Sephardic Jewish Conference in Seattle Features Exhibition from Rhodes

June 2, 2019

SEATTLE, WA – The biennial conference, Erensya, which brings together Sephardic Jews, the descendants of those expelled from Spain and Portugal during the time of the Inquisition and who settled mostly in the Ottoman empire, was held in Seattle on May 27-31, the first time in an English-speaking community, the Seattle Times reported, adding that the conference is sponsored by a Spanish government organization.

Devin Naar, a University of Washington associate professor in the Sephardic studies program, spoke to the Times about holding the event in Seattle, “Symbolically it’s very significant. It represents Seattle’s emergence as a kind of Sephardic hub.”

According to the report, Seattle is home to the third largest community of Sephardic Jews in the Unites States after New York and Los Angeles. The Times cited a 2014 report by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, noting that the community “numbers about 5,000 people – 8 percent of the region’s Jewish population.”

Among the events held during the conference was an exhibition open to the public from the Jewish Museum of Rhodes, once home to a thriving Jewish community. The new travelling collection of artifacts included “an intricately designed ketubba, or marriage contract, from 1852; decorative clogs of the sort worn by women at Turkish baths or ritual ones before a wedding; and documents from World War II attesting to discrimination against Jews and their eventual deportation to Auschwitz,” the Times reported, noting that Rhodes was “the birthplace of many Sephardic immigrants to Seattle.”

The conference also included a visit to the University of Washington where Prof. Naar has just completed digitizing a large collection of books and documents in Ladino, the language spoken by the Sephardic community. The Times also reported that Naar teaches a class for those interested in learning the language, as do others in diaspora communities including Buenos Aires.

The Ladino native speaking population may be decreasing, but there is a revival taking place, especially for those interested in the community’s music.

More information about the Sephardic studies program at the University of Washington is available online: https://jewishstudies.washington.edu/sephardic-studies/.


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