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 for precise dates and air times.

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