by Devi Mays, Ph.D. Candidate in History at Indiana University
Editor’s note: From time to time, we will feature original research essays by emerging scholars in Sephardi-Mizrahi studies. If you are an advanced graduate student or recent Ph.D. who would like to promote your work in this way, please contact Evelyn Dean-Olmsted.
It was the night of the second seder of Passover, and I was seated in the apartment of my friend’s grandmother in the upper-middle class Etiler district of Istanbul. The lights of the Akmerkez shopping mall twinkled in the April drizzle through the window behind me. Linda Hanım,[i] my gracious hostess and a vibrant woman in her late 80s, sat down on the couch next to me, and asked me what had dragged me to Turkey. After explaining that I was researching Ladino-speaking Sephardic immigrants to Mexico in the early 1900s, her face lit up. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “one of my uncles went to Mexico before I was born. He never came back to Turkey, so I never met him, but his daughter visited once. She stayed with me, and we shared the same name.” Speaking in a mixture of Turkish, French, and Ladino, generously peppered with English and Hebrew, Linda Hanım explained that her father had been one of five siblings from the small town of Silivri in eastern Thrace. Of these five, only her father had remained in Turkey, the other siblings having immigrated to the United States, Israel, and Mexico. Like many Jews from smaller towns in the Aegean littoral, her father had left his natal city to move to Istanbul, where Linda grew up in what several Turkish Jews described to me as the “judería” surrounding the Galata tower in Beyoğlu. This area, once known for its cosmopolitan mixture of Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Levantines, and Europeans, is now known for its burgeoning café culture, a flood of young people moving into turn-of-the-century buildings still bearing the names of long-absent Greek or Armenian architects, and cobblestone streets overflowing with eager tourists. Continue reading