Contemporary Sephardic Identity in the Americas: An Interdisciplinary Approach ed. by Margalit Bejarano and Edna Aizenberg (review)
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Reviewed by
Contemporary Sephardic Identity in the Americas: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Ed. Margalit Bejarano and Edna Aizenberg. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2012. Pp. 272, appendix, bibliography, index.)

Sephardic scholarship over the past few years has increased, with interest shown in history, religious expression, and cultural heritage. Contemporary Sephardic Identity in the Americas contributes to the growing literature with 11 articles that span a number of disciplines and countries from the point of view of Sephardic Jewry in the Western Hemisphere. This slim volume is divided into three sections: “Sephardim in the Americas: Community and Culture”; [End Page 102] “Ideological Divergence: Zionism, Religion, and Transnationalism”; and “Culture in Transition: Language, Literature, and Music.”

Sephardim in the Western Hemisphere in general are introduced in part 1. Bejarano’s chapter surveys the multiplicity of communities in Latin America, the area that she has studied for many years. She provides insight into migration patterns from the colonial period to the late twentieth century. This is followed by brief discussions of communal life in the twentieth century, including how Zionism created venues for interactions with Ashkenazic coreligionists. A table showing the major communities of Sephardic Jews in countries of Central America and South America and countries of origin illustrates this chapter. Aizenberg, the other editor of the volume, addresses literary works written by Sephardic Jews in the Americas. Her musings point out how these voices express the connectedness of many Sephardim, who, after the expulsions of the fifteenth century, continued to live in a Luso-Hispanic world. Not only was the hereditary language continued in their new homes, but also in the mind-set of the Iberian Peninsula.

Jane Gerber, another respected voice in the field, writes about immigration to North America and the dichotomy of acculturation and cultural preservation. This historical survey addresses Sephardic immigration and social structure primarily in New York City, showing the diversity within this small minority within a minority ethnic group. In this discussion, Gerber points out the early twentieth-century growth of general Jewish organizations, such as Zionist organizations, and the establishment of fragmented groups and synagogues often based on locations of origin. The latter pattern was one established at least as early as the fifteenth century by Sephardic refugees in Ottoman Empire communities and elsewhere. Zionist and other support organizations were well established in these communities before immigration to the Americas. Gerber then continues to contrast the assimilation experiences of the Judeo-Spanish Sephardim with the Syrian Jewish immigrants from Aleppo and Damascus.

The five articles in part 2 address different aspects of Jewish identity among the Sephardim in the Western Hemisphere. The discussion by Rein and Nouwen of the early twentieth-century Argentine newspaper Israel shows how Zionism united the Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities in Argentina. This daily newspaper was founded by Moroccan Jewish immigrants. Published in Spanish, contributors were both Ashkenazic and Sephardic. As it did elsewhere, this movement to create and support a Jewish state served to shape Jewish identity in Argentina in the 1920s and 1930s. Brauner’s chapter is about another aspect of the Sephardic community in Argentina, Syrian Jews in Buenos Aires. Jews from Syria started immigrating to Buenos Aires in the 1950s. In general, they were more religious than other Jews in the community. Brauner discusses issues that contrast religious with traditional expression and cultural traditions with religious devotion. The Mexican Sephardic community and Mexican Sephardism and religious movements from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century are the focus of the contribution by Halabe. The author shows how religious affiliation has contributed to ongoing community dynamics.

The two final chapters of part 2 address the Sephardim in Miami, Florida, a magnet for Cuban Jews as well as other Jews—Sephardic and Ashkenazic—from Latin America. Green’s chapter addresses the Miami Sephardim in general. After an introduction to the settlement of Sephardic Jews in the United States and Southeast Florida, he launches into a discussion of the demographics of the community, considering place of birth, self-identification, Jewish identification, and religious practices. He points to the growing number of Sephardic immigrants in South Florida from Latin America and Israel, and how this shapes the multicultural...


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