Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History
By Aviva Ben-Ur
2009, $35.00, pp. 321
Reading Aviva Ben-Ur's Sephardic Jews in America, I felt joy and sorrow. Joy because in Ben-Ur we are fortunate to have a historian whose careful research and loving concern for the travails of the Sephardim returns their voices to the narrative of American Jewish history. Sorrow because it has taken much too long for this story to be told.
Ben-Ur, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, has no choice but to begin her book on a melancholy note, with a chapter entitled "The Jews Who Weren't There." How do you make a people visible when they have been rendered invisible? Even while succeeding beautifully in bringing Sephardic Jews to life in all their nuances and complexity, the whole of her book remains haunted by the wounding consequences of their erasure from the larger Jewish narrative. The irony is that this narrative is the handicraft of fellow Jews, Ashkenazim oblivious to the Sephardic presence.
The book's introduction offers the most detailed and thoughtful discussion I have yet encountered on why Sephardic Jews have been excluded from mainstream Jewish life in the United States, and kept on the periphery of Jewish …