Share your story with the Sephardic Studies Program

By Makena Mezistrano

As the Sephardic Studies Program looks forward to our Seattle Sephardic Legacies event on June 2nd, we have been gathering statistics about our digital library. Since its inception in 2012, the program has digitized over 400 published Ladino books. The program has also scanned many handwritten letters that create a valuable record of Soletreo, the nearly obsolete Sephardic Hebrew script, as well as many photographs that create a vibrant portrait of Sephardic life in the 20th century.

The books in our library come from all over the world, chiefly from the Sephardic hubs of Istanbul, Izmir and Salonika, but also from more unexpected locales like Vienna and Bulgaria. We have digitized over 60 prayer books and nearly 40 history books. One of the most impressive groups includes over 140 novels—some are translated from French, others are original compositions in Ladino. The varied topics show that Ladino-speaking communities were well-read, intellectually diverse, and cared deeply about maintaining the Sephardic tradition for perpetuity through printed books.

All of these efforts serve to tell the story of the Sephardic experience—in the Ottoman Empire, in Seattle, and beyond. None of this work would have been possible without the individuals who financially supported our project, and donated their books, letters, artifacts and other materials to our program.

We just recorded our 2,025th item in our library catalog. In order to expand the collection even further, the Sephardic Studies Program invites you to share a piece of your family’s story with us. The Seattle Sephardic Legacies event is the perfect opportunity to bring materials to the University of Washington for digitization, such as:

  • Letters
  • Postcards
  • Photographs (especially with inscriptions!)
  • Books
  • Immigration documents
  • Audio/video recordings of personal histories or songs

We will have a museum-quality scanner at the event and will be able to digitize and catalog items instantly. This will offer the chance for us to learn more about your unique family history, and for you to witness an artifact being digitized and electronically preserved.

All items will be evaluated and considered. We look forward to hearing your story.

This event is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities Common Heritage Grant.


To submit items digitally year-round, please email sephstud@uw.edu.

To ship items year-round, please address packages and letters to:

Devin Naar
Chair of Sephardic Studies, Jackson School of International Studies
Thomson Hall
2023 Skagit Lane
Box 353650
Seattle, WA 98195-3650

To make a donation to continue the efforts of the Sephardic Studies Program, click here.

About the Author:

Makena Mezistrano is a native of Seattle and a member of the Sephardic community. She holds a BA in English Literature and an MA in Jewish Studies, both from Yeshiva University. Her family is from Salonika, Greece.

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