El Transito, Toledo, Spain

The Levy Family Sephardic Library Opens in Los Angeles

by Art Benveniste

In the past several years, there has been a renaissance of Sephardic life around the United States, which can be seen in an increased number of music, art and literary programs, created by both Sephardic and Ashkenazic groups. Among them are Sephardic Film Festivals in Los Angeles (Sephardic Educational Center) and New York (Sephardic House), the annual Sephardic Arts Festival (Los Angeles), and the dozens of salons, concerts, readings and festival organized by Ivri-NASAWI. While Ivri-NASAWI has excercised an appreciable effect on the consciousness of a Jewish community which previously took little notice of Sephardic cultures (unless as a folkloric remnant), other organizations in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Miami have also contributed to a subtle change in the climate.

Recently the Jewish Museum in New York ran a show about Jewish life in Morocco; much of that show was admittedly orientalist in perspective, however, and we have yet to see a completely contemporary, positivist presentation of Mizrahi cultures by any of the major Jewish institutions. (Last year, the Skirball Cultural Center organized a "Mizrahi Arts Festival" in which two out of the three main acts were neither Mizrahi nor even Jewish). So, on one level, Sephardi and Mizrahi cultures are still being commodified and sold by others, rather than being responsibly presented; on another, there is more out there to choose from. The Levy Family Sephardic Library will be a welcome addition to the growing body of American Sephardica. [Editor]

The Levy Family Sephardic Library and Exhibit Center

February 11, 2001 was a historic day for Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel (STTI) in Los Angeles. That day marked the inauguration of the Levy Family Library and Exhibition Center. The center features a major photographic exhibit showcasing architectural, historical and artistic aspects of the former Samuel Ha-Levy Abulafia synagogue of Toledo. The synagogue, now known as El Transito, is a must-see for all Jewish visitors to Toledo. STTI has the exhibit for its permanent collection through a grant from the Fund for Higher Education (Max Candiotty, Amnon Barness and Nessim Tiano) and a donation from Jebb Levy.
     The center includes a multimedia section with Internet access to all Sephardic web sites, a computer with a database for research into Sephardic history, culture, genealogy and much more. There is also be a large collection of videos available.
     The exhibition center committee, chaired by Sandy Candiotty, has been working for several months to prepare for the opening.  They are proud to have acquired the services of Victor Raphael as curator. Raphael is a noted artist who has had several showings of his work locally, most recently at Pepperdine University.
     Professor Moshe Lazar, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Tel Aviv University and professor of Comparative Literature at USC, is a member of the committee an important advisor to the center.  He was instrumental in getting the exhibit for STTI and, with his contacts in Spain, is negotiating to get loans of other exhibits of Sephardic interest.
     Plans are being made for future exhibits which would include: photos and artifacts showing life in Turkey, Greece, Morocco, Iran, Egypt and other areas from where Sephardic Jews emigrated to the U.S.; the history of the Sephardim in Los Angeles; the STTI collection of ancient books and documents; and other exhibits from Iberia and Israel.
     Hebrew schools, havurahs and all other Jewish and non-Jewish groups are invited to make reservation for a tour of the center. Docents are being trained and will be available.

Art Benveniste is a retired historian and Sephardic mover-and-shaker in Los Angeles who edits HaLapid, the newsletter of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies.
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