Save the Data: A Sephardic Antique Roadshow
Save the Data: A Sephardic Antique Roadshow
Charles E. Young Research Library
On March 11, 2018, the UCLA Sephardic Archive Initiative and UCLA Library and Special Collections held a joint event to celebrate and launch the latest stage of our collecting and archival projects. The program, “Save the Data: A Sephardic Antique Roadshow” was held at the Charles E. Young Research Library with support from the UC Humanities Research Initiative. Community members were invited to bring their personal and family documents and artefacts relating to Sephardic life and history that could be translated, and interpreted by our team of scholars and volunteers. The day proved to be an astounding success.
Staffing the event were representatives from UCLA Library (including Manuscripts Librarian Genie Guerard, Associate University Librarian Sharon Farb, and Judaica Librarian Diane Mizrachi), an array of Judaica and language experts (including our own Professor Aomar Boum, out-of-town guests Professor David Bunis from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and UCLA alumnus Professor Bryan Kirschen of SUNY Binghamton University, New York, HUC librarian Henry Wudl) and community partners (including Arthur Benveniste, Marcia Weingarten, Al and Rose Finci, Harry Zinn, Mike Hattem, and Carole Abrevaya Stein). All told, the stage was set to review all measure of items that journeyed to or through our local Los Angeles community.
Among the most common items to circulate were prayer books, especially those written in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and Rashi type. Deciphering these devotional items led to discussions about guests’ family histories and religious practices, but also provoked
conversations on the historical publishing networks of Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman lands, Italy, and beyond. Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Professor of History, Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies at UCLA, and Director of the Sephardic Archive Initiative, informed guests as to the historical and cultural backgrounds of their items.
Family letters, often written in the unique Ladino handwriting of solitreo, as well as in French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Italian, were also shared with our experts. Legal documents, including passports and visas, added additional languages - like Greek - to the multilingual diversity of sources.
Not all the items shared with our team were documents. Indeed, we saw items like coffee grinders and cezve used to make Turkish coffee - a Sephardic favorite - and the all-purpose arruda leaves (rue) used in many Sephardic families for celebrations and to treat illnesses and bad luck. Family photos, many from weddings that took place in Rhodes or Ottoman Anatolia, showcased the ‘modern’ dress styles of Sephardic Jews who lived in the ‘old’ country.
Two treasures baffled even our array of experts: a hundreds-year
old kabbalistic charm, said to be brought to Los Angeles by way
of Rhodes from medieval Spain, and an early 20th century
astrological manuscript from Morocco. The Sephardic Archive
Initiative team is now helping to connect the owners of these
precious heirlooms with experts around the country and
internationally, such they can be better understood.
Some items traveled short distances. Many items reflected
the history of local Sephardic communities that settled in
Los Angeles in the first few decades of the 20th century. Photos
of Purim plays, community picnics, and Zionist celebrations
opened a window onto the vibrant Sephardic community here in
California. The Ladino-language minute-book of the Sisterhood
of the Paz i Progreso community, which a guest rescued from
the garbage some years back, will be essential to our
understanding of the roles and lives of Sephardic immigrant
women in the 1930s and 40s.
Caroline Luce, Ross Postdoctoral Fellow at the Alan D. Leve Center, aided guests in mapping out Sephardic Los Angeles on an interactive map onto which the locations of institutions, gathering places, and homes were marked. Doctoral student Max Daniel, Sephardic Archive Initiative Project Manager, gathered lasting memories of Sephardic Los Angeles.
In spite of all the excitement and materials brought to the event, we are are aware that we saw but the tip of a vast iceberg. Many of our guests, and several people who could not attend, told us of treasures they owned but could not bring to UCLA, while others expressed an interest in seeing more of these archival gatherings and ‘antique roadshows.’
As the Sephardic Archive Initiative grows, we hope to continue to engage the local community and scholars to develop a collaborative and interactive history of Sephardic Los Angeles, one that reflects the City of Angels’ global past and present.
Left: Kaye (Hasson) Israel
identifies her family home
on W. 52nd Place.
Right: volunteer Marcia
Weingarten with a photo of
the interior of Sephardic
Temple Tifereth Israel when
it was located on Santa
Barbara Ave. (now Martin
Luther King Jr. Blvd.).