A present deserves a new look

Daat le-Navon: Selektion de tekstos del Meam Loez Bereshit. Seleksion I redaksion de Avner Peres. Instituto Maale-Adumim para la Dokumentasion del Ladino i su Kultura, Jerusalem. 309 pages.

The Meam Loez is reaching new audiences with this attractive edition, published by the Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino and the Instituto Maale-Adumim, both in Jerusalem. The editor, Avner Perez, is also the director of the Instituto.

But it is not just any edition. It’s a present for the fifth president of Israel, Yitzhak Navon,  presentada kon estima i afeksion por sus amigos on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Navon is also president of the Autoridad. 

Two types of Ladino appear on facing pages: in Roman characters, on the left, and square, or meruba, on the right. 

Written in Ladino, the work is a commentary on the Chumash and other books of the Hebrew Bible by rabbi Yakov Hulli, who was born in Jerusalem and died in Istanbul in 1732, two years after the book was published. The book’s title comes from a verse from Psalms 114:1, “a people of strange speech.

Daniel Santacruz

Two cultures meet in Spanish city

Encuentro internacional: Sefarad en la diáspora 1492-2010. Coordinador general José 
Luis  Campoy Rubio, Universidad de Murcia, Murcia. 294 pages.

The enthusiasm for things Sefardic among Spanish scholars is reflected in this book, a compilation of papers presented at an international symposium held at the Universidad de Murcia in May 2010.  The topics included in it are as varied as the scholars that attended the gathering, sponsored in part by the City of Murcia and Casa Sefarad-Israel of Madrid. According to Campoy Rubio, it's the first gathering of this type in Spain, which brought together academics from that country and Israel. 

Chapters about Sefardic cuisine, poetry in the Holocaust, the contributions of conversos to medicine and the traditional medicine of Sefardic women in Bosnia make this volume a valuable work. The chapter about a Spanish doctor-turned-politician, Angel Pulido, known for his work on behalf of the españoles sin patria (Spaniards without a fatherland), Jews who descended from the expelled in 1492, offers a fascinating portrait about an intriguing personality. He was also known as the "apostole of the Sefardim." 

The book also includes a chapter about Ladino books titled Sueños de Sefarad: 500 años de libros en ladino (Dreaming of Sefarad: 500 Years of Ladino Books), which is also the name of an exhibit shown in several Spanish cities three years ago. The books are part of the collection of the Instituto Maale-Adumim, in Jerusalem. 

The chapter examines the origins of works in Ladino, back in medieval Spain, and highlights the ones produced by Sefardim in different countries, mostly in Europe, as well as Israel, including newspapers, folktales, poetry, novels and plays. According to the text that accompanies the exhibit, new research shows there was a close connection in pre-Expulsion Spain between Jewish literature and works by non-Jewish writers now considered classic. Photographs of several of the books are shown.

Daniel Santacruz

Greek classic speaks Ladino

La odisea, by Omero. Trezladada en ladino i ebreo del grego antiguo por Moshe 'Ha-Elion i Avner Perez. Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino, Jerusalem. 431 pages.

Publishing this classic of the Greek literature has been short of an odyssey, which Perez talks about in detail in his introduction, as it took five years to complete the translation of the 12,000 verses included the book. This edition is a treat for readers of Ladino and proves those who predicted the early death of the language wrong. Also are wrong, Perez says, those who say that the language only deals with Sefardic folklore and religious subjects and overlook its classical aspects.

The translation into Ladino from Greek is by Moshe 'Ha-Elion, a veteran scholar and autor of a book of poetry about his experiences in the Holocaust, En los kampos de la muerteThe Hebrew version is by Perez, director of the Instituto Maale-Adumim para la Dokumentasion del Ladino i su Kultura, and a veteran editor of Ladino

Like Daat le-Navon: Selektion de tekstos del Meam Loez Bereishit, reviewed also on this page, La odisea is also a present for the fifth president of Israel, Yitzhak Navon, on the occasion of his 90th birthday

Daniel Santacruz

 Glimpse into an intriguing world

The Historic Synagogues of Turkey, by Joel A. Zack. American Sephardi Federation, New York. 195 pages.

A visual delight, this book is the result of a project funded by the Maurice Amado Foundation and the Mitrani Family Foundation, and published by the New York-based American Sephardi Federation. During two months, a team headed by architect Joel A. Zack, which included photographer Devon Jarvis, and Ceren Kahraman, an Istanbul-based graduate student in architecture, traveled more than 10,000 kilometers  throughout Turkey, from Ankara to Samsun, to photograph and study nearly 50 synagogues and former synagogues.

This large-format book contains about 150 pictures, of the 3,000 Jarvis took, and devotes two pages to each synagogue. A caption describes briefly each one, or details thereof, as well as the year it was built and the city or town where it is located. 

Several Sefardic synagogues are shown, among them The Sinyora (The Lady), in Izmir, built in the XVI century, and Bursa's Mayor, from the same period. Ashkenazi and Karaite synagogues, although few, complement the architectural landscape of Turkey. Some are still in use, others lay in ruins, others serve non-religious purposes. 

An eight-page introduction, both in English and Turkish, describes the project and the 

styles of the synagogues, and gives a historical overview of Jewish life in Turkey. 

Daniel Santacruz

The glory and decline of the synagogues of Greece

The Synagogues of Greece: A Study of Synagogues in Macedonia and Thrace, by Elias V. Messinas. American Sephardi Federation, Sephardic House and Bloch Publishing. 160 pages.

This work will delight lay readers as well as historians and architects for its attention to details and fascinating insights. Illustrated with more than 100 photographs, maps and sketches, it studies the synagogues of Macedonia and Thrace, two regions in northern Greece.

The book goes beyond a mere analysis of the architecture of the buildings and offers a detailed picture of the towns where the synagogues are, their history and their institutions as well as the life of their inhabitants from earlier times to today.

Like similar buildings in other parts of the country, the synagogues of Macedonia and Thrace have followed almost the same pattern: development according to immigration, destruction by force or neglect and, in some cases, revival.

 In 1993, the author, architect Elias V. Messinas, traveled to Greece from his home in New York to survey the synagogues. His research concluded in 2002. A graduate of Yale School of Architecture and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, the author also wrote The Synagogues of Salonika and Veroia.

The project took on a personal tone for Messinas as it meant reconnecting with the history of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, some of whom hailed from the Greek cities of Athens, Chalkis, Ioannina and Salonika. His roots spread far and wide, and include also Italy, Turkey and Spain.

The book cover depicts a sketch of what Beit El Synagogue, in the town of Komotini, may have looked like. Built in the early 1800s, it was active until 1943, but it became a stable during the German and Bulgarian occupation. It had a tragic end: it was demolished in 1994. There are less than 10 synagogues still standing in Greece today.

 A three-page glossary will help readers to better understand several terms.

The book is the fourth of the Sephardi and Greek Holocaust Library, published by the New York-based American Sephardi Federation and Sephardic House. The other books in the series, a review of which can be found in the Features section of this website, are The Holocaust in Salonika: Eyewitness Accounts; A Liter of Soup and Sixty Grams of Bread; Prisoner Number 109565; Chimera: A Period of Madness; and A Cry for Tomorrow . . . 76859.

Daniel Santacruz

July 2013