JBooks has an online magazine, Secular Culture and Ideas, which is featuring essays on Sephardic Judaism. Vanessa Hidary writes “My Jewish Grandmother spoke Arabic,” Pamela Dorn Sezgin writes about Dario Moreno and Sephardic Cosmopolitanism (“The Turkish Army served as a springboard to Moreno’s career. He became adept as a polyglot singer in Turkish, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish”), Bernard Horn talks with the great novelist A.B. Yehoshua (“Mr. Mani is saturated with Jerusalem, the real historical and living Jerusalem, not the Jerusalem of nationalist fantasy, nor the Jerusalem of fundamentalist frenzy, but rather a dense, lived-in, fascinating city—like Joyce’s Dublin or Kafka’s Prague”), and Eyal Ginio has an essay on Jews in the Ottoman Empire:
The most striking cultural change for Ottoman Jewry was the absorption of French culture, especially French language, into everyday life. Interestingly, and in the colonial spirit, it was mainly Jews from Western Europe who enthusiastically took upon themselves the mission of “improving” the situation of the Ottoman Jews. The school system of the Alliance Israélite Universelle was chiefly responsible for this. Established in France in 1860, the Alliance aimed at raising the standing of the “Eastern” Jews by means of secular French culture. They assumed that French “progressive” Jewish education would enable Ottoman Jews to modernize and become contributing citizens.
The intimate knowledge of French language and culture brought about many changes for the Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman state. Rather than totally abandon their traditional Jewish language, Ladino, the Ottoman Jews transformed their language and used it as a vehicle of secularization….