Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Labor of Love

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Labor of Love

Article excerpt

This year, as the Western Hemisphere marks the 500th anniversary of christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World, Turkey's 22,000 Jews have their own quincentennial to celebrate.

Chances are, they will be celebrating it in Ladino, the archaic Spanish dialect Turkish Jews have been speaking for the last five centuries.

Salamon Bidjerano, a noted expert on Ladino and chief editor of the weekly Jewish newspaper Shalom, published in Istanbul, says the two anniversaries are very much connected.

The same month Columbus set sail for the Americas, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel ordered the expulsion of 100,000 Jews from Spain. Many followed the explorer to the New World; indeed, sevral of his crewmen -- and some say Columbus himself -- secretly practiced Judaism.

Others victimized by the Inquisition headed east to Turkey, where they were welcomed by Sultan Beyazit II. The sultan, in a 1492 edict praised to this day as an example of tolerance toward minorities, ordered his OTtoman governors "not to refuse the Jews entry nor cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordinally."

Over the next 300 years, the ladino-speaking Jewish community prospered, often rising to high offices as court physicians and diplomats within the Ottoman Empire. When the empire finally crumbled after World War I, Kemal Ataturk's attempts to replace it with a modern secular republic unleashed a social revolution, and many people left forIsrael or the Spanish-speaking republics of Latin America.

Yet a handful stayed, and in 1947 local businessman Avraham Leon launched Shalom, a newspaper for and about Turkish Jews. Today, Shalom is one of the few papers in the world partially published in Ladino, though most of the paper is now printed in Turkish as a concession to the younger generation.

"Those people over 55 years old still speak Ladino. At home, their ears were full of Ladino, but the children don't speak it anymore," he lamented in a recent interview in Istanbul. "It's a dying language, like Yiddish."

A four-color, 12-page broadsheet, Shalom sells for the equivalent of 60c and enjoys a circulation of 3,500, with subscribers in Israel, Western Europe, the United States, Argentina, and Mexico.

Most of its space is devoted to current events in Turkey and the Middle East; a recent issue carried news of a grenade attack against Istanbul's Neve Shalom Synagogue. …

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