Weekend in Quest 2015 Study Sessions
The Rise and Fall of Ladino-Speaking Jewry
with Prof. Devin Naar
Session 1: Under the Wings of the Sultan: The Rise of Jewish Communities in the Ottoman Empire
The “Golden Age” of Jewish life in Spain came to a devastating end in 1492. In the wake of the infamous expulsion decree of that year, Jews from Spain dispersed far and wide with the largest number ultimately settling in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. This lecture traces the trans-Mediterranean journey of the exiled Spanish Jews to the sultan’s realm and the cultural and political dynamics that shaped the communities they created and developed over the subsequent centuries. In short, it explores how the descendants of Spanish Jews eventually became Ottoman Jews.
Session 2: A Jewish Language for All Occasions: Ladino Culture and Literature
While Yiddish expressions pepper American English and great Yiddish novels are celebrated still today, comparatively little is known about the Ladino and the cultural world it shaped from 1492 until World War II. While spoken only by a few elderly individuals in the United States, Europe and Israel, Ladino (also known as Judezmo and Judeo-Spanish) was once the language that permeated every aspect of Jewish life in Greece, Turkey and the Balkans. This lecture provides an introduction to the defining features of the Ladino language, serious and humorous aspects of Ladino folk culture, and key works of Ladino literature, both religious and secular.
Session 3: The Sephardic Holocaust: The Destruction of the Jews of Greece
Although often omitted from standard presentations of the Holocaust, the Jews of Greece suffered one of the highest mortality rates of any Jewish community under Nazi occupation. The largest of all Ladino-speaking communities, Salonica (Thessaloniki), known as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans,” where Jews comprised half of the city’s residents at the turn of the century and where the port closed on Saturday in observance of the Jewish Sabbath, was completely decimated. This lecture will explore the distinctive processes of destruction, possibilities of survival, and the echoes of the memory of this once great community.
Session 4: A Diaspora within a Diaspora: Sephardic Jews in America
As many as fifty thousand Jews from the lands of the former Ottoman Empire came to the United States in the decades surrounding World War I. They constituted a tiny minority within the broader Jewish American community. How did the newly arriving Sephardic Jews adapt to their new country of residence? What became of their language, culture, religious traditions, and connections to their places of birth? How was their experience shaped by interactions with their new neighbors, including Yiddish-speaking Jews? This lecture will explore the trajectories of Sephardic Jews from the Mediterranean world to America during the twentieth century.