Sephardic Jews in America

A Diasporic History

336 pages

8 illustrations

February, 2009

ISBN: 9780814799826

$79

Cloth

Also available in

Author

Aviva Ben-Ur is Associate Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she also serves as Adjunct Associate Professor in the history department and the Spanish and Portuguese programs. She is the author of A Ladino Legacy: The Judeo-Spanish Collection of Louis N. Levy.

All books by Aviva Ben-Ur

A significant number of Sephardic Jews, tracing their remote origins to Spain and Portugal, immigrated to the United States from Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans from 1880 through the 1920s, joined by a smaller number of Mizrahi Jews arriving from Arab lands. Most Sephardim settled in New York, establishing the leading Judeo-Spanish community outside the Ottoman Empire. With their distinct languages, cultures, and rituals, Sephardim and Arab-speaking Mizrahim were not readily recognized as Jews by their Ashkenazic coreligionists. At the same time, they forged alliances outside Jewish circles with Hispanics and Arabs, with whom they shared significant cultural and linguistic ties.

The failure among Ashkenazic Jews to recognize Sephardim and Mizrahim as fellow Jews continues today. More often than not, these Jewish communities are simply absent from portrayals of American Jewry. Drawing on primary sources such as the Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) press, archival documents, and oral histories, Sephardic Jews in America offers the first book-length academic treatment of their history in the United States, from 1654 to the present, focusing on the age of mass immigration.

Reviews

  • “Carefully documented with particular reliance on the Ladino press, this book addresses a shortcoming involving both scholarly and “communal” engagement. Ben-Ur underscores the failure of academics and Ashkenazic Jews to acknowledge Sephardic Jews, which has resulted in “historic oblivion.””

    CHOICE

  • “The book contains a great deal of information about relatively recent Sephardic immigration, much of it from interviews. . .and her research in obscure newspaper sand other printed and manuscripted sources that will be of value to any person who attempts such a history, which is surely one of the more apparent gaps in American Jewish history.”

    —Roger Daniels, University of Cincinnati

  • “A landmark contribution to the history of those Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews who were all too often invisible to the “mainstream” Jewish community and to the historiography of American Judaism.”

    American Jewish Archives Journal

  • ”Offers refreshing new insights into the Sephardic migration from Ottoman lands to America in the early twentieth century. Drawing heavily upon the unknown riches of the Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) press, Ben-Ur illuminates many unknown aspects of the Jewish immigrant experience. She sheds new light on American Jewry, providing a different narrative that will be especially welcome to students of ethnicity and immigration in general as well as readers seeking information on the Hispanic-Jewish encounter.”

    —Jane S. Gerber, Director of the Institute for Sephardic Studies, City University of New York

  • "In this excellent book, Ben-Ur helps address a severe gap in the historical scholarship of American Jewry, and blazes a trail for other scholars to follow. . . . Scholars in the field will no longer have an excuse not to mention or give significant space in their works to Sephardic Jewry within American Jewry. Sephardic Jews in America will be of use in any course concerning immigration, ethnic identity, American and Jewish American history, and Ladino culture, as well as Spanish Diasporas."

    —Zion Zohar, Director and Chair, President Navon Program for the Study of Sephardic and Oriental Jewry, Florida International University

  • "This wonderfully researched book can help to reconfigure ethnic studies and, certainly, represents the broadening of the Latino heritage in the United States. Ben-Ur’s exhaustive search for the ignored or forgotten Sephardic legacy has gone beyond the printed and academic sources to interviews of survivors and the recovery of all types of manuscript sources literally from coast to coast in the United States. The only term I can conjure up to adequately describe this work is: landmark."

    —Nicolas Kanellos, Brown Foundation Professor and Director of Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, University of Houston

  • “An intriguing and academically rigorous book. . . It provides an invaluable survey into an overlooked component of the Jewish American experience and it provides keen insights into the religious dislocation between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews in the US.”

    History In Review

  • ”The most detailed and thoughtful discussion on why Sephardic Jews have been excluded from mainstream Jewish life in the United States.”

    Moment

  • “The story Ben-Ur has to tell . . . is largely one of miscommunication. But failures to communicate can be as revealing, in their way, as successes, and the ways Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews thought about one another in the early 20th century offers some surprising insights into the construction of modern American Jewish identity. That is why Sephardic Jews in America offers so much food for thought.”

    Jewish Tribune

  • “Now, more than five centuries later, dozens of musicians, writers, poets . . . are reclaiming that culture to create a veritable Sephardic renaissance. Many artists mine Sephardic culture because they want to popularize a lesser-known Jewish heritage.”

    Buffalo Jewish Review

  • “Now, more than five centuries later, dozens of musicians, writers, poets . . . are reclaiming that culture to create a veritable Sephardic renaissance. Many artists mine Sephardic culture because they want to popularize a lesser-known Jewish heritage.”

    JJ Monthly Magazine

  • “Now, more than five centuries later, dozens of musicians, writers, poets . . . are reclaiming that culture to create a veritable Sephardic renaissance. Many artists mine Sephardic culture because they want to popularize a lesser-known Jewish heritage.”

    Greater Phoenix Jewish News

  • “Now, more than five centuries later, dozens of musicians, writers, poets . . . are reclaiming that culture to create a veritable Sephardic renaissance. Many artists mine Sephardic culture because they want to popularize a lesser-known Jewish heritage.”

    New Jersey Jewish News

  • “Now, more than five centuries later, dozens of musicians, writers, poets . . . are reclaiming that culture to create a veritable Sephardic renaissance. Many artists mine Sephardic culture because they want to popularize a lesser-known Jewish heritage.”

    Heritage Florida Jewish News

  • “Now, more than five centuries later, dozens of musicians, writers, poets . . . are reclaiming that culture to create a veritable Sephardic renaissance. Many artists mine Sephardic culture because they want to popularize a lesser-known Jewish heritage.”

    Intermountain Jewish News

  • “Now, more than five centuries later, dozens of musicians, writers, poets . . . are reclaiming that culture to create a veritable Sephardic renaissance. Many artists mine Sephardic culture because they want to popularize a lesser-known Jewish heritage.”

    American Israelite

  • “Now, more than five centuries later, dozens of musicians, writers, poets . . . are reclaiming that culture to create a veritable Sephardic renaissance. Many artists mine Sephardic culture because they want to popularize a lesser-known Jewish heritage.”

    Reporter

  • “Ben-Ur’s book is a valuable contribution to American Jewish historiography, within which treatments of the Sephardic experience have either focused exclusively on the “Old” Sephardic “Grandees” who came to the America before 1776 or, in a contemporary context, have limited themselves to a primarily ethnographic concentration on the folkways of particular communities.”

    American Historical Review

  • "The obscure documentary evidence Ben-Ur has unearthed gives the content of this book a provocative critical edge...this book brings to the fore issues of race, identity, marginalization, and displacement, which in a globalized world are issues of profound and enduring relevance."

    —George Lee Cuellar, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

  • "Sephardic Jews in America is...a scholarly landmark...[its] multilayered trove of ethnographic and historical detail will interest scholars of ethnicity as a rich basis for comparative studies."

    —David Graizbord, Journal of American Ethnic History