UW Sephardic document appears in new PBS film The Jewish Journey: America

The secret is out: the UW Sephardic Studies Program has collected some spectacular treasures for its Digital Library & Museum. One of the treasures will appear this March in a new PBS documentary called The Jewish Journey: America. 

The hour-long film, directed by Emmy winner Andrew Goldberg, traces Jewish immigration to America over five centuries. PBS press materials describe it as “a rarely explored look at the actual journeys to get here,” using the perspectives of immigrants, historians, and Jewish-American writers. The particpants include Seattle native Rabbi Marc Angel, whose ancestors arrived in the United States from the island of Rhodes.

To portray a piece of the Sephardic Jewish immigration story, The Jewish Journey‘s producers reached out to Prof. Devin Naar, chair of the Sephardic Studies Program. They were interested particularly in obtaining an image from the Leon Behar notebook, featured on the Stroum Center website last year in articles by Oscar Aguirre-Mandujano (Learning Ladino: A Language I Already Knew) and Hannah Pressman (A Soldier’s Ladino Poems of Ottoman Jewish Pride).

Behar came to Seattle from Turkey in the early 20th century. His notebook, filled with patriotic poems in the Ottoman and Ladino languages, has been generously loaned to the Sephardic Studies Digital Library and Museum by Behar’s daughter Josie Agoado and local descendants. Aguirre-Mandujano, a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, has undertaken the challenging project of translating and interpreting Behar’s poetry, with support from the Jewish Studies Graduate Fellowship.

A page of Ladino handwriting from the notebook of Leon Behar. Courtesy of the Sephardic Studies Digital Library & Museum.

A page of Ladino handwriting from the notebook of Leon Behar. Courtesy of the Sephardic Studies Digital Library & Museum.

Now, Behar’s notebook will be seen by PBS viewers around the country as a piece of the broader narrative about Jewish immigration to the United States.

Said Prof. Naar, “The fact that the creators of the The Jewish Journey have sought out materials from our Sephardic Studies Program here at the UW demonstrates that we are becoming a real center and increasingly known repository of documents and artifacts pertaining to the Sephardic experience. It’s wonderful to know that the American public will gain access to a sample of the writings of Seattle’s own Leon Behar. More broadly, that the Sephardic experience—often marginalized or excluded from the Jewish American narrative—will be featured prominently in this PBS documentary is fantastic news.”

You can view a trailer for The Jewish Journey: America at this YouTube link. The program is scheduled to debut in March; check your local PBS listings at pbs.org/tvschedules for precise dates and air times.

About the Author:

Dr. Hannah Pressman writes about modern Jewish culture, religion, and identity. A lifelong lover of languages and literatures, she earned her Ph.D. in modern Hebrew literature from New York University. She is co-editor of Choosing Yiddish: New Frontiers of Language and Culture (2012). Her writing has appeared in Tablet, the Forward, Lilith, eSefarad, and My Jewish Learning. Dr. Pressman is the former Communications Director and Graduate Fellowship Coordinator at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies. She is currently at work on a memoir about her Sephardic family history, connected to explorations of contemporary American Jewish identity.


  1. JO MALLEL 2/27/2015 at 4:40 am - Reply

    If you need any information on Rhodes I may help you as I do my own research.

  2. Sylvia A. Angel 3/9/2015 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    I’m so excited to see this hour long film which will be televised on KBTC, Channel 12 on Monday, March 16th at 7:30 pm. It will give me somewhat of an idea of what my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles went through just to reach the shores of America, the golden land. My father’s family came to America in 1911 from the Island of Rhodes, (formerly Italian, now a Greek Island) and my mother’s family who came from Tekirdag, near Istanbul, Turkey. They endured numerous hardships, before leaving their homelands, crossing the ocean twice in my mothers case, and coming to a strange land with just the clothes on their backs and very little else. Having to find homes, jobs, and eventually learn a difficult new language. Who can even imagine what they must have gone through. They never really complained and seemed to take it all in stride, and always felt fortunate to find a new home to start their large families in America. We have so much to be thankful for. May all who came before us rest in peace.

  3. VICTOR ALHADEFF 8/4/2016 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    We are note alone. I am Doctor, Professor Victor ALHADEFF ben Ruben, MD, U. S. Citizen. I am conducting a research about Jewish Families, Relatives and “ALHADEFF Decedents” IN THE WORLD.

    My father’s family came tu USA in 1911, and I have many photos e. g. In 1912: Atlanta has many immigrants from Rhodes in the wedding party of Ezra and Joye Turiel .Guests on photo include the Home owner my aunty CADEN (Catherine) and her husband Cohen, Rabeno Galanti, Leo Amiel, Morris Hanan, Behor Arogeti, Mazaltov and Moreno Benvenisty, Morris Capouano, Victor Benatar, Chilibi Amato, David Tourial, Behor Levy, Daniel Rousso, Jack Galanti, Abraham Franco, Joe Galanti, Victor Behar, Louise Behar Barocas, Sadie Behar Mardy and Jack Behar

  4. Fran Hasson 3/10/2018 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    The date given is incorrect, March 16th is a Friday, please let me know what the correct date and time for the program.
    Thank you

    • Kara Schoonmaker 3/11/2018 at 9:01 pm - Reply

      Hi Fran, this documentary aired in 2015 and 2016. For more information about the documentary, you can visit a PBS affiliate online here.

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