Dime lo ke meldas, te dire lo ke pensas.
“Tell me what you read, and I will tell you what you think.” (Ladino Proverb)
Since their expulsion from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews have produced a vast literature—religious and secular, philosophical and fictitious, political and poetic—that provide insight into their worldview in their own language, known as Ladino (Judeo-Spanish or Judezmo). Until now, however, the written record of the experiences, anxieties, and aspirations of Sephardic Jews remain dispersed and largely shrouded in mystery.
As the last generation of native Ladino speakers leaves us, and the present generations no longer have immediate access to their literary and linguistic heritage, we face a major turning point and a choice: relegate to oblivion the language and the world it represents or make a concerted effort to collect, preserve, and disseminate that legacy for future generations, students, and scholars around the world. Chaired by Professor Devin Naar, the Sephardic Studies Program of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies housed within the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington opts for the latter path by embarking upon the creation of the first interactive digital portal into the Sephardic world.
The Sephardic Studies Collection has gathered from members of the local Seattle Sephardic community more than 1,500 original Ladino books and thousands of documents composed in Ladino as well as other relevant languages, such as Ottoman Turkish, Hebrew and French. Dating between the 16th and mid-20th centuries, the books already comprise one of the largest Ladino libraries in the United States, with more volumes than the Library of Congress or Harvard University. In collaboration with the UW Libraries Digital Initiative Programs and orchestrated by the Sephardic Studies Research Coordinator, Ty Alhadeff, several hundred of these volumes have already been digitized. The first samples of the digital artifacts are available through the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.
Our future goals involve making all of our digitized sources available on the internet and easy to explore with two audiences in mind: First, for scholars, the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections will provide direct access to the sources in the original through a user-friendly data management system. Second, for students and for those without intimate knowledge of the language, the Sephardic Studies Program is in the process of developing a curatorial apparatus: a series of virtual museum exhibitions that will guide the user through the sources by providing easily accessible annotations, historical narratives, relevant biographies, and transliterations and translations of key passages of the original sources to enable all interested users to comprehend the content and its larger significance. The annotations, transliterations and translations can be expanded infinitely as an interactive and constantly growing source for teaching and studying the Ladino language as well as Sephardic history and culture.
Through faculty and student blog posts on the Stroum Center’s website, we are able to bring these curated pieces to light in an accessible way. Our first posts highlight some of Seattle’s own “Sephardic Treasures.” Professor Naar wrote about the Guide for Sephardic Immigrants from 1916, while undergraduate Ladino student Ashley Bobman contributed Found in Translation: Ladino poem about Spanish Exile — wherein she translated a poem written by her own great-grandfather, Sephardic cultural activist Albert D. Levy. Graduate research is an area of exciting growth for UW Sephardic Studies, as we see in the piece by Jewish Studies Graduate Fellow Oscar Aguirre-Mandujano. In Learning Ladino: A Language I Already Knew, Oscar describes the process of working on a rare notebook of poems written by Yehuda Leon Behar, an Ottoman-Jewish soldier who immigrated to Seattle.
To ensure academic excellence, and in recognition of the unprecedented advances already made by Sephardic Studies at the University of Washington, top scholars in the field of Sephardic Studies from across the world have agreed to serve as academic advisors throughout the development of the Sephardic Studies Collection:
Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies, UCLA
David Bunis, Chair of the Ladino Studies Program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem
Karen Gerson Sarhon, Director of the Ottoman Turkish Sephardic Research Center in Istanbul
Eliezer Papo, Chair of the Ladino Studies Institute at Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Julia Phillips Cohen, Professor of History and Sephardic Studies, Vanderbilt University
Aron Rodrigue, Charles Michael Chair in Jewish History and Culture, Stanford University
The Sephardic Studies Collection has been made possible through the generosity of our community supporters, and in particular the Sephardic Studies Founders Circle: the Isaac Alhadeff Foundation, Eli and Rebecca Almo, Joel and Maureen Benoliel, Harley and Lela Franco, and Richard and Barrie Galanti.
Contact Prof. Devin Naar about the Sephardic Studies Collection