More than 500 years after Jews were expelled from Spain, an effort is afoot here to save Ladino, a medieval dialect that helped preserve the exiles’ culture as they scattered across Europe and the Middle East.
Ladino, also called Judeo-Spanish, is slowly dying. Israel is believed to have the largest number of people — perhaps as many as 200,000 — who can speak or understand the language. But many are older than 60.
Recognizing that the oldest generation of Sephardic Jews soon will disappear, some Israelis are trying to pump life into the flickering language — collecting written works, recording Ladino love songs and teaching Ladino to young people.
The Israeli government joined the efforts seven years ago, establishing the National Ladino Authority, which has prompted a surge of interest in the language and culture. The agency spends $275,000 a year on organizing lectures, promoting festivals and sponsoring language courses.
Thanks to the push, Ladino is now taught in several of the largest Israeli universities. Two schools recently opened centers devoted exclusively to the study of Ladino language and culture.
And the second national Ladino music festival, to take place here today, already is a popular showcase for young composers and musicians from all over the world, including the United States.
“It is a disappearing language, but more and more people I know are starting to play it,” said Yasmin Levy, a 28-year-old Israeli singer who has recorded two CDs in Ladino and performs often in Europe. “It’s beautiful.”…
Long before the Israeli government invested in promoting Ladino culture, a few activists collected folk stories, poems and songs. Perhaps the most ambitious was Levy’s father, Yitzhak Levy, who compiled 10 volumes of Ladino liturgy before his death in the 1970s.
Ladino language and culture enthusiasts in Israel and abroad are continuing the work, scouring bookshops and attics for overlooked Ladino writings. Some of the literature has been saved in the original language, some translated into Hebrew. One Israeli enthusiast is at work translating Homer’s “The Iliad” into Ladino from ancient Greek.
Eliezer Papo, the coordinator of a new Ladino culture center at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, said Ladino enthusiasts are taking their cue from the United States, where people are encouraged to celebrate their diverse cultures.
Thanks to Andrew Krug for the link.