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For love of Ladino

 
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Englewood resident Enrique Levy left his native Cuba some 50 years ago. What he did not leave behind was his love for Ladino, a language he describes as "muy hermozo" (very beautiful).

"I can't describe it…. It's more than just beautiful sounds," he said. "It can convey entire moods, like Yiddish."

Ladino, otherwise known as Judeo-Spanish, is the spoken and written Hispanic language of Jews of Spanish origin. According to the Website of the Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, Ladino did not become a specifically Jewish language until after the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

"It's not just translation," said Levy. "It's full of 'old sayings,'" using few words to make larger statements. He noted that he once heard a lecturer in Israel describe Ladino as "the psychiatrist of its people … conveying the essence of life."


Enrique Levy, founder of the Ladino Club at the JCC on the Palisades, recently attended an Israeli gathering of Ladino speakers.

Levy, who founded the Ladino Club at the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly some six years ago, says, "I was selfish. I wanted people I could speak with in Ladino." Nevertheless, since there aren't very many people left who speak the language, "I switched emphasis." Now he said, at his once-a-month meetings, he brings in written materials — including poetry, essays, and liturgical texts — that he reads and translates, as well as musical pieces and, when he can find them, DVDs. The group usually attracts about 10 members.

"We don't do as well in the winter months," he said. "Most of those who come are elderly and they don't come out."

Levy, who calls himself a "freelance teacher" at the JCC on the Palisades, began his association with the organization in 199', when the JCC sponsored a major event commemorating the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from Spain. A member of the Sephardic Minyan at Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood, he said he is proud of the well-attended group, which has been in existence for some 15 years and boasts well-attended daily, as well as Shabbat, services.

Levy spoke with the Standard after returning from a gathering of the LadinoKomunita in Israel. Describing the group as a "virtual community" of about 850 members who communicate and share resources over the Internet, he noted that, to date, there have been 17,000 messages in Ladino, including poetry and writings. The trip to Israel, organized by members of the group, brought together hundreds of Ladino speakers for programs on Ladino culture — with all lectures delivered in Ladino.

According to the group's Website, http://www.sephardicstudies.org/komunita.html, "News of the death of Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) have been greatly exaggerated. This beautiful Sephardic language is not only used daily, but it is the only acceptable language of communication in our virtual community called Ladinokomunita. The members of this Internet chat group, who may reside hundreds and thousands of miles from each other on earth, have discussions with each other daily via e-mail in the language they all understand. In other words, here, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) is indeed very much alive!"

Levy explained that while, in Israel, there is a good deal of interest in Ladino at the university level, the language is taught here only at Tufts University in Massachusetts and at the University of Pennsylvania.

"There are some small little grains of interest," he said, noting that an increasing number of young students are joining the LadinoKomunita.

Levy, who will soon lead a tour to Cuba for the third time — "We bring the Jewish community medicine and give them support," he said — noted that the people who attend the JCC Ladino Club, hailing from local towns and from as far away as Long Island, "meet and have fun."

"Some of them are nostalgic and say, 'I remember my grandmother saying that,'" he noted, adding that participants don't have to know Ladino to attend meetings. "Everything is translated," he said. "We use Ladino texts for the flavor of the language."

For information on the Ladino Club at the JCC, call Lynn at (201) 569-7900.

 
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

Ron Shanbrom posted 10 Apr 2009 at 09:38 PM

I have been searching for Enrique “Henry” Levy for some time, but I just now came across this article. When Henry was brought to the US from Cuba he lived in a Jewish foster home with me, operated by the Jewish Family Service in Cleveland, OH. I was going to call the Ladino Club at the JCC but the area code listed appears to be incomplete—there is no “01” area code. “01” is a country code. I would greatly appreciate it if you could either send me either the correct area code or have him contact me at the email address above. I left the group home in 1962 and haven’t seen or heard from him since. However, I just received an email from a woman that used to be married to one of the children of the woman that ran the group home and she told me that she had seen Henry when he was in Cleveland with his children a few years ago.

Jeff Sondhelm posted 04 Oct 2010 at 05:29 AM

Ron, 
  I suspect the area code is 201.  Good luck in reconnecting

 

A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

Where greatness lies

A memorial to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

On July 3, 5 Tammuz, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi died. He was 89.

He inspired tens of thousands of people directly — and indirectly he inspired millions more, people who have yet to discover that the spiritual approaches they hold dear were invented and graciously shared by him.

Reb Zalman was prodigiously influential over many decades, but he was not proportionately famous. He was not always given credit for his vast learning or for his astonishing array of contributions. And he was okay with that.

The first time I saw Reb Zalman, he was on the bimah of an auditorium that held 2,000 people. His face beamed love at the congregation. I had been leading another High Holiday service, and I was able to join his congregation for the last few minutes of Rosh Hashanah morning.

 

Paying it forward

Remembering Gabby Reuveni’s generous spirit

Just a glance at the web page created in memory of Gabby Reuveni of Paramus gives some indication of the number of people she touched and — through the ongoing efforts of her family — she continues to touch.

Killed two years ago in Pennsylvania by a driver who swerved onto the shoulder of the road, where she was running, Gabby, who was 20, was “an extremely aware and kind person,” her mother, Jacqueline Reuveni, said. “We’re continuing her legacy.”

The family has undertaken both public and private “acts of kindness,” she said, from endowing scholarships to meeting local families’ medical bills.

According to her father, Michael Reuveni, Gabby — then a student at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the school’s track team — was a victim of vehicular homicide.

 

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An American tale

Closter’s mayor talks about her journey from Nuremberg to New Jersey

Anyone trying to predict the course of newborn Sofie Dittmann’s life in 1928 would have imagined a solid, possibly even stolid upper-middle-class life, most likely in her birth city — Nuremberg, Germany.

It would have seemed an odd leap to imagine Sophie Dittman Heymann as she is today — the Republican mayor of Closter, coming to the end of her term as she completes eight years in office.

Her story, as Ms. Heymann tells it, involves hats, salamis, of course ambition, and a surprising but logical take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It began with Sofie, as her name then was spelled, and her younger sister, Ilse, growing up in a comfortable German-Jewish home. Her father, Fritz Dittmann, a leather dealer, was a World War I veteran, and he had earned an Iron Cross fighting for Germany in that war. Her mother, Gerda, was the daughter of a banker. The family’s life in Germany ended abruptly in 1933, however, when one of her father’s employees — who “was a Nazi, but also very loyal to my father,” Ms. Heymann said — warned him that the Nazis would be coming for him the next day.

The family escaped that night — by taxi.

 

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Federation launches marketing effort for nine area Jewish schools

“We can accomplish more together by pooling our resources for a common goal,” explained Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school of the Yavneh Academy in Paramus.

“Through this project, we hope to raise awareness across the broader community about the benefits of a stellar dual curricular Jewish education,” he said.

“We’re trying to educate different audiences within our community about the value of a Jewish education and the importance of investing in these schools,” Ms. Scherzer said. “These are the schools that produce leaders.”

In addition to the advertising campaign, planned marketing efforts include a short video, a website, and parlor meetings to take the case for day schools directly to community leaders.

 

As easy as chewing gum

Sweet Bites launches program to prevent tooth decay

Convincing children to chew gum is easy. Distributing gum that prevents tooth decay to children in urban slums is a bit trickier.

Still, given the success they enjoyed during their pilot year in India, the creators of Sweet Bites stand a good chance of making widespread gum distribution a reality.

According to 22-year-olds Josh Tycko of Demarest and Eric Kauderer-Abrams of Englewood, who joined with several friends at the University of Pennsylvania this year to found the group, tooth decay has been a terrible burden on the lives of millions of slum dwellers.

Sweet Bites wants to popularize the use of 100 percent xylitol-sweetened gum to reverse the trend. The students point out that clinical trials in both the United States and India have proved the gum’s efficacy in re-mineralizing enamel and reducing tooth decay.

 
 
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