Lady in Green
by Nahid Hagigat

News & Views from Ivri-NASAWI

Week of April 24, 2000

The Rebellious Moment
A renaissance of interest in poetry, art of the people, has prompted Ivri-NASAWI to organize a new Poetry section for our website. Accomplished poets included in the forthcoming new feature are Murat Nemet-Nejat, Mohja Kahf, Brenda Serotte, Ruth Knafo Setton, Gregory Orfalea, Ruth Behar, Judy Benoliel Belsky, Michael Castro, Ammiel Alcalay, Sami Shalom Chetrit, David Unger and Alegria Bendelac. The Poetry section will go up shortly, and will grow with new work added on a bimonthly basis.

New Resource Manager
Editor/anthropologist Gloria Levitas has become Ivri-NASAWI's new Resource Manager in the New York area. Acting in an editorial and advisory capacity, Ms. Levitas will contribute to the News & Views; solicit capsule book reviews and full-length assignments; cull information on local foundations; and work with others to compile our new bibliography. If you have books with Sephardi/Mizrahi/Middle Eastern content you'd like other readers to know about, please forward your lists and commentaries to Ms. Levitas may be reached at (212) 595-3924. She will be hosting the next "Conversations on Roots & Identity" on May 15 (see Events).

Sephardim in Melilla
The trend of recognizing Spain's rich Jewish past continues as the city of Melilla, a protectorate on Morocco's northern coast, opens its first-ever exhibit dedicated to Sephardic culture. The City Museum (El Museo de la Ciudad), directed by Simón Benguigui, will include artifacts from Melilla's nine synagogues. The Sephardic population is Melilla's third largest, after Christian and Muslim social groups. To learn more, visit the Sur website, at

New Books

Sacred Landscape, the Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948
by Meron Benvenisti (UC Press, 2000)
Former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Benvenisti is a Ha'aretz columnist, as well as the author of three previous books, Conflicts and Contradictions, Intimate Enemies, and City of Stone. This meticulous account of conflicting Palestinian/Israeli maps of the region will be eye-opening, regardless of your political convictions. In Sacred Landscape the author records not only the erasure of the Arab past, but the creation of the Hebrew future. Coming full circle in the epilogue, Benvenisti quotes Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish: "The geography within history is stronger than the history within geography." Benvenisti believes that there is enough historical and physical space that this region can one day be a shared homeland.

Sephardi Jewry A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th-20th Centuries
by Esther Benbassa and Aron Rodrigue (UC Press, 2000)
This is the first paperback edition of a study original published by Benbassa and Rodrigue in French; a hardback version appeared in England as The Jews of the Balkans in 1995. For anyone who wishes to sort out a number of beautiful Sephardi myths from what can be gleaned by exacting scholarship and distilled into a historical record, Sephardi Jewry will be a welcome handbook. Esther Benbassa is a professor of Jewish history at the Sorbonne; Aron Rodrigue, a history scholar at Stanford and a member of Ivri-NASAWI.

Jewish Communities in Exotic Places
Ken Blady (Jason Aronson Inc, 2000)
This new book, an admixture of cultural anthopology and reporting, 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." Blady's book notes that "there is little historical documenation" on edot ha-mizrach and at times refers to these communities as "exotic"; but there is a growing body of literature available on the Jews of Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, North Africa and Turkey (Nissim Rejwan's The Jews of Iraq was published as far back as 1985).

Blady contributes interesting albeit "colorful" chapters on the Mountain Jews of Kurdistan, the Krimchaks of the Crimea, the Ebraeli of Georgia, the Mountain Jews of Dagistan, the Tadjiki Jews of Bukhara, the Bene Israel of Bombay and several more. More than a shade of Orientalism creeps into the book, but this is to be expected, as Jews of the Western world tend to be largely cut off from, and therefore ignorant of, "other" Jewish stories. An example is that Blady has a chapter on the Tunisia Jews of Djerba, who remain completely traditional; yet there is no mention of Tunisian Jewish literature, newspapers or intellectuals. This reflects the general trend of the book, alas, yet Jewish Communities holds intrinsic interest, even for Mizrahim who refuse to be viewed as exotics.

A writer, educator and Yiddish translator born in Paris, Blady grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended yeshiva and a rabbinical seminary. He later became a therapist, author and lecturer on the Jewish circuit. To obtain the book, visit

American Jews and Multiculturalism
David Biale, Michael Galchinsky, Susannah Heschel, editors
(UC Press, new paper edition 1998/2000)
Where do Jews fit into multicultural America? This collection of essays echoes Karen Brodkin's inquiry in her recent book How Jews Became White Folk, and What That Says about Racism in America [see Events, April 27]. Like that anthropological undertaking, which is colored by some of Brodkin's personal  history, the essays in Insider/Outsider fail to include very much at all about non-Ashkenazic (non Eastern/Central/Northern European) Jewish culture  and identity.

Although you won't find the words "Sephardic" nor "Mizrahi" in  the table of contents or the index, to his credit, David Biale makes mention of Sephardim in his essay "The Melting Pot and Beyond," but only in  critiquing Israel Zangwill's book The Melting Pot. Jews of the Levant, North Africa and the Middle East remain largely invisible in the United States, as they are in this collection, relegated to folkloric representations in museums, exiled on the margins of academia still. While Insider/Outsider will  hold a degree of interest and even fascination for some, it further emphasizes the fact that Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewish stories must be brought into the American Jewish narrative. One continues to be amazed at the invisibility of Jewish history in Spain, the Levant, the Middle East, and Africa. Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews are today's true Outsiders in the Jewish community, while "white" Jews are increasingly becoming Insiders in academia, publishing, entertainment and the media.

A Cultural Landscape
Predrag Matvejevic (UC Press, 1999)
Translated from the Croatian by Michael Henry Heim, this slim yet rich volume in a beatiful hardback edition has won four European literary prizes. It is deemed a must-read for anyone interested in the Mediterranean and joins S.D. Goitein's A Mediterranean Society as a classic in the genre.

Searching For Life
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina
Rita Arditti (UC Press, 1999)
A scholar and report of the first order, Riti Arditti picks up where Nunca Mas and other works about Argentina's "Dirty War" leave off. Gathering personal histories from some very courageous women, Arditti's book is ultimately about the courage never to forget. Riti Arditti is part of the core faculty at the College of Graduate Studies of the Union Institute and is a member of Ivri-NASAWI.

Iraq Under Seige,
The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War
Anthony Arnove, editor (South End Press, 2000)
This new paperback volume includes 15 valuable essays by, among others, Robert Fisk, Howard Zinn, Rania Masri, Noam Chomsky and John Pilger. It includes maps, photos, diagrams and a resource guide to organizations working to help end the embargo which has cost many thousands of lives. Iraq Under Seige points out that the media has personified the country as Saddam Hussein, often ignoring the fact that sanctions have not dislodged the dictator nor harmed him in the short-term. To order or access South End's website:

The Global Soul
Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home
Pico Ayer (Knopf, 2000)
A wonderful essayist and inveterate border crosser, Pico Ayer continues along his brilliant path, investigating cultural plurarity, travel, airports and the global marketplace. His previous book is that inimitable collection of essays, Tropical Classical. Ayer, who is of mixed Indian, British and American heritage, writes (and lives) like a true Levantine.

Modern Hebrew For Beginners
A Multimedia Program
Esther Raizen (University of Texas Press, 2000)
A new workbook and interactive website course, Modern Hebrew takes beginners to the intermediate level in a semester, assuming five weekly classroom hours. Designed for independent study as well as use by college and high school students, Raizen's method includes a wide variety of written and oral activities. Training with the workbook only is possible, but the programs available online will enhance the learning process.

New Periodicals

El Andar, a Latino magazine for the new millenium
A handsomely-produced quarterly on literature, politics, film, music, poetry and feminism, the Spring issue of El Andar offers more than 70 pages of essays, articles, poetry, photography and art work. To subscribe ($18 a year individuals, $30 institutions), write, call (831) 457-8353 or visit

Mizna, a triannual journal of Arab poetry, opinion, short stories, essays and art, has published its second issue, with work by Dima Hilal, Ibtisam Barakat, Lorie Haddad, Riad Mikhael, Shareef Riad, Rawi Hage, Steven Salaita and Jalaa Anwar Abdelwahab. Subscriptions $15 (individual), $25 (International), $40 (Institutional). Mizna, POB 14294, Minneapolis MN 55414

Arab Studies Journal, edited by Bassam SA Haddad and published by Georgetown University, is currently working on a new issue about language and culture. Queries invited. Visit


L.A. Thurs., April 27, 2nd Meeting of Multicultural Reading Group
A new discussion group organized by Rick Chertoff meets for the second time, to discuss Karen Brodkin's How Jews Became White Folks, and What That Says About Race in America. Home of historian and Jewish studies professor Brenda Ness, 3520 Kelton Ave., in West LA. RSVP to  310-434-4669, or email . This group invites Jews, Latinos and others to confront issues of race, identity, power and gender. Notes Chertoff, "The realities that can be acquired from this book are exciting and provide a new insight into Jewish identity that can in turn allow us to look at other people--not only Latinos--differently."

Directions: 3520 Kelton Ave. In West Los Angeles, south of Palms, between Sepulveda & Overland; 1st light E. of Sepul./ 2nd light W. of Overland. Enter from Palms Blvd., coming East or West. From West; 405 off @ Venice Blvd., left off Fwy on Sepulveda, North to Palms, Right on Palms, one light R. on  Kelton on the east side of street, south of the pink house. From 10 Fwy, off Overland, go South DOWN the hill, R. on Palms, L. on Kelton.

NY April 29, 6pm Art Reception for Micaela Amato
Artist Micaela Amato opens a new show at 55 Mercer Gallery, April 25-May 13, 2000. The artist will attend the reception on April 29, 6-8 pm. Amato explores hybrid identity and conditions of exile. Cast glass life-size portrait heads of ethnic/racial hybrids and mural-size photographs juxtapose ancient Mediterranean sites with contemporary images. Amato's mixed media photography reflects her sense of multiple identities-a hybridity common to the exilic Sephardic Jew. She traces her roots to Spain, and around the Mediterranean. (212) 226-8513.

LA  April 30, 5:00pm Ken Blady on "Jewish Communities in Exotic Places"
Part one of Blady's seminar on Mizrahi Jewish communities, based on his new book (see New Books above), at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, LA. 5-8 pm. For more info, visit

NY April 30, 7:30pm Cantata Ebraica

Hazzan Ramon Tasat, a native of Argentina and a cantor at Chevy Chase's Temple Shalom in Maryland, delivers Jewish music of Rome, Florence and Livorno, including operatic duets. He costars with soprano Natasha Jitomirskaia and pianist/mezz-soprano Irene Failenbogen, performing these "lost musical treasures" 7:30 pm, at the Feinberg Auditorium, 3080 Broadway @ 122nd St. Concert free to the public. Info (212) 678-8037.

LA May 1, 7:00pm Board Meeting of Ivri-NASAWI
Action committee members and board members will meet with the executive director to determine needs and policies for both local and national chapters. All Ivri-NASAWI members are invited to attend and participate. Home of Miriam Benchetrit Creamer, 443 S. Alendale, Los Angeles. RSVP (323) 650-3157.

NY May 1, 7:00pm Mediation and Memory: A Contemplative Concert in Honor of Yom haShoa
Sephardic hazzan Robert Michael Esformes will perform at 7:00pm, to benefit the Center for Jewish Meditiation and Spiritual Practice of the Academy for Jewish Religion. At the Society for the Advancement of Judiasm, 15 West 86th Street, NY. Tickets at the door, $15.

LA May 2, 10:00am  Part Two of Blady's "Jewish Communities in Exotic Places"
Part two of Blady's seminar on Mizrahi Jewish communities, based on his new book (see New Books above), at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, LA. 10 am-1 pm. For more info, visit

SF Bay Area May 7, 1:00pm  Bimonthly Sephardi/Mizrahi Curriculum Infusion Meeting 2
Are you an educator, a writer, or an editor who would like to spread awareness of these cultures? Jewish history must, indeed, include the stories and art of Jews of the Levant, as well as recognition of their intellectual achievements.

Our second curriculum infusion meeting is scheduled for Sunday, May 7 at 1-3 pm at the Bureau of Jewish Education, 601 14th Ave. at Balboa in SF. Please RSVP to Myra Lappin at

If you cannot attend, but still want to be on the listing for this project, please advise. If you have others who might want to attend, please send them this info. Myra can be reached at 415-338-1706. Bring resources, listings, copies, copies of cover pages of books, CD's, records, etc for beginning a resource collection. Looking forward to seeing you there. We meet bimonthly at the Bureau of Jewish Education. Special thanks to Howard Freedman.

SF Bay Area/Palo Alto May 7, 4:00pm Sephardic Cantor Itzhak Emanuel
To celebrate Israel's Independence Day, Hazzan Emanuel will perform Sephardic and Hebrew music. Emanuel is an outstanding vocalist, and the noted former hazzan formerly of Congregation Beth David, Saratoga. The concert begins at 4 pm and includes refreshments. $10 general admission, $7 JCC members and $5 for seniors. Organized by the Ladino/Sephardic Club, of the Schultz Jewish Community Center, Palo Alto. 655 Arastradero Rd. Info, Frank Kushin (650) 493-9400.

SF Bay Area May 8, 7:00pm Representing Sephardi/Mizrahi Cultures in the Bay Area
Do you want to participate in the process? This meeting for Ivri-NASAWI will focus on building action committees for the organization and working together to produce leading-edge cultural events with a focus on Sephardi/Mizrahi and Middle Eastern cultures and arts. 7-9:30 pm, home of Yardena Arar, 346 lst Street, #202, between Folsom & Harrison, San Francisco.  Street parking available before 7:30pm.  For information call Myra Lappin, (415) 338-1706.

NY May 9, 8pm Reality Check: Identity Politics in Post Peace Israel with Gadi Taub, Tali Gal and others.
Organized by Makor, New York's newest cultural center. Cosponsored by Ivri-NASAWI and the New Israel Fund,
"Reality Check" is a round table discussion featuring key Israeli thinkers and artists representing an Israeli society in transition. "What will the 21th century bring in the rapidly changing world of Israeli identity politics?" The panel will follow a short film dealing with some of these issues. 8 pm. $8, 35 W. 67th St. Info (212) 601-1030. Visit

NY May 15, 7:30pm Conversations on Roots & Identity 4
Ivri-NASAWI's monthly encounter series has been successful in attracting creative intellectuals to discuss Sephardic and Middle Eastern issues. The next gathering will take place on Monday, May 15, 7:30 pm, at the home of anthropologist Gloria Levitas, 230 W. 79th St., 91S, at the intersection of Broadway. RSVP (212) 362-9074. The questions to be addressed: How do we cultivate a spiritual practice, or live only with a secular or tribal identity? And is it possible, and desirable, to retain memories, stories from the past, that are continuously meaningful to us today?

DC-Baltimore May 16,  Ivri-NASAWI Chapter Development Meeting 2
Writers, artists, activists, rabbis and others are invited to participate in the founding and creation of the newest chapter of Ivri-NASAWI, devoted to producing and supporting Sephardi/Mizrahi cultures, as well as creating cross-cultural Middle Eastern encounters. 6:30 pm, Georgetown University, Intercultural Center. For room number and to RSVP, email Leah Harris, at

Letter of Support from Brenda Serotte

"A Letter of Thanks and a Plea for Support"

Let me express my deep gratitude to Jordan Elgrably for his efforts to create a new cultural arts organization to represent the "forgotten Jews" from the Middle East and Spain. I cannot stress enough how important his efforts and Ivri-NASAWI have been to me.

As a Sephardic Jew whose grandparents came from Turkey and whose extended family came from Port Said and Cairo, I grew up with a fractured identity. For many years I shunned my roots because they embarrassed me; I wanted to meld with the Ashkenazi Jews from my Bronx neighborhood. There were so many of them and so few of us! But I'm a writer, so my own stories and poems poured out anyway. And Ivri-NASAWI was there as an anchor to recognize people like me, women with a Ladino tongue, women who were amongst the neglected Jewish voices.

We all need identity anchors. Mine is in Sephardic ancestry: poems, essays, and the Judeo-Spanish language which I lovingly translate in order to preserve. When I joined Ivri, I became aware of Mizrahi and Middle Eastern cultures which, as a Spanish Jew, I didn't really know about. It expanded my repertoire.

This organization is young, and its youthful vitality is evident in the array of fabulous, thought-provoking programs and salons they arrange. What a long-awaited group this is! And how lucky I am to have found it. Every Jew, especially Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, should keep Ivri-NASAWI alive and well--on the highest level. We were starving for it. What better contribution to life than one to cultural life?

In grateful appreciation,

Brenda Serotte
poet, translator, memorist
David, Florida


Bibliography, Discography, Filmography Projects

If you are an author, musician/composer or filmmaker and would like your work included in our databases; or if you would simply like something you have enjoyed reading, listening to or watching included in our new databases, please submit all relevant details to the appropriate party: (Books) Gloria Levitas,, (Music), Jordan Elgrably, , (Film) Joyce Allegra Maio, .For example, with books please give us author, title, publisher, date,price, ISBN number.

If possible, it would be nice to have a brief (very brief) description of the books or articles if the title itself does not reveal the subject. All of this information will be culled and posted here on the web site in the coming weeks.

New and Renewing Members Join Ivri-NASAWI

Janet Ruhe-Schoen (New York), Melitta Tchaicovsky (San Francisco), Eusebio P. Abon (New York), Vivienne Roumani-Denn (New York), Stella Levi (New York),  and Sheila Wilson-Serfaty (Los Angeles). Michael Hirshhorn and Jimena Martinez both renewed their membership and made a generous contribution;  Gloria Levitas renewed and contributed to the library and publication funds.

Our profound thanks to board member Audrey Prins (Chicago) for her special contributions in support of the new grantwriter-for-hire.

To join, visit, or call co-chair Susan Chatman, (310) 587-1986 or email .

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