Tag Archives: Books

New Book: Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism

The Bukharan JewsCooper, Alanna.2012. Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

“Innovative and thought provoking, this well researched and well constructed book . . . provides a valuable contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of Jewish identities. . . . The Bukharan Jewish community can be taken as a case study of Jewish diasporic dynamics and forces. The book demonstrates and analyzes—both historically and ethnographically—the mechanisms that underlie the sense of oneness between the Bukharan Jews and Jewish communities in other cultural contexts.” —Hagar Salamon, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Part ethnography, part history, and part memoir, this volume chronicles the complex past and dynamic present of an ancient Mizrahi community. While intimately tied to the Central Asian landscape, the Jews of Bukhara have also maintained deep connections to the wider Jewish world. As the community began to disperse after the fall of the Soviet Union, Alanna E. Cooper traveled to Uzbekistan to document Jewish life before it disappeared. Drawing on ethnographic research there as well as among immigrants to the US and Israel, Cooper tells an intimate and personal story about what it means to be Bukharan Jewish. Together with her historical research about a series of dramatic encounters between Bukharan Jews and Jews in other parts of the world, this lively narrative illuminates the tensions inherent in maintaining Judaism as a single global religion over the course of its long and varied diaspora history.

Indiana Series in Sephardi and Mizrahi Studies

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Original Interview with Edna Aizenberg and Margalit Bejarano

Edna Aizenberg and Margalit Bejarano, Eds. 2012. Contemporary Sephardic Identity in the Americas: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

The following review and interview were done by Aviad Moreno, Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow in the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University and adjunct lecturer at Achva Academic College. His current research observes the role of migration networks in the emigration of Spanish Moroccan Jews to Israel and Latin America. His forthcoming book deals with European-oriented modernity in the Minute Book of the Jewish Junta of Tangier.  He may be contacted at aviad.moreno[at]gmail.com.

Contemporary Sephardic Identity in the Americas: An Interdisciplinary Approach offers a comparative and interdisciplinary overview of contemporary Sephardic identities in the Americas. The book is interdisciplinary not only in the narrow sense of combining studies from a variety of academic disciplines (from history to musicology).  Furthermore, thanks to the rather pioneering decision made by the editors, it binds together case studies from Canada to Argentina, passing through the phenomenon of internal migration within the Americas. By so deciding, they have presented a fresh attitude towards Sephardic studies altogether, which disposes of traditional academic and regional barriers and invites new audiences to view the Sephardic Diaspora through a more universal perspective.  The exceptional decision to publish the book entirely in English, despite its extensive focus on Latin American communities, both reflects and contributes to this important mission.

Another chief factor making this book unique is its focus on the twentieth century, during which the centers of Jewish Diaspora have shifted westwards from Europe, Africa and Asia to the Americas, producing a new spirit among the entire Jewish nation.  Consequently, the Americas are today home to the largest number of Sephardic Jews living outside of Israel. Despite the fact that several communities in this vast region have been left untouched by the editors, the book succeeds well in giving voice to a largely silent (or silenced) Sephardim throughout its historical evolution over the last 100 years in the Americas. Subsequently it may well contribute, from an unexpected standpoint, to the ongoing re-evaluation of traditional Ashkenazi-centered narratives that still predominate much of the academic literature in Jewish historiography.

Aviad Moreno: How has the idea for the book evolved?

Edna Aizenberg: For a full explanation, see bottom of p. xiii and top of xiv in the introduction to the book: “The idea for the book emerged, etc.” There was a symposium that began to look at certain imbalances in Sephardic Studies in the Americas, with an abundance of works on Crypto-Jews in Latin America, for instance, and almost nothing on the last hundred years; what there was tended to be atomized by community or language.  We wanted a contemporary and global approach.

Margalit Bejarano: The Division for Latin America, Spain and Portugal at the Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University conducted a study on Sephardim in Latin America that demonstrated the far reaching impact that the communities of origin in the Middle East and North Africa had on their descendants. We organized a symposium with scholars studying Sephardim in different countries in North, Central and South America, with the objective of comparing the experiences of Sephardim of different origins in different environments. The interesting exchange of ideas brought us to the idea of publishing that book.

Moreno: The time frame of the book is confined mainly to the last 100 years. Why does this specific period in the history of the Sephardim in the Americas merit unique scholarly attention?
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Short Novel about Turkish Jew Wins 2012 Leapfrog Press Award

Jane Mushabac’s novella about a Turkish Jew, The Hundred Year Old Man, has won Honorable Mention in the 2012 Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest for manuscripts of novels, novellas, and short story collections. Writers in fifteen countries submitted over five hundred works to the contest.

From the Leapfrog Press website: “The Hundred Year Old Man is a short novel about a Turkish Jew born early in the 20th century in the fast deteriorating Ottoman Empire. He is from a city on the Strait of Dardanelles, a narrow waterway at the center of the world, dividing Europe from Asia.   In a time of war and scarcity, the main character seeks survival. He is looking for food and meaning. The book’s brief episodes go back and forth in time, and include glimpses of the countryside in early 1900s Turkey and the streetscapes of late 1900s New York.  <!–more–>

Jane Mushabac has had fellowships from the Mellon Foundation and Harvard University.  Her writing about Judeo-Spanish characters includes a radio play, Mazal Bueno, commissioned for NPR broadcast with Tovah Feldshuh in the lead, and a short story in Judeo-Spanish.  Her fiction has appeared in ChautauquaMidstreamConversations, and Sephardic Horizons and has been anthologized. A Short and Remarkable History of New York City, which she co-authored, was selected as a “Best of the Best” by the American Association of University Presses and is in its fifth printing. Her writing on Melville has appeared in an MLA anthology. Mushabac teaches creative writing at City University of New York, where she is associate professor of English.”

New book: New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq

Orit Bashkin.  New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq.  Stanford University Press, 2012

cover for New BabyloniansAlthough Iraqi Jews saw themselves as Iraqi patriots, their community—which had existed in Iraq for more than 2,500 years—was displaced following the establishment of the state of Israel. New Babylonians chronicles the lives of these Jews, their urban Arab culture, and their hopes for a democratic nation-state. It studies their ideas about Judaism, Islam, secularism, modernity, and reform, focusing on Iraqi Jews who internalized narratives of Arab and Iraqi nationalisms and on those who turned to communism in the 1940s. Continue reading

New Book: Seder Nashim: A 16th Century Prayer Book for Women in Ladino

Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald, Seder Nashim: A 16th Century Prayer Book for Women in Ladino, Saloniki, (Sidur para mujeres en ladino, salónica, siglo XVI), (Ben Zvi Institute, Jerusalem 2012)

Seder Nashim is a 16th century women’s prayer book compiled in Thessaloniki and written in Ladino. It resembles the equivalent men’s Siddur, although the prayers it contains are shortened due to rabbinic considerations. The Siddur includes detailed instructions relating to all aspects of daily life with the intention of turning its users into faithful Jewish believers. In addition to daily and holiday prayers and blessings, the book also includes instructions on how to perform the commandments that a Jewish woman is obliged to fulfill (as in the Shulḥan Aruḥ). The Siddur was written entirely in Ladino so that its readers would be able to easily understand both the instructions and prayers that it contains.

In Schwarzwald’s book, the Ladino text has been copied, transcribed into Latin characters and translated into Hebrew. The book includes introductions in Hebrew and Spanish relating to its contents and style, and also contains a special chapter in Hebrew written by Dr. Aldina Quintana on the language used in Seder Nashim. The book also contains appendices relating to special Ladino and Hebrew words, authors, and sample photocopies of the original work.