanish, as those who speak the old language are considered uneducated. If they only knew…. El Amaneser might want to send some copies to northern New Mexico and see what happens. I will suggest that to my northern New Mexico friends.]