January 2001

A new issue will be posted shortly. In the meantime enjoy the following
and for the latest in programs skip ahead to the Calendar.

  • Assessing Two Decades of Ammiel Alcalay

  • by David Shasha
  • A Review of Jewish Communities in Exotic Places

  • by David Shasha
  • The True Adventures of a Syrian American Writer: Joe Sutton's Story

  • Jewish Time in Berkeley

  •     by Jordan Elgrably
  • Two Reviews of "Morocco," the New Show at the Jewish Museum

  •     by Habiba Boumlik/Dalia Kandiyoti + Holland Cotter (NY Times)
  • Sephardic Halakha As an Alternate Paradigm for Authentic Jewish Continuity

  •     by Zvi Zohar
  • January Calendar    send us your news and views

  • Jewish Music Festival March 10-17, SF Bay Area

    "Variations on an Oak Leaf II" by Desy Safan
    Salud, Amor e Inspiración en 2001

    In Retrospect: Assessing Ammiel Alcalay's

    Contribution to Sephardic Culture

    By David Shasha

    I recently purchased a copy of the long out-of-print novel by Albert Cohen, Levantine man of letters, called Solal. Albert Cohen was just one of the many writers brought back to consciousness, Sephardic and otherwise, by a scholar whom I was introduced to in 1982 named Ammiel Alcalay. With a recently published collection of essays, Memories of Our Future---essays that span roughly the entire period that I know Ammiel---I felt it important to look back at his work and assess its significance after nearly two decades.
    Many of us grew up in a Sephardic world that was in the process of disintegrating. Fewer people who were of the old world had any great impact on the young second generation Americans who, by and large, were ushered into Ashkenazi Jewish modernity. As a member of that generation that was reoriented to the new system and locked out of the old, my own itinerary is both typical and out of the ordinary. I grew up in a place that maintained but faint traces of its past and, indeed, had begun to shut off from the world.

    The work of Ammiel Alcalay must be understood as part of a continuum of post-modern Judaism that had been begun by Susan Handelman with her Slayers of Moses. Handelman read deeply in texts that had been ignored or thought trivial by many Jewish thinkers to that point: In the writings of Harold Bloom, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan, Handelman heard echoes of these ancient Jewish texts. Handelman did not fix her sights on the Bible, that most seminal of documents, but, in the manner of the so-called Post-Structuralists, she turned her attention to the massive interpretive literature of the Jewish Sages, known as Midrash. The Hakhamim developed a massive intellectual culture that not only interpreted the classic writings of the Bible, but were the ones who put those writings in the canonical order that we have them in today.

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    Jewish Communities in Exotic Places is an admixture of cultural anthropology and reporting which offers an overview of 17 Jewish groups that have been referred to in Hebrew as edot ha-mizrach, Eastern or Oriental Jewish communities. Another translation of the phrase is "the tribes of the east" and is the reason why a new generation of Israelis from these communities made a political statement when they began to call themselves mizrahim in the late 1960s and '70s. That is, Jews of Europe and the Americas in Israel, the Ashkenazim, erred in calling these Jews "tribes" while referring to Ashkenazim as "the Jewish people." [editor's note]
    Exotic Jews of the Middle East
    a critical review by the numbers of

    Jewish Communities in Exotic Places, Ken Blady (Aronson 2000)

    By David Shasha

    Ken Blady is connected to the Orientalist anti-Sephardim which includes Norman Stillman, Bernard Lewis and others.  A number of points:

    1. He does not speak Arabic and has done no research in the field in terms of speaking with the people he writes about.

    2. His work is an arm of the Israeli government that seeks to analyze the political status of the Diaspora communities. To this end, each of his chapters begins with a statement on Muslim anti-Semitism and the dhimmi status of Jews in these places.

    3. There is no discussion of the community's history as it relates to culture and creativity.  It would be like writing an assessment of the Polish Jewish community on the basis of Auschwitz and the Nazis alone.

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    The Truth As I Saw It: Joseph Sutton's Story

    Syrian Jewish writer and Los Angeles native Joe Sutton (b. 1940) has just published his first novel. Morning Pages, the Almost True Story of My Life (Creative Arts Book Co., Berkeley 2000), is a loosely fictionalized version of his youth growing up in L.A. during the 1950s, one of five boys of a Syrian family from Brooklyn. After a promising high school football career, Sutton won a football scholarship to the University of Oregon. It wasn't until the late 1960s while he was working as a teacher in South-Central, however, that Sutton realized he wanted to become a writer. And where else do aspiring writers go to live the boho life and write fiction? San Francisco. A familiar face on the Bay Area writers scene, these days Joe Sutton writes for a variety of magazines, including Writer's Digest and Writers' Journal. He has written many short stories and his first collection, The Immortal Mouth and Other Stories, will be published in 2001 by Creative Arts.
    click here to read about Sutton's recent reading and a brief Q & A

    Jewish Time in Berkeley

    While visiting Berkeley recently, I learned of the Judah Magnes Museum's new exhibit, "Telling Time: To Everything There is a Season," which is the Magnes' most extensive exhibit in its 37-year history (the show remains in place through November 2001). Right before I arrived, in fact, the exhibit apparently doubled in size, and now includes a few items from other cultures, among them Tibetan, Mexican and African-American. Time seemed an excellent subject to explore the very meaning of Jewish identity and the relationship between Jewish and other cultures in a historical framework. As the museum's executive director, Susan Morris notes, "Every culture uses traditionas to mark time. The more people understand how one culture lives, the more they may understand another. By collecting and displaying works as a public trust, we hope to help fight intolerance."

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    "Morocco" at the Jewish Museum

    Habiba Boumlik and Dalia Kandiyoti

    Photo of Esther Play for Purim,Tanger, 1914                                                Hamsas, amulets against "the evil eye"

    The show on Morocco runs through early February at the Jewish Museum. While the organizers of the exhibit, including Dr. Vivian Mann, are frank about their use of Orientalist imagery, "Morocco" may well represent a lost opportunity. One might have anticipated a different kind of show, displaying both the folkloric and exotic aspects that are the focus of this exhibit, but also including a range of creative and intellectual works of Moroccan Jewry. Dedicated largely to artifacts and displaying few traces of modernity, this exhibit emphasizes the timeless, instead of the continuous culture of Moroccan Jewry.

    There are over 180 objects displayed relating to various aspects of religious, artistic, and economic life. The brief historical context offered in the first room underlines the close ties between Jews and Muslims; of special notice is the declaration of King Mohamed V, who refused to apply certain Vichy laws in Morocco; when asked during WWII by a Nazi commander, the monarch replied, "We have no Jews in Morocco. Only Moroccan citizens." In this room one also finds a menorah dating back to the 4th or 5th century, a testimony to the length of Jewish settlement in Morocco.

    continue reading the review here

    click here for other reactions to the exhibit on Morocco

    click here to read Holland Cotter's NY Times review

    Sephardic Halakha As an Alternate Paradigm for Authentic Jewish Continuity

    Zvi Zohar
        Shalom Hartman Institute

    In this article, I shall attempt to characterize the response of Sephardic rabbis to the challenges of modernity. My general thesis is that their response is different, in significant and interesting ways, from that of their Ashkenazic-European peers. Moreover, the modalities of this "difference'" suggest valuable alternate paths of Jewish authenticity, beyond the denominational schism that has shattered Occidental Jewish life in modern times.

    The Coalescence of Orthodoxy in Europe

    In the 18th and 19th centuries, European Jewry underwent processes of Haskalah ("Enlightenment") and secularization, accompanied by intense internal social and ideological tensions. Many rabbis felt that these changes threatened the very existence of traditional Judaism and, in order to counter these threats, they formulated a counter-strategy which became known as "Orthodoxy." Understandably, Orthodox leaders declared that they were simply preserving and continuing the ways of life and the beliefs of pre-modern Judaism. However, such contentions are at variance with socio-historical reality, writes Jacob Katz:

                 The claim of the Orthodox to be no more than the guardians of
                  the pure Judaism of old is a fiction. In fact, Orthodoxy was a
                  method of confronting deviant trends, and of responding to the
                  very same stimuli which produced these trends, albeit with a
                  conscious effort to deny such extrinsic motivations.1

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    January Calendar
    click Calendar for very latest
    send us your news and views

    MoroccoOpen through Feb. 11 N.Y.,Morocco: Jews and Art in a Muslim Land, Jewish Museum, 5th Ave. at 92nd St. Exhibit, which runs through Feb. 11, 2001, focuses on Morocco's multicultural art and traditions and the history of Jewish life in Morocco for over 2,000 years. More than 180 objects, among them Orientalist paintings by well-known European artists such as Eugene Delacroix and Alfred Dehudenocq; beautiful jewelry and ceremonial objects of silver and gold; sumptuous textiles and costumes; and 19th and 20th century photographs will be on display. "The exhibition will depict a culture frm the vantage point of 'outsiders'---Orientalist painters and photographers---and from the 'insider's' perspective of the objects Jews created for themselves and others. Vistors will be encouraged to consider the impact of Muslims, Jews, and Europeans on Moroccan cultureóa venerable culture that developed from Berber traditions." 212-423-3200. www.thejewishmuseum.org

    Jan. 10, N.Y., 7:30 pm Nitzhia Shaked on Rambam (Maimonides): The Man, The Rabbi, The Philosopher. The American Sephardi Federation presents Nitzhia Shaked of San Francisco State University. Shaked is a dynamic speaker and long-time teacher and scholar of Jewish texts. She integrates her passion for teaching and research with her expertise in biblical law.  An engaging speaker, Shaked has a great following from her classes in textual analysis and her monthly radio show, "Torah Talk."  She is currently writing a book on the legal aspects of the trial of Jesus. Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street. Admission: $10 for non-members, $6 for members For reservations please call (917) 606-8200.

    Jan. 12, Fri., D.C., 8:00 pm The Jews of Timbuktu Rick Gold speaks at Machar, the Washington DC Congregation for Secular and Humanistic Judaism, on the Jews of this African city. Machar meets at the British School, 16th and Decatur Streets NW. Since the beginning of the Jewish people, intermarriage, forced conversion and secularization have diminished the numbers of those considered "Jewish" by religious leaders.  Today, millions of ìnon-Jewsî are aware that they have Jewish ancestry.  One group that has embraced its Jewish roots lives in Timbuktu, Mali, West Africa.  Rick Gold, a Machar member who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Bamako, Mali, has helped publicize this group among academics, Jews and African-Americans. Rick will speak about the origins of the Jews of Timbuktu and lead a discussion on the significance of such "lost" Jewish communities for the Jewish Secular
    Humanist movement.

    Jan. 12, Fri., N.Y., 8:00 pm Songs of the Arab World, Youssef Kassab. Washington Square Church. 135 W. 4th St. New York. $20 / $15 World Music Institute Friends. Youssef Kassab is widely regarded as the foremost singer of Arab music in America. A highly expressive vocalist, he has a  diverse repertoire which includes classical, folk and popular music  from the Middle East, including the  works of Mohammed Abdul Wahab. Since coming to the U.S. in 1970, the Syrian born singer has appeared at many major Middle  Eastern concerts and festivals. His credits include performances with the Mohammed Khary Orchestra of Lebanon, Ali Jihad Racy, and Simon  Shaheen. The program is under the  direction of ëud (lute) player Maurice Chedid, a graduate of the Conservatory of Music in Beirut. Accompaniment on kanun (zither), violin and percussion.

    Jan. 13, L.A., 8 pm Najva - Whispers in the vast---Kurdish Tanbur Music of Iran AliAkbar Moradi on tanbur, Pejman Hadadi on tombak, daf. Check out the two CDs just released from Moradi and Hadadi.  Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2726 Pico blvd. in Santa Monica. Information and Credit Cards: (310) 470-5177. Theater Box Office: 310 828-7519. The concert travels to Sacramento, Seattle and Berkeley later in the month. Contact PersianMusic.com for more info.

    Jan. 17, S.F., 7 pm Judy Frankel Sings Songs of the Sephardim Traveling Jewish Theater's Wednesday evening music series. Cal (415) 399-1809 or the theater for details. Judy Frankel is one of the nation's foremost performers of Sephardic music. A highly skilled vocalist and researcher, Frankel presents an all-new concert of Judeo-Spanish music featuring ancient and contemporary songs created in the 500 year-old oral tradition of Medieval Spain.  Frankel's performances get rave reviews, having been called "beyond perfection," "outstanding," "full of feeling," and "vibrant with life."

    Jan 17, L.A, 8:00 pm The Levantine Project, organized by Open Tent Middle East Coalition, will hold the fourth of its monthly meetings at The Complex, Flight Theater, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. This series focuses on (re)building a cooperative and pluralistic society through dialogue, reconciliation, cultural renewal, grassroots initiatives, peace and justice. Open Tent includes diverse non-profit organizations, individuals and businesses who advocate for peace in the Middle East and among Middle Eastern descendents in the United States. Every third Wednesday of the month. RSVP with Open Tent 323-650-3157 or email .

    Through Jan. DC, 7-9 pm Duties of the Heart  Sundays,ongoing (call to confirm).  This group examines works of Jewish philosophy ó ancient, modern, and in-between (e.g., Pirkei Avot, Primo Levi, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, A.J. Heschel, and Chaim Luzatto)ó with a view to how text  can transform our lives. Launched as a 1996 Jewish Study Center course of the same name, the group is now sponsored by the DCJCCís Center for Jewish Living and Learning and continues informally, with participants choosing texts, sharing leadership, and occasionally inviting guest speakers.  During the winter session, teacher Sam Zaremba will examine  Texts for the winter are works of Chafetz Chaim (ethical texts from an early 20th-century commentator) and Duties of the Heart by Bachya Ibn Pakuda (the ethical/mystical text from which the original course and study group derived their names). New participants are always welcome, and it is not necessary to have read a text in order to join the discussion; however, it is suggested that new participants call before attending to confirm meeting times and text. Contact: Sam Zaremba, (301) 984-2136

    The Progressive Jewish Radio Hour at WBAI broadcasts in New York Sundays, 11 am Tune in locally or go here to listen over the Net.

    Jan-March 1, 2001 SF Bay Area The Jewish Community of Cuba A photo exhibit by Bay Area photographer Dan Heller focuses on virtually every aspect of the Jews of Cuba. Marin Jewish Community Center, 200 North San Pedro Road, San Rafael, CA, 94903. For directions and further details click here.

    Jan-Feb. 3, S.F. Cara Judea Alhadeff Photographs by Cara Judea Alhadeff are included in a group show at the Poor Walls Quotidian Gallery, 760 Market Street at 3rd. "My color photographs invite exploration
    of our society's obsessive fascination with and fear of the body."Call the artist for more information, (415) 775-9203 or visit her work online.

    Jan. 14-25, N.Y. n 10th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival Among the many films at Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum will be Michka Saäl's Snail Position (Canada, 1999), the story of a young Sephardic woman in Montreal who sets out to make a new life for herself while coping with the return of her father after a 23-year absence. Check their websites or call the JewMu at (212) 423-3338 or The Film Society of Lincoln Center, (212) 875-5600.

    Jan. 18, S.F., 7:30 pm Conversations on Roots & Identity 3:  Syrian Jewish life will be at the heart of this living-room style discussion of culture, identity and Sephardi/Mizrahi issues. Special guest Joseph Sutton, author of the recent novel Morning Pages, will read. Poetry Center, Humanities 512, San Francisco State University, corner of Tapia & off Holloway.  For more information, call Myra Lappin (415) 338-1706.

    THIS EVENT POSTPONED UNTIL WEDNESDAY, FEB. 28, SAME TIME. PLEASE RSVP EARLY IN FEBRUARY. Jan 24 L.A. 7:30 pm Conversations on Roots & Identity 4 This popular series raises issues of cultural roots, spiritual practice and affiliation, literary explorations and adjusting to a bicultural, American and Middle Eastern identity. Part four of the new series in L.A.  features Libyan-born Penina Solomon sharing stories of her Jewish childhood and adolescence through her art work and poetry. As seating is limited for this free event, you must reserve by phone or email. Sherman Oaks. Call for directions. RSVP to (323) 650-3157 or email: .
    Jan 26-28 N.Y. Jews of Morocco Sephardic House celebrates the Jews from Morocco with novelist Ruth Knafo Setton as well as Dr. Avaham Marthan, Dr. Haim Toledano, Maurice Bendahan, Ambassador Lancry, Rabbi Mitchell Serels, and Vivian Mann, curator at the Jewish Musuem. (212) 294-6149.

    Jan 29 L.A., 4 pm. Ammiel Alcalay, "The Poetry of Witness." This visiting scholar and author reads and discusses original work and translations from Hebrew, Arabic and Bosnian. Most recently the author of Memories of Our Future, Essays 1982-1999(Citylights 1999), Alcalay presents at UCLA's Royce 314 as part of the Center for Jewish Studies' winter quarter. Call (310) 825-5387, email or visit the Center online.

    Feb. 1, L.A., 7 pm Axiom of Choice The Los Angeles-based Persian cross-cultural ensemble Axiom of Choice will perform on February 1st at Madison Site Theater at Santa Monica College, 11th St.& Santa Monica Blvd. The concert is free and limited space is available. For information, call: (310) 434-3431. Axiom of Choice features Mamak Khadem on vocals, Loga Ramin Torkian on guitar and quarter-tone guitar, Ruben Harotunian on duduk and zurna, Martin Tillman on cello and Ando Haryutunian on percussion.

     Feb. 1, Miami Beach, 8 pm Moti Deren with Speical Guest Susan Reyes As part of Sephardic Festival 2001/ Federación Sefardí Latinoamericana, Cuban-American musician and composer Moti Deren performs at the Sephardic congregation of Florida Torat Moshe.  Deren's music recital is Judeo-Spanish Canticas & Romanzas and is an evening of music and dance featuring guitar, voice and other instruments, with special invited artist, dancer and choreographer Susana Reyes from Ecuador. 1200 Normandy Drive, Miami Beach. Donation $15  - for more information (305) 861-6308 or contact Moti Deren (305) 867-4121. Deren's latest Cd will be available at this concert.

    Feb. 3, L.A., 8 pm Masters of Persian Music in Concert  Mohammad Reza Shajarian: vocals, Hossein Alizadeh: tar Keyhan Kalhor: kamancheh and Homayoun Shajarian on tombak, vocals. Bovard Auditorium/USC. They also perform in Portland, San Diego, Santa Barbara and other U.S. cities late in January and throughout February. Persian Arts Society/Kereshmeh Records.Tickets/Info: (310) 470-5177.

    February 10 "Return to Sepharad" with Adam and Laila Del Monte Two of the most authentic and talented flamenco performers in the United States will perform a beautiful and complex repertoire of dance and songs which, in part, illustrate the multicultural origins of flamenco music. Adam Del Monte discusses briefly some of his musicological research into the Jewish, Moorish and Spanish beginnings of the genre. This flamenco fusion program takes place at Congregation Ner Tamid, in the South Bay, 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. Reserved seating, $36, general admission $18. Tickets (310) 377-6986 or call Ivri-NASAWI, (323) 650-3157. Coffee and dessert are included.

    February 17, L.A. 8 pm  Poets of War, Exile and Memory: Majid Naficy and Ammiel Alcalay Exiled Persian poet Majid Naficy, who nows lives in Los Angeles, will read new and original work. He will be joined by Sephardic poet and translator Ammiel Alcalay. Sponsored by Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center with Ivri-NASAWI and Al Jadid, A Record of Arab Culture and Arts. Saturday, 8 pm, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. For tickets and information call  (310) 822-3006 or (323) 650-3157.

    February 28 to March 14, 2001 Special notice: Purim Trip to Cuba! Purim  Trip to visit Jewish Cuba.  Leaving from Miami with a slight chance of Los Angeles. Prices: $2740 double occupancy $480 single supplement Included: airfare Miami/Havana/ Miami airfare. Santiago/Havana ground transportationfor all planned activities. Bi-lingual guide. Health and accident insurance. Transfers/airport transfers. Breakfast  daily,  8 dinners,  5 lunches Entrance fee to Cannon Ceremony, Havana. Boat ride on Lake Habanilla. For complete details, email June Safran at the Cuba-America Jewish Mission.

    March 1, S.F. Semezdin Mehdinovic and Ammiel Alcalay at the Poetry Center. Click here for complete details.


    SF Bay Area March 10-17Jewish Music Festival The 16th annual festival emphasizes Sephardi and Mizrahi music.  Yair Dalal & Hamza El Din - Internationally acclaimed composers/performers of Israeli, Arabic and Nubian music in a rare collaborative concert cosponsored by Ivri-NASAWI. Pharaoh's Daughter - Hot New York-based world music sextet melding Hasidic, Moroccan, Indian and Turkish melodies and rhythms. Ramón Tasat - Renowned Argentine Cantor singing the rich folk and liturgical music of the Italian, Turkish & Spanish Jews. The Jews of Africa - Lecture and demonstration with performer and African music expert Jay Sand. Za'atar - Mizrahi and Sephardic music performance/community jam session. Shir HaShirim Kabbalat Shabbat Service. for further info or call (925) 866-9559.

    March 11/17/18 New York Arab World Shorts Festival NYU Cantor Film Center 36 East 8th Street, New York. Nightly Q&A sessions at end of screenings with filmmakers. Organized by Alwan, a non-profit, NYC-based cultural group in association with the Arab Society at NYU. The last decade proved fruitful for Arab independent video and filmmakers. They undertook extraordinary audio-visual experiments and rejuvenated century-old cinematic formulas. Visit Alwan for list of films, times and synopses.

    *Ivri-NASAWI listsSephardi/Mizrahi and Middle Eastern-related events
    produced by other organizations. Please be sure to call in your programswith 30 days advancenotice whenever possible.To inquire about our affordableweb rates, call (323) 650-3157.

    To inquire about membership in Ivri-NASAWI, click here.

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