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  • Daniel Santacruz

Dia Internasional del Ladino will brighten up Festival of Lights in several cities

By Daniel Santacruz

Schedule for the International Ladino Day, held at the Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv.
Schedule for the event.

Ladino, the language of Sefardic Jews, will get top billing on the last day Hanuka as some 800 people are expected to attend the Dia Internasional del Ladino (International Ladino Day) at the Wohl Auditorium of Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. The brainchild of Zelda Ovadia, an editor at Aki Yerushalayim, a Jerusalem-based Ladino journal, and a resident of that city, the event will pay homage to a language that was born in Spain more than 500 years ago and that accompanied Sefardic Jews after the expulsion from that country. “When I initially conceived the idea of devoting a day to celebrating Ladino, I thought of March 31, but it is a sad date because that’s the day when the Jews were expelled from Spain [in 1492],” said Ovadia, who also write s features and a cooking column for the magazine. Instead, she added, she decided that December 5th, the last day of the holiday, would be more appropriate because “it’s a happy one, a holiday of lights, and our struggle [to preserve Ladino is a struggle like that of the Maccabees.”

The idea was then presented to Yitzhak Navon, Israel’s fifth president and head of the Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino (National Authority for Ladino), who embraced it, said Ovadia. 

Next, a four-person committee was formed to plan the event, which includes Ovadia; Moshe Shaul, chief editor of Aki Yerushalayim; Aliza Ginio, History professor at Tel Aviv University; and Alegra Amado, Head of Foreign Languages at the Israel Broadcasting Authority. The event, the first ever of its kind in 500 years, will start at 9:30 am with a short speech by President Navon and will feature musical presentations by Los Pasharos Sefardies, an Istanbul-based Ladino ensemble, and folk singer Betty Klein, as well as a humorous sketch by Karen Gershon Sharhon and Jojo Eskenazi. Producer and moderator Kobi Zarko will lead a music workshop, which will be followed by a short-story workshop with renowned storyteller, compiler and author Matilde Koen Sarano. 

Grassroots efforts to be recognized

Medals and certificates of appreciation will be presented to the volunteers who lead the eight Ladino cultural circles in cities like Jerusalem, Raanana, Tel Aviv and Holon. Shaul, one of event organizers, who will present an overview of the state of the language today, praised the role of the groups in maintaining the language alive in Israel through monthly talks, sing-alongs and concerts. “These are not academic encounters, but rather gatherings organized by people who take it upon themselves to put the together, and we will reward their volunteerism, ” he added.

Moshe Shaul, editor of Aki Yerushalayim.

The Authority and Keter, the manufacturer of plastic and household products, are providing the funding the event. Ladino enthusiasts around the world will also hold cultural events on the 5th in Paris; Sofia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Mexico; Montevideo; and Buenos Aires. In the United States, the participating cities are Indianapolis, Indiana; Dallas, Texas; and New York City, as well as the University of California at Los Angeles; the University of Washington at Seattle; and Tufts University, in Medford, Mass. The University of Murcia, Spain, is the only European institution planning an event.  “What is remarkable about Murcia is that there are no Jews in the city, but there are groups of professors

Zelda Ovadia, an editor at "Aki Yerushalayim."
Zelda Ovadia (Courtesy).

and students at the University that are Ladino

enthusiasts, said Shaul.

The main force behind the festivities outside of Israel is Ladinokomunita, an Internet group based in Dallas, with members in 40 countries, founded in 2000. According to founder and moderator Rachel Amado Bortnick, who was born in Izmir, Turkey, “the celebration is a source of pride for us Sefardim, and especially for native speakers like me. We have all confidence that with each passing year the Dia del Ladino [Ladino International Day] will be marked by more and more communities, many not necessarily Sefardic or even Jewish.” She added: “Ladino is part of the Spanish and Portuguese heritage as well, and I think that connection will attract many people as well.“ Interest in Ladino has increased in the last 20 years both in Israel and overseas. There are Ladino musical ensembles in Israel, Spain, Turkey, the United States and Sweden, as well as two print newspapers in Turkey.

The oldest of all the publications is the twice-yearly Aki Yerushalayim, founded in 1979. The Internet has hastened the spread of the language, where chat groups, courses and online magazines, such as Sephardic Horizons and the Jerusalem-based Orizontes, can be found. Seeking to promote and deepen the knowledge of Ladino in Israel through courses, publications and concerts, the Knesset created the National Authority of Ladino in 1996. 

Ladino is taught at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem; at Ben Gurion University of the Negev; at Tel Aviv University and at Bar Ilan University.

Events around the world City: Ramat Gan (Israel)  What: See program above Where: Wohl Auditorium, Bar Ilan University Cost: 50 shekels. Tickets can be purchased the day of the event at the door. For more information, call the Authority at 02-623-5995, or at 050-768-1271 or 050-738-1140  City: Dallas (Texas) What: Multimedia and bilingual (Ladino/English) program. Alegra Tevet and Edith Baker, the most senior of the Ladino speakers in the city, will be honored Where: Dedman Life Sciences building, Room 131, Southern Methodist University, 6185 Airline Rd. Time: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Cost: Free

City: Medford (Massachusetts) What: Sefardic dishes and sing-along Where: Prof. Gloria Ascher’s Ladino class, Tufts University. For more information, write or Time: 12 to 1:15 p.m.  Cost: Free City: New York City (New York) What: Concert with Deleon, a Mexican group that blends rock and Ladino romansas Where: Brookfield Place, 220 Vesey St. Time: 7:30 p.m. Those interested in getting together before the concert, please write to Rachel Cohen at Cost: Free   City: Los Angeles (California)  What: Gathering of Ladino speakers organized by ucLADINO and sponsored by the University of California at Los Angeles, Center for Jewish Studies and the Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies  Where: For event location, write Time: See above Cost: Free City: Seattle (Washington) What: Lecture about the Sefardic Jews of Seattle, as well as a sing-along and poetry reading. Participants will have a chance to echar lashon, and hear riflanes and konsejas. Refreshments will be served. Sponsored by the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies of de University of Washington Where: University of Washington Hillel Time: 7 p.m. Cost: Free City: Murcia (Spain) What: Lecture “El Judeoespañol: Temas y problemas” (Judeo-Spanish: Topics and Problems), by Prof. Paloma Díaz Mas, author of The Jews of Spain and other works Where: Facultad de Letras. Universidad de Murcia Time: 11 a.m. Cost: Free City: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) What: Performance by the Angeles y Malahines choir. A video will be shown. Sponsored by the Ladino group Kaminando i Avlando Where: Beth El Synagogue, Rua Barata Ribeiro 459, Copacabana Time: 3 p.m. Cost: Free ©  Daniel Santacruz    November 2013

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