Sephardim in the Americas: Studies in Culture and History

Sephardim in the Americas: Studies in Culture and History

Sephardim in the Americas: Studies in Culture and History

Sephardim in the Americas: Studies in Culture and History

Excerpt

In a revealing passage, written in an article on self-perception among American Sephardim, Diane Matza describes a tenuous relationship to her Sephardic heritage:

I am a third-generation Sephardic Jew, Monastirli on my mother's side and Yanioti on my father's. I speak no Judeo-Spanish and no Greek. I can faithfully duplicate only a few traditions of the Yanioti Passover, such as the style of the Dayenu chant; others are but shadowy memories. Like many third-generation ethnics, food provides my closest attachment to my heritage... Between me and authentic cultural practice, then, lies an unbridgeable gulf.

At first glance, this is not a statement out of the American Jewish mainstream. With a different geographic background it might have been written by almost any third-generation American Jew whose roots lay in Poland or Germany.

But it was written by a Sephardic Jewish woman who cannot just pick up a volume and grasp the essence of the American immigrant world of her fathers and mothers because so little exists about that world.

Indeed, at a time when most twentieth-century immigrant Jews to America asked "what does it take to become an American?," the Sephardic Jews -- the so-called "Eastern" or "Levantine" Sephardim -- from Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, or Syria were forced to ask "what does it take to become a Jew in the eyes of an East European Jewish immigrant?" Or perhaps that same immigrant was forced to ask "what does it take to be accepted by an already established 'Spanish- Portuguese' or Western Sephardic community?"

The year 1992 and the observance of the Columbus quincentenary marked a special moment in the history of the American Jewish experience.

While mainstream America celebrated the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World, both groups of American Sephardim recalled with sadness Jews expelled from Castile and Aragon in 1492, and through them other Jews and . . .

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