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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

 

‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Israeli band full of New Jersey locals hopes to tour U.S.

If a crowd-funding appeal is successful, the Israeli band G-Nome Project is coming to the United States.

This is not the scientific kind of genome project having to do with decoding DNA, but a musical project launched by four young expatriates — two of them from Teaneck.

It’s also a kind of chesed project. The band’s proposed 10-city “Giving Tour” aims to combine nightly gigs with days of good deeds such as visiting nursing homes and working in a soup kitchen.

This unusual twist was inspired by drummer Chemy Soibelman’s volunteering with Israeli children suffering from cancer.

 

Less is more

Moriah to institute new tuition affordability program

Good news for the middle class — and for Jewish day school affordability.

The Moriah School in Englewood, which runs from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has announced a new tuition affordability program, which will cut tuition for parents making as much as $360,000 a year.

Full tuition at the school ranges from $12,000 for kindergarten to $15,425 for middle school. (The prekindergarten program is not eligible for the tuition breaks.)

“We’ve been talking, as a board and as a community, about tuition affordability and the tuition crisis for years,” said Evan Sohn, the school’s president. “We decided this was the year we were going to address that issue.”

 

Scrolling through Jewish art

Local exhibit looks at text and images in old and new ways

The English letters that Harriet Fincke of Ridgewood learned when she was young are straightforward symbols that combine to form words, just as they are for everyone else.

But Hebrew letters — ah, they are something else again. “They always seemed kind of solid,” she said. “They seemed more like things,” objects in their own right, opaque. “It’s both the meaning and the look, and the relationship between them,” she said.

Those letters were a foundation part of her childhood — she went all the way through school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. “I’d always had a kind of richly ambivalent relationship with my religious upbringing, and with the text,” she said.

 
 
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