Lost & Found

Sephardi Lives: From Ottoman Salonica to Rosario, Argentina


Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700–1950

by Sarah Abrevaya Stein and Julia Phillips Cohen

Stanford University Press, 480 pp., $29.95

In their new anthology, Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700–1950 (Stanford University Press, 2014), Professors Julia Phillips Cohen and Sarah Abrevaya Stein present a vivid picture of the diverse ways in which the Jews residing in (and migrating from) what they call the “Judeo-Spanish heartland of Southeastern Europe, Anatolia, and the Levant” adjusted to the profound changes of their eras. Drawing on memoirs, newspapers, and a variety of archival sources written in 15 different languages, they give us a broad overview of a world that is in danger of being forgotten. From this rich collection we have selected a few documents that are particularly striking. Two letters published in the French newspaper Journal de Salonique in 1910, shortly after the Ottoman Parliament extended mandatory military service for the first time to non-Muslim minorities, demonstrate the enthusiasm felt by some Ottoman Jews for this reform. One wonders whether their enthusiasm—or indeed they themselves—survived the Italo-Turkish War (1911–1912), the Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913), the First World War (1914–1918), and World War II (1939–1945). Our next selection is an editorial from the Ladino newspaper La Epoka of Salonica, which denounces two young Jewish women for engaging in artistic activity that was considered disreputable and religiously impermissible, but was condoned, outrageously enough, by their mothers. The last document reflects the fact that large numbers of Jews emigrated from the Ottoman Empire around this time, whether they did so in order to avoid getting killed in battle, to sing freely, or for other reasons. They headed not only for the United States, Western Europe, and parts of Africa, but also for remote corners of South America. It was from a Jewish agricultural colony established in Argentina by the Jewish Colonization Association that the recent emigré David Pisanté wrote home to the chief rabbi of Istanbul for help in dealing with a question of observance unique to the Southern Hemisphere.

 

Letters from Jewish Conscripts to the Ottoman Army

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About the Author

Sarah Abrevaya Stein is professor of history and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies at UCLA. Her books include Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria (University of Chicago Press) and Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce (Yale University Press).

Julia Phillips Cohen is assistant professor of Jewish studies and history at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era (Oxford University Press).

 

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