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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

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

When rabbis won’t speak about Israel

AJR panel to offer tips for starting a conversation

Ironically, what should be a unifying topic for Jews often spurs such heated discussion that rabbis tend to avoid it, said Ora Horn Prouser, executive vice president and dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Dr. Prouser, who lives in Franklin Lakes and is married to Temple Emanuel of North Jersey’s Rabbi Joseph Prouser, said that she heard a lot over the summer from rabbis and other spiritual leaders. They said that they were “unable or not comfortable talking about Israel in their synagogues,” she reported.

“It didn’t come from a lack of love,” Dr. Horn said. “They’re deeply invested in Israel, and yet they felt they could not get into a conversation without deeply offending other parts of their community.”

 

Twenty years later

Stephen Flatow remembers his murdered daughter Alisa

When you ask attorney Stephen Flatow of West Orange how many children he has, his answer is immediate.

“I have five children,” he says.

Not surprising. What father doesn’t know how many children he has?

And how are they doing?

Four of them are flourishing; they are all married and all parents. Mr. Flatow and his wife, Rosalyn, have 13 grandchildren, and another one’s on the way. (And three of the Flatows’ children live in Bergen County.)

But the fifth, his oldest, Alisa, was murdered by terrorists when she was 20; her 20th yahrzeit was last week. She has been dead as long as she was alive.

“Just because she isn’t there now, that doesn’t mean I’m not her father,” he said. “I just don’t have any recent pictures of her to show.”

 

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