Sephardi Lives
A Documentary History, 1700–1950
Julia Phillips Cohen and Sarah Abrevaya Stein


Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700–1950

Author(s): Julia Phillips Cohen and Sarah Abrevaya Stein

book abstract

Sephardi Lives fills a significant gap in the existing literature on modern Jewish and Ottoman history by presenting a diverse array of primary sources generated by or about Sephardi Jews in the heartland of modern Judeo-Spanish culture (Southeastern Europe and the Levant under Ottoman and post-Ottoman rule) and in its diaspora (the United States, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and Africa). The approximately 150 sources in this edition—originally composed in fifteen languages, including Ladino, Hebrew, Ottoman Turkish and modern Turkish, French, Greek, Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Yiddish, and English—are of scholarly value to students, researchers, and general readers alike. Individuals engaged in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, as well as those researching life in the nation-states that emerged after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, will find in this collection perspectives and selections otherwise inaccessible to them, as will scholars of Europe, the United States, and Latin America. The texts included in the book as well as the individuals who drafted them remain largely unknown in any field; those written in Ladino—the native language of Sephardim in the Judeo-Spanish heartland of the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean and today a dying language—were condemned to remain obscure indefinitely before they were translated and prepared for a larger scholarly, student, and popular public.

1 Everyday Life: On the Street and in the Synagogue, from Court to Courtyard
chapter abstract

This chapter contains a wide range of sources that explore daily life and culture in the Ottoman Jewish heartland of Southeastern Europe, the Levant, and beyond. Among the topics covered in this chapter are gender roles and relations; experiences of childhood; familial bonds; natural disasters; the pursuit of education and justice; relations among Jews, Muslims, and Christians; commercial relations and relationships to neighborhood, city, region, and empire.

2 Violence, War, and Regional Transformation
chapter abstract

This chapter offers a selection of primary documents that explore the dramatic regional transformations that affected different cities and regions across the Ottoman Empire and its successor states in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East throughout the modern period. Topics explored include imperialism, anti-minority violence, state reforms, the Young Turk Revolution, the Balkan Wars, the First World War, minority rights, and the retraction of the borders of the Ottoman Empire.

3 Political Movements and Ideologies
chapter abstract

Through primary documents, this chapter explores the politicization of Sephardi Jewry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as different individuals debated and sided with the various novel political movements, including feminism, Zionism, socialism, Ottomanism, and communism.

4 The Second World War and Its Aftermath
chapter abstract

This chapter explores, through original source material, Sephardi experiences of the Holocaust and the Second World War. The chapter offers stories of deportation, ghettoization, hidden children, partisans, and death camp survivors, tracking the spread of the Third Reich across Southeastern Europe, as well as the rise of antisemitic legislation and sentiment in Turkey. It documents the decimation of the Judeo-Spanish heartland, and traces attempts to contend with this loss in the wake of the war.

5 Diasporic and Émigré Circles
chapter abstract

Through an array of primary sources, this chapter explores the shaping of a Sephardi diaspora from the Judeo-Spanish heartland of Southeastern Europe and the Levant that took shape beginning in the late nineteenth century. The chapter includes coverage of Sephardi migration to France, Britain, the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, the Belgian Congo, British Mandate Palestine, and North Africa and beyond, paying heed to the establishment of new Sephardi communities in these locals, the challenges and opportunities they faced in these new lands, and the many ties that sutured émigré Jews to their erstwhile homes.

6 The Emergence of Sephardi Studies
chapter abstract

Through primary documents, this chapter explores the development of the scholarly field of Sephardi Studies, beginning with an eighteenth-century rabbi's interest in studying his family's history and moving to some of the first calls for the systematic study of Sephardi culture and history that emerged in the nineteenth century. It also presents samples of correspondence and collaboration between Ashkenazi and Sephardi intellectuals, as well as between Jews and non-Jews, across political and linguistic boundaries, and traces the attempt by Levantine Jewish professional and lay scholars to document the history, language, culture, and folkways of their own communities in the face of a series of dramatic ruptures that threatened to obliterate the Judeo-Spanish world they knew so intimately.