News & Views from Ivri-NASAWI

Week of March 31, 2000

Israel has been in the news and in-your-face in recent weeks, not only as regards continuing peace talks with Syria (and continued clashes with south Lebanon), but for three other reasons as well.

MAHMOUD DARWISH  "'The Arabs are always accused of being a nation of poetry,' Mr. Darwish said today in an interview in his sunny office in a Ramallah arts center. 'But it's Israel that now is putting poetry in the eye of the storm.'" [March 6, quoted in the New York Times March 7] The previous week, education minister Yossi Sarid announced that Darwish's poetry would now be included as part of a new multicultural literary curriculum for Israeli high school students. Mahmoud Darwish, remember, had been banned from Israel and occupied Palestinian territories for nearly 30 years. He is now living in Ramallah. A hue and cry arose from members of Likud and others, including PM Ehud Barak, who said Israel was not ready for Darwish's poetry.

This is not the first time Darwish has been at the eye of the storm. Indeed, Ammiel Alcalay wrote about the controversies surrounding the activist poet, who has been a member of Arafat's political team, back in 1988; his essay "Who's Afraid of Mahmoud Darwish?" is included in his new book Memories of Our Future (see Of the 1988 controversy  over Darwish's words, Alcalay wrote: "That poetry has been turned into a lethal weapon may be the only sigh of comic relief and hope in an atmosphere where daily tragedies have taken on the sickening pall of life as usual: acceptable reactions to Darwish's poem seem to conclude that after the bombs and guns and stones, the natives now have the audacity to attack 'us' with words. The old adage 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me' no longer seems to hold true."

In the April 10, 2000 issue of The Nation, Alcalay again returns to the subject, when he suggests that if Israel begins to acknowledge Palestinian suffering and victimization, by including Palestinian literature and experience in the education of Israeli Jews, its own international status as home of the most-victimized people will be challenged. "As a nuclear superpower armed to the teeth," Alcalay argues, "Israel simply cannot continue basing its legitimacy on the eternal status of victim.  Moreover, to begin truly integrating itself into the region, Israel must completely reconsider both its political and cultural policies. These, as the debate over Darwish so clearly shows, are inextricably intertwined. To give Darwish's poetry a place in the curriculum might mean giving up one little patch of victimhood. To make Arabic a required second language for all Jewish students might begin changing a situation in which only very few Israelis have any sense at all of what is actually going on only a hundred miles to the North, in Beirut, for example. The cultural analogue here would be if only one percent of all Philadelphians read anything published in New York. Beirut periodically gets put in the dark, with utter impunity, by Israeli air raids whose goal is nothing more than collective punishment and the marginalization of a vibrant, modern city. In the larger picture, though, it is most Israelis who remain in the dark, oblivious to the lives, cultures, debates, and struggles of the vast majority of people amongst whom they live. It is high time to let the light in."

For more on the danger of Palestinian poetry to Israeli minds, we recommend the Ha'aretz interview by Tom Segev with Mahmoud Darwish, in the March 10, 2000 international edition (page B5).

JUSTICE FOR ALL  In a related development, on March 8, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the government can no longer allocate land to its citizens based on their religion or ethnicity, and can no longer prevent Arab citizens from living where they choose. This goes right to the heart of the Israeli paradox: on one hand, the state exists as a country for the Jewish people, while on the other Israel has always insisted it is a democratic state yet has consistently prevented Palestinians, or Arab-Israelis as some choose to call themselves, from enjoying equal land rights within Israel's borders. In the new 4-1 ruling, as the Los Angeles Times noted on March 9, "the court stepped into Israel's existential debate over whether it is first and foremost a democratic or a Jewish state. In confronting the inherent contradiction, the court sided with democracy." [Tracy Wilkinson].

This decision is one that every Jewish person will want to contemplate privately, as it effectively challenges our identity. Are you first and foremost a member of the larger community where you live, further defined by your Jewishness? Or are you Jewish first and a community member second---and unless you live in Mea Shearim, your community will always been heterogeneous, composed of Jews, Arabs, Christians and others.

The ruling will make social justice for non-Jews a real possibility, and harkens back to the days in the United States when African-Americans often could not live where they chose. (Neither, for that matter, could Jews; who has forgotten the Miami Beach signs from the 1940s and '50s: "No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews"?)

MIZRAHI EXTREMISTS In yet another related development, education minister Yossi Sarid, who as a secular Jew represents one part of Israel's population, incurred the wrath of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, spiritual leader of Shas. Rabbi Yossef gave a fiery sermon in which he suggested Sarid is a "Torah-hating, anti-Jewish racist" and "should be wiped from the face of the Earth" [L.A. Times, March 28] While Sarid and Yossef represent the prickly debate in Israel these days over the separation of church and state, they also embody, for better and for worse, the conflict between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim. According to the Times report, Israel's state prosecutor opened a criminal investigation into Rabbi Yossef, who will be investigated "under Israel's terrorism laws on suspicions of encouraging acts of violence that could lead to injury or killing, insulting a public official and defamation," said Attorney General Elyakim Rubenstein. Rabbi Yossef and his entourage immediately pronounced this development as another example of racism and discrimination against Mizrahi/Sephardi Jews. "They are making us feel like second-, third-, fourth-class citizens" said Health Minister Shlomo Benizri of Shas.

This case brings to bear the question, yet again, of Who Is A Jew And What Kind of a Jew? [Sami Shalom Chetrit, see "Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing," edited by Ammiel Alcalay (City Lights)]. On one hand, pro-Sarid commentators see the Yossef investigation as a victory for democracy and a strike against religious fundamentalism; on the other, Yossef supporters feel the state is over-reacting to the rabbi's Biblical metaphors.

The problem about this kind of representation of Mizrahi/Sephardi Jews in the U.S. press is that the average American reader, including most Jews, will indeed view all Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jews through the lens of Shas followers in their Black Hats. Many Mizrahi/Sephardi Jews are still practicing Jews and come from a deeply ingrained tradition of daily prayer, including those of the younger generation. But the Black Hat phenomenon has not always been representative of Middle Eastern Jewry; rather, it is one indication of how the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox movement has begun to absorb what was a much more tolerant, albeit religiously devout, Sephardic world. Another danger of having Middle Eastern Jews seen in the media only through the actions and statements of Shasniks is that it leaves by the wayside thousands of Mizrahi and Sephardi artists, writers and intellectuals who are not represented by the words of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef.

 Ultimately, Israel will have to resolve these kinds of paradoxical situations and find common ground for all its citizens.

Ladino-English/English-Ladino Concise Encyclopedic Dictionary(Judeo-Spanish) by Dr. Elli Kohen & Dahlia Kohen-Gordon.Hippocrene Books, New York, 2000.  $19.95 paperback.  602 pages.[Abridged] Review by Rachel Amado Bortnick.

In view of the dearth of Ladino dictionaries available,  the recently  published Ladino-English/English-Ladino Concise Encyclopedic Dictionary (Judeo-Spanish) will no doubt be welcomed and used by English-speakers interested in Ladino. However, it falls far short of the academic-level, accurate and comprehensive dictionary expected from a reputable publisher as Hippocrene Books, or from a work bearing the word "Encyclopedic" in its title.

The book has three main sections:  Ladino-English Dictionary (400 pages), English-Ladino (165 pages), and Ladino Proverbs and Popular Sayings (27 pages.).   It doesn't take long to realize that it also has three major flaws: inconsistency of spelling, no key to pronunciation, and almost no indication of  the grammatical function (v., adj., n., etc.) of the words.

The greater size of the first section is primarily due to the separate entries included for the various spellings of the same word.  The word for bird, for example, appears as "pajaro," "pasharo," and "paxaro."

It is true that since Ladino was written and printed in the Hebrew (mostly Rashi type) alphabet for centuries, works that have appeared in the Latin alphabet (in the last 80 or so years) have had no standard system of spelling.  Surprisingly, and unfortunately, the Bibliography does not list any of the Ladino works published in Israel in the last 20 years, such as the books by the prolific Matilda Koen-Sarrano, or the very popular semiannual review Aki Yerushalayim, which use a de-facto standardized orthography.  The authors also seem unaware of the existence in Israel of the government-funded "Autoritad Nasyonal de Ladino i Su Kultura," an organization for the promotion of Ladino and its culture, which just last October held an international conference on establishing a uniform spelling system for  Ladino. A new dictionary might have done much to promote that endeavor;  instead, this one perpetuates the confusion.

Interesting, and perhaps useful in a limited way as the proverbs and sayings included in the section by that title may be, it is disappointing to see that the authors nowhere state that these represent only a sampling of the enormous number of such dictums in Ladino.

 It may be unrealistic to expect a dictionary of Ladino, authored by one or two people, to be truly "encyclopedic", all-comprehensive, and all-accurate, for there are many regional dialectical differences in vocabulary and pronunciation, and a seemingly endless number of proverbs andsayings in that language. Joseph Nehama's "Ladino-French Dictionnaire du Judeo-Espagnol" (Madrid, 1977), listed in the Bibliography, is infinitely more comprehensive, accurate, and consistent, in short more "encyclopedic" than this Encyclopedic Dictionary.  Even the modest-sized Turkish-Ladino (Judeo Espanyol -Turkce; Turkce - Judeo Espanyol) dictionary by Perahya, et al, (Istanbul, 1997), obviously not consulted by these authors, has followed the standards expected from all dictionaries

Compiling a Ladino dictionary is, above all, a labor of love, and Dr. Elli Kohen and his daughter Dahlia Kohen-Gordon deserve due credit for theirs. Despite our criticism, they have performed a service, and users of the "Ladino-English/English-Ladino Concise Encyclopedic Dictionary" (Judeo-Spanish) may find that it serves their needs  better than anything else of its kind available.


Los Angeles April 1, 7:30 pm "Tunisian Fish-Fry" Party and Concert
Harissa, the Tunisian fusion band, will give a free concert in celebrationof Yom Habibi, the Tunisian Jewish holiday celebrating the advent of Spring. Free fried fish to the first fifty people. Bring your percussion instruments and be ready to jam. Pan-Pacific Park, near 3rd and Fairfax. For more information, visit

NY April 1, 4-8 pm "Reception for 20 Iranian Artists by CIMA"
The Center for Iranian Modern Arts is happy to present art directly fromIran in a group show of twenty contemporary Iranian artists. Opening reception begins at 4 pm. "Join us for this very special occasion as it will be the last at CIMA's temporary 24 E 20th Street location. For more information call: 212-475-1287.

NY April 2, 8:30 pm  "The Life & Times of Rabbi Haim Nahum Effendi" (1872-1960)
Exclusive lecture by Victor Cohen, Esq., on the chief Rabbi of the Ottoman Empire 1909-1920, chief Rabbi of Egypt 1925-1960. Organized by member Dr. Victor Sanua and the International Association of Jews from Egypt.  Congregation Beth Torah, 1069 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn. Info: (718) 339-0337.

DC-BALTIMORE "Sephardic Music Lecture by Hazzan Dr. Ramon Tasat"
Temple Beth El, 8101 Park Heights Ave. Baltimore, MD. Info, (410) 484-0411.

DC-BALTIMORE April 5, 7:30 pm Voice of the Turtle in Concert
One of North America's preeminent Sephardic ensembles, which has been performing and recording their unique blend of Judeo-Spanish music for over 20 years (with 13 CDs to date), will offer a lively, witty  performance and narrative on Jewish cultures of the Mediterranean, Near and Middle East. $15, DC JCC, 1529 16th St NW. Info, (202) 518-9400.

NY April 6, 6:15 pm The Jews of Spain: Melilla
Robin Cembalest, executive editor of ARTNews, gives a talk, "Where Malaga Meets the Maghreb," about the North African city of Melilla, home to the first community of Jews to settle in Spain after the Expulsion. Cembalest will examine whether Melilla is an outdated relic of colonialism or a multicultural vision of Europe's future. Free. King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, 53 Washington Square South. Info, (212) 998-3650.

NY April 8, 6:30 pm  Anthropologist Ruth Behar, "Adio Querida: the Sephardic Jews of Cuba"
A video lecture by MacArthur fellow, anthropologist and filmmaker Ruth Behar on her new documentary-in-progress. Based on interviews and frequent trips to the island, Behar offers a provocatively compelling portrait of the Sephardic Jews remaining in Cuba and the Cuban diaspora in the U.S. Behar addresses intermarriage, discrimination by Ashkenazi Jews, Afro-Cuban santería, renewal of Jewish faith, and how the new Cuban identity interplays with being Sephardic. Author of "The Vulnerable Observer," "The Translated Woman" and editor of "Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba" among other works, Dr. Behar weaves a fascinating presentation in English and Spanish. Downtown Community TVCenter (DCTV), 87 Lafayette St, corner White St., two blocks from Canal St (trains N, R or #6 to Canal St). Seating is limited, reserve early: (212) 362-9074. This program is endorsed by the Videoteca del Sur, NYU's Bronfman Center and NYU's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

NY April 8 EXCLUSIVE CONCERT Cantor Moshe Habousha of Jerusalem
Seder Tawahid, annual concert featuring the renowned cantor from Israel. Congregation Ahabah Ve'Ahva, corner Ocean Parkway and Avenue R, Brooklyn.  Begins after Shabbat, about 9 pm, and will probably include live music by Simon Shaheen. Don't miss this opportunity to experience Arab Jewish music and song.

DC-BALTIMORE April 8, 8 pm Sheshbesh: New Sounds from the Middle East
Oudist Yair Dalal's new mizrahi ensemble will perform as part of Washington's Jewish Music Fest. The new Israeli quartet fuses classical, oriental, folk and Middle Eastern sounds. Joining Dalal are flutist Yossi Arnheim, percussionist Tomer Yariv and double bassist Amir Massarik.  $15, DC JCC, 1529 16th St NW. Info, (202) 518-9400.

Los Angeles April 9, 4 pm, "Arab Music Jam Sessions"
Kan Zaman Community Ensemble for Classical and Folkloric Arabic Music invites the public to participate in an afternoon workshop demonstration and jam session of both classical and folkloric music. All ages are welcome; bring your instrument with you.  Program is sponsored in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. Takes place at the beautiful McGroarty Art Center, 7570 McGroarty Terrace, Tujunga, CA 91042 (818) 352-5285.

NY April 10, 7:30 pm  "Conversations on Roots & Identity 3"
Ivri-NASAWI's consciousness-raising series on Sephardi/Mizrahi history, culture and identity as experienced in the diaspora today.  Questions to be addressed: How can identity be maintained by those of us who are neither religious nor embedded in their ethnic community? What are the effects onour identity of the changes we choose and do they differ from the changes that may be imposed upon us from without? Home of member Liliane Dammond, 390West End Ave #2M (tel: 874-0832). Entrance is on Broadway/79th st. Please RSVP to (212) 362-9074.

Los Angeles April-October, "Russians, Ethiopians and Bedouins in the Negev"
Ron Kelley's photographs will be on view at UCLA's Fowler Museum of Cultural History through Oct 1, 2000. The exhibit, which recently appeared at MESA in Washington, DC, examines issues of migration, identity and transnationalism. Organized by UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies; cosponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies, the New Israel Fund, Ivri-NASAWI and Open Tent, L.A.'s Middle East Coalition. For information email Jonathan Friedlander, .

DC-BALTIMORE April 12, 8:30 pm, "Music of the Sephardic Jews"
Hazzan Dr. Ramon Tasat speaks at Beth El Congregation, 8215 Old Georgetown Rd. Bethesda, MD. (301) 652-2606.

NY April 15, 9 pm  "Yale Strom, Hot P'Stromi & Ofri Eliaz's Sahar Ensemble" at Makor
An evening of innovative Sephardic and fusion music at the new cultural center located at 35 W. 67th St. Pre-Passover Party features Yale Strom's HotP'Stromi + Medina celebrating their upcoming Naxos Records release: sweet song, festive music and traditional stories, influenced by their many treks throughout Eastern Europe among the Jewish and Gypsy communities.  Ofri Eliaz and her Sahar Ensemble interprets the Sephardic music and culture of Greece, Turkey, the Balkans, Italy and North Africa. 9:00 pm $12, $10 members of Ivri-NASAWI.  Info, contact Brice Rosenblum, (212) 601-1009.

NY May 9, 8 pm  "Reality Check:  Identity Politics in Post Peace Israel" with Gadi Taub, Tali Gal, Shelley Shick and others.
Organized by Makor, 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, 35 W. 67th St. Info (212) 601-1030.


Grant writer Sought for Vibrant Jewish Multicultural Organization

Ivri-NASAWI seeks to hire a part-time professional grant writer, experienced in working with cultural arts organizations and/or the Jewish community. Start immediately, 10-15 hours per week. Ideal candidates will have been successful in writing grant proposals which received funding within the last two years for arts or cultural nonprofits. A competitive salary and incentive is offered.

As an independent non-profit membership organization, Ivri-NASAWI celebrates the rich legacy and thriving contemporary expressions of Sephardi and Mizrahi culture. We promote Sephardi/Mizrahi music, literature, art and history through advocacy, education, scholarship and entertainment. We are strongly committed to the principle of cross-cultural cooperation, and support the strengthening of ties within the Jewish community as well as between all peoples of Middle Eastern descent. Send your cover letter with proposal, resume, and a sample grant to Ivri-NASAWI, Board of Directors, 1033 N. Orlando Ave, Los Angeles CA 90069. Email inquiries okay, no phone calls please.

Sephardic Musical Performances Available

Songs! Mother and daughter, Canadian ethnomusicologist Dr Judith Cohen and  Tamar (14):  Judeo-Spanish (Ladino); medieval Spain/Portugal; Portuguese Crypto-Jewish villages; Balkans, other Sephardi diasporas;pan-European ballads. Learned first-hand; presented as concert or lecture-recital; traditional style; regional instruments; lively anecdotes, knowledgeable commentary. Fieldwork video excerpts possible; can be in Spanish. Write .

Mediterranean Literature Workshop This Summer in Israel: A Call for Participation - Scholarship available

The Sephardi/Mizrahi Caucus Discussion List announced on March 19 "Mediating Literatures: Mediterranean Literatures in the 20th Century," at Tel Aviv University's Center for Mediterranean Civilizations. Under the direction of Dr. Nissim Calderon, the workshop will take place from July 9-21, 2000 and will cover literatures of "minority languages" around the Mediterranean.

"The aim of the workshop is a comparative investigation, with particular attention to the historical, political and socio-cultural circumstances of survival of those literatures. We will also focus on the dimension of interaction and interplay between 'minority' and 'majority' productions." Authors invited to participate: A.B. Yehoshoua, Nai'm Arayde, Albert Memmi, Amine Ma'alouf, Predrag Matvejevic, Ali Salem. Scholarships ($1000 each) are available for overseas participants. Kindly send a CV and a one letter of recommendation no later than May 1, 2000. For up-to-date information visit our site: Or contact Dr. Nissim Calderon, . The Center for Mediterranean Civilizations Tel Aviv University, P.O.B. 39040 Ramat Aviv, 69978 Tel Aviv Israel

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.

Middle East Film Fest Call for Films

Open Tent, a coalition organizing/producing the second annual "Middle East Film Fest: A Cultural Conversation" [May 31/June 8] seeks submissions of films and videos as well as your suggestions. Features, shorts and documentaries from or about cultures of the Middle East may explore the polyphony of shared experiences, while embracing controversial issues such as Orientalism, identity, the politics of representation, migration and transnationalism, democracy, and women's rights. Send to: Open Tent/I-N 1033 N. Orlando Ave, Los Angeles CA 90069, or write . Open Tent is a non-profit coalition of organizations, individuals and businesses in Southern California who support peace in the Middle East, and among Middle Eastern descendants in the United States, advocating for constructive relationships using culture and arts. To join the coalition, call (323) 650-3157.


New and Renewing Members Join Ivri-NASAWI

A warm welcome to professional and lay members who have just joined, renewed or upgraded with Ivri-NASAWI, including Herbert Hadad (New York), Judith Cohen(Toronto), Arthur Benveniste (Los Angeles), Abie Safdie (Brooklyn), Sharon Halevy (L.A.), Jed Pittleman (New York), Andrea Massion (L.A.), Renee and Ed Sokolski (L.A.) and Blanche Cohen Sachs (Randallstown, MD).  To join, visit, or call co-chair Susan Chatman, (310) 587-1986 or email .

[home] [org] [news] [calendar] [membership] [links] [open tent] [past] [nslc]