Hola. This is Barbara, your curator of cultural news from the Spanish-speaking world. This week has a clear focus on Ladino, the language spoken by Sephardic Jews, and various ways to get familiar with the language and its cultural contexts.
Ladino/Judeo-Spanish documentation and revitalisation efforts: language, music, and folklore
In December, I attended a very interesting online panel with scholars and activists who introduced their recent work on Sephardic history, teaching Ladino, and researching Ladino language and song.
Derya Agis from the University of the People in Turkey introduced us to her field work and showed us how she collects Sephardic terms and notions from the word families about animals and plants. The musicologist Judith Cohen, who is based in Toronto, presented her efforts to demystify Sephardic songs. The historian Devin E. Naar talked about his interest in how Sephardim represent their history in their own language and how important it is to digitalise these sources. The linguist Rey Romero shares this interest because he aims at applying sociolinguistic research on the teaching of heritage languages, such as Ladino. Bryan Kirschen who is also a linguist from Binghampton University, is also interested in bringing more Ladino material to students without a Sephardic background and to a wider public in general. Perhaps you remember that I “advertised” his summer courses in Ladino in vol. 14 of my Tertulia. I hope these classes will come back in summer 2022 because I would love to learn more about the Hebrew variants of writing Ladino, Solitreo and Rashi. Last but not least, la grande dame del Ladino in the USA, Rachel Bortnick, talked about her platform Ladinokomunitá, which I will present in more detail in the next chapter.
Before you dive into this active communication platform, check out the video from the panel discussion.
Besides the talks, the discussion afterwards is informative because it shows how much the interconnectedness of the Ladino-speaking communities worldwide has grown, but that they still considerate themselves to be in an absolute niche-position (compared to Yiddish, for example). Everybody involved would love to see more and better Ladino dictionaries online and a Ladino course on Duolingo - just like the one that was recently created for Yiddish. Perhaps this panel discussion will form the basis for such an endeavour. However, Rachel Bortnick mentioned that there is a virtual Ladino course available on utalk. I will try it out and will share my learning experiences in one my next tertulias.
The panel was organised by Sarah Benor, Director of the Jewish Language Project at the Hebrew Union College and Hannah Pressmann, Director of Education and Engagement for the Jewish Language Project, and facilitated by Ora R. Schwarzwald, corresponding member of the Real Academia Española for Israel since 2015.
Ladinokomunitá is a web forum written in Ladino. It was established in 1999 to promote Ladino and to spread the use of a standardised method for spelling the language with the Latin alphabet. To that aim they use the spelling rules established by the journal Aki Yerushalayim (you will find the spelling rules on the bottom of their landing page). Furthermore, they use the forum to promote knowledge of Sephardic history and culture.
The forum has become one of the most popular meeting points online for the Sephardic community and those who are interested in Ladino from different points of interest. I have subscribed to it and get a daily digest from all the new threads and ongoing discussions. The forum has currently 1,491 members. I have the impression that it not only helps me to read the language better, but I get deep insights in what is of interest within the community. Current topics range from Sephardic recipes (very interesting and appetising), media available in Ladino, advice on language usage or the exchange of childhood memories. On January 19th 2022, for example, Rachel Bortnick published memories about the Jewish holiday Tu BiShvat (the Jewish new year festival of trees). If you wish to follow these topics you can subscribe to the forum and decide the frequency of updates that you wish to receive per email.
Films depicting Sephardic culture
How to find new and old material in Ladino is one of the recurring topics of the web forum Ladinokomunitá. Of course, the new season of Kulüp (The Club), the Netflix series about a Sephardic family in Istanbul, is of big interest for many subscribers. For some it is amazing to hear the language of their childhood in a commercial movie or series. I, too, have started again to follow the whereabouts of Matilda and her daughter Raşel in 1950’s Istanbul, but have just watched the first episode of the new season. It looks like the well-known characters are allowed to grow and I am sure we will see more twists, deceit, and political intrigue turning into violence in the next episodes.
Here’s the official trailer:
One forum member also hinted at relevant film offers at Amazon Prime. Let me just briefly pass on two recommendations. I will leave room for a broader discussion of both films in one of my next tertulias.
Sefarad (2019): In 19th century Portugal, where Judaism had been prohibited since 1497, a military officer converted to the faith embarks on a mission to bring the Jewish community back to life. He and about twenty Jewish merchants found the Jewish Community of Oporto.
Cloudy Sunday: Against the backdrop of a German-occupied Thessaloniki during World War II, two star-crossed lovers struggle to overcome fear and prejudice. At the same time, the assaults on the Jewish population of Thessaloniki, the most Sephardic city in all of Europe, soar.
I am not a big fan of Amazon, but rather prefer other streaming services whenever possible. However, Amazon Prime is probably a good entry point if you look for movies and documentaries depicting Sephardic culture. If you find other streaming services which offer these films for rent, please let me know. Unfortunately, both films are not available in my location on Amazon Prime.
This is all for this week. Let me know what you think about my topics. Have a good time. Dias buenos ke tengash todos i todas.