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Hanukkah Alegre!

A group of Washington-area Sephardic Jews gathers monthly to share traditional foods and converse in the disappearing language of their ancestors

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The Hanukkah vijitas de al’had in 2009. (David Tarica)

In 2001, Sarajevo-born folk singer Flory Jagoda invited roughly a dozen other Sephardim in the Washington area to join her for conversation over burekas and bumuelos (fritters, or doughnuts). More specifically, she invited them for conversation in Judeo-Spanish, also known as Ladino, the language spoken by Jews in medieval Spain and later in the far-flung lands to which they fled after the expulsion in 1492.

Today, the language is all but forgotten, except by those like Jagoda who spoke it growing up. The group has grown to include more than 20 participants. At their monthly meetings—which members call vijitas de al’had, or “Sunday visits,” after a centuries-old tradition from the Old Country—the men and women eat Sephardic treats, sing songs, and study a Judeo-Spanish reading exercise, complete with vocabulary lists. Vox Tablet’s Julie Subrin visited their annual Hanukkah gathering in 2009 for this audio postcard from our archives. [Running time: 7:33.] 

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Ladino is disappearing, sadly. Ladino never achieved the dynamic staying power of Yiddish. Once Yiddish went secular, writers and poets arose who gave us a rich literature. Not only that but a Yiddish press arose and Yiddish radio which kept the language alive. Ladino developed some romantic songs which came down to us but not much more. Ladino speakers described their speech as a dialect of Spanish whereas Yiddish speakers declared their speech as a language. Sadly Ladino is disappearing while Yiddish is undergoing a resurgence under the tongues of the CHAREDIM.

Wonderful. How strange, I can speak some French and I’ve been told my Spanish has a Catalon accent. Is there such a group (Sephardi) in the San Francisco area??
Buanas, El Maestro Baba.

Wow… Jews who don’t eat latkes, nor listen to klezmer, and don’t use the word “dreidl”…. and wow, they are ALSO Jews and they ALSO celebrate Hanukkah!!!

Quite a groundbreaking and newsworthy story for Tablet!!

Isaac Cohen says:

I am Sephardic and wondering if you know of any ladino-speaking group in Chicago where I live. I used to speak it fluently. I gave recently a series of lectures on the Jews of Spain and showing the excellent videos narrated by Ytzhak Navon “Out of Spain” and available at Amazon.com. I am engaged now in a project to correct the blood libel biases which are alive and well today in Spain and Portugal with offending paintings, streets named after “saintly” children “murdered” by Jews, and no monuments or memorial plaques to commemorate the auto da fés and burnings alive and in effigy that took place in the central squares of many cities. Let me know if you can help.

Isaac Cohen

David B. says:

Here is a book by ibis editions in Ladino and English
http://www.ibiseditions.com/home/newbooks5.htm
good read. Like all ibis books.

tantelaeh says:

The Jews who have returned to Spain from every corner of the world…all 45,000 of them speak Ladino. Let us not forget these people about whom Kathleen Regan a professor of Spanish made a fantastic film. You can rent the film.

Luisa Hazan says:

Sadly, I see that most of your readers know little about ladino and ladino speakers all over the world. I can tell you there are many people who still use ladino in their communication and the number is growing thanks to many publications like Aki Yerushalayim (Israel), El amanecer (Turkey), Aki estamos (France), esefarad.com (Argentina, and Ladinokomunita@yahoogroups.com with over 1.200 members communicating everyday in Ladino.
Ladino is alive and thriving!!!!!!!

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Sunday Visit

Photographs by David Tarica
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