At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Spanish Senator Ángel Pulido launched a political campaign with the aim of establishing contacts between Spain and the Jews of the Sephardi diaspora. As part of that campaign, Pulido maintained correspondence with around 150 Sephardi Jews, most of them from Turkey, the Balkans and North Africa. Pulido’s correspondence seems not to have been preserved. However, in his book Españoles sin patria y la raza sefardí (Spaniards without a Homeland and the Sephardi Race) (1905), he included fragments of the letters as well as a large number of photographs sent to him by his Sephardi correspondents. The published material includes photographs and letters of 48 Sephardi women and has barely received any attention by scholars, who have primarily focused on Pulido’s relation with his most prominent male correspondents. In this article, I examine the main features of Pulido’s correspondence with these women: the image of women suggested by these photographs, the character of the information transmitted to Pulido by his female correspondents and his approach towards Sephardi women of his time.

issue 18 / December 2020 by Paloma Díaz-Mas

A History of Histories—of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Exchange

A.S. Yahuda and the International Trade of Antiquities, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, 1902-1944

This article provides the first attempt to study comprehensively the influential involvement of the scholar Abraham S. Yahuda (1877-1951) in the international trade of manuscripts and cultural objects. Buoyed by his position as the chair of Rabbinic Language and Literature at the University of Madrid in 1915, Yahuda legitimized and deepened his role in the trade of material objects; his ongoing trade of such objects, in turn, helped to legitimize his scholarship, which continued well after he left Spain. Through a study of previously unpublished files, the piece points to the overlapping of knowledge, power, and the acquiring of antiquities and other objects during the first half of the twentieth century.

issue 18 / December 2020 by Allyson Gonzalez

Inspired by the discovery of a letter written by a Spanish woman under the pseudonym of Marcelina de Quinto to Isaac Molho, editor of the Tesoro de los judíos sefardíes (Treasure of the Sephardic Jews), this article focuses on the persistence of memory of Jewish ancestry within a prominent family of Spanish intellectuals in the 20th century—the Jardiels—and its reenactment in two different generational contexts. While the literary oeuvre of Enrique Jardiel Poncela, one of the most important comic writers of twentieth-century Spain and a staunch supporter of Franco, is tainted by a resolute antisemitic bent, his daughter Evangelina, a psychologist and author of fictional books and journalistic essays, converted to Judaism and strongly identified with the struggles of the State of Israel. Through the analysis of the biographical and intellectual trajectories of these two individuals, the article casts light upon the stereotypes, contradictions and ambivalent attitudes of Spanish intellectuals regarding Jews and Judaism.

issue 18 / December 2020 by Asher Salah

A Tale in the Language of “My Mother Spain”

Carmen Pérez-Avello's Un muchacho sefardí

This article focuses on Carmen Pérez-Avello’s Un muchacho sefardí (A Sephardi Boy), a novel for young readers that that writer, who also happened to belong to Catholic religious order, published in Spain in 1965. The text’s multiple layers make it possible to examine contradictory meanings associated with Jewish and Sephardi themes in the decade that preceded the end of the Francoist dictatorship. On the one hand, Un muchacho sefardí stands out in a historical period in which Paloma Díaz-Más identifies an “absolute silence” with regard to Jewish characters and Jewish themes in Spanish literature. On the other hand, Pérez-Avello tapped into what could be called a “Philo-Sephardi catalogue” in order to craft the book. Un muchacho sefardí represents a unique opportunity to further understand a moment of gradual change and transition with regard to gender roles, the role of the church, and, of course, Spain’s relationship with Sephardi Jews.

issue 18 / December 2020 by Tabea Linhard

Drawing on two distinct bodies of Sephardi food writing—Anglophone cookbooks and the long-running recipe column in the Judeo-Spanish periodical Aki Yerushalayim—this paper explores the role of cuisine as a primary affiliative structure in contemporary Sephardi culture. I argue that these two divergent literary traditions, in their general ignorance of one another, constitute a framework for an archive of Sephardi cooking. In spite of these texts’ common conception of cooking as a female practice of memory and identification as well as their shared interest in the intersection of the culinary and the linguistic, they are at odds with one another as to whether Sephardi culture exists only in the past, or may also be found in the present. Side-by-side consideration of both corpuses requires an understanding of Sephardi culture attentive to persistent continuities in spite of major historical ruptures.

issue 18 / December 2020 by Harry Eli Kashdan

Pedagogies of Citizenship

Sepharad and Jewishness in Spanish and Catalan Documentary Film and Television

Catalan filmmaker Martí Sans’s documentary L’estigma? (The Stigma?) (2012) and the Spanish television fiction series Cuéntame cómo pasó (Tell me how it happened) (2001-) confer visibility to the small national Jewish community that remains largely imaginary to their fellow Spaniards. They exemplify how cultural productions may reframe and circulate a different (his)story about the relationship of democratic Spain and Catalonia to the legacy of Sepharad and Jewishness, though they approach storytelling from different perspectives: the former is a social issues documentary defined by its didacticism; the latter delivers “infotainment” by appealing to viewers’ emotions. L’estigma?, structured around interviews with academics, theologians, and journalists, denounces longstanding antisemitic stereotypes that permeate Spanish society. Cuéntame, by introducing Jewish characters into a Spanish family drama, taps network TV as a vehicle to familiarize the viewing public with Jewish customs and Sephardi heritage in Spain. They present their audiences with an aspirational civic pedagogy, though not without a certain ambivalence toward the pluralistic landscape this pedagogy promotes.

issue 18 / December 2020 by Hazel Gold

This essay focuses on the “Sephardic Portraits” of Daniel Quintero (Málaga 1949-), a leading Spanish figurative painter. In these paintings, composed over the last twenty-five years, Quintero portrays contemporary Sephardi figures alongside medieval and early modern Iberian Sephardi Jews. To provide a face to these historical figures (Maimonides, Samuel Halevi, Benjamin of Tudela, Gracia Mendes) Quintero finds inspiration in contemporary Spaniards. Alongside these portraits, a group of still lifes connect the past and present of Jewish Spain. Seen through the methodology of “curatorial dreaming” proposed by Shelley Ruth Butler and Erica Lehrer, these portraits and still lifes construct a genealogy and perform a particular cultural memory. They establish a relationship between a past that remains in the faces, gazes and gestures of those who forgot it and a present that works to make those traces visible through a re-engagement with the memory of Jewish Spain.

issue 18 / December 2020 by Daniela Fleser and Adrián Pérez Melgosa

Ancestry, Genealogy, and Restorative Citizenship

Oral Histories of Sephardi Descendants Reclaiming Spanish and Portuguese Nationality

The 2015 Spanish and Portuguese nationality laws for descendants of Sephardi Jews are unusual in their motivation to redress wrongs committed more than half a millennium ago. Both have enabled descendants of those Sephardi Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, or forced to convert to Christianity, to claim citizenship status through naturalization. The laws have elicited ancestral and contemporary stories that speak to the personal and social meanings applicants give to these citizenships. Through extensive oral histories with fifty-five applicants across four continents, we examine our narrators’ views on the laws’ deep roots in a genealogical concept of belonging, based on familial and biological heritage and the persistent criterion of the bloodline. We argue that the responses of Sephardi applicants complicate traditional notions of genealogical inclusion, unveiling instead a multiplicity of meanings attached to identity, belonging, and contemporary citizenship. While Spain and Portugal’s offer of what we call “restorative citizenship” requires the demonstration of biological and genealogical certainties, we argue that those seeking Spanish or Portuguese nationality complicate, expand, and sometimes subvert state constructions of citizenship as well as transform their own identities and belonging. More than recuperating a lost Spanish or Portuguese identity, many Sephardi descendants are discovering or deepening their ties to ancestral history and culture. Sephardi genealogy is also being mobilized in a contemporary global and European context in which citizenship and belonging are no longer defined exclusively by nation state territoriality, but rather through claims to new hybrid, multiple, and flexible identities.

issue 18 / December 2020 by Rina Benmayor and Dalia Kandiyoti

The paper seeks to expand the area of modern Yiddish culture beyond literary fiction. It explores the rise of modern Yiddish theatre, press, poetry, and political literature in Imperial Russia in the 1880s. The essay argues that these forms of Yiddish cultural expression first became significant and widespread phenomena in the 1880s. It also highlights the emergence of a diverse Yiddish readership and audience, with different levels of Jewish and European cultural background, in order to counter the common dichotomy that Yiddish was for the masses, whereas Hebrew and Russian were used by the Jewish elites. Finally, the article places the rise of Modern Yiddish culture within the context of major social and economic transformations in East European Jewry: urbanization, population growth, and downward economic mobility. Overall, the article refines and revises certain conclusions offered in the author’s book The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture (2005).

issue 17 / September 2020 by David E. Fishman

As the first prominent Yiddish writer from the Polish territories of the Pale of Settlement, I. L. Peretz (1852-1915) was from the beginning of his career an outlier in the geographical politics of Yiddish culture. He dramatized this difference in a number of ways: insisting on the linguistic difference of his Yiddish from that of his colleagues, dispensing with the overt appeals to oral discourse which Yiddish literature had adopted and adapted from Russian literary models, and demanding of himself and his readers a sensitivity to literary style on the highest level of sophistication. As an outlier, these aesthetic differences find representation in analogously exceptional approaches to the question of literary space. Unlike his primary colleagues, and competitors, in Yiddish literature of the day – Sh. Y. Abramovitsh (c. 1835-1917) and Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916) – Peretz dispenses with the convention of creating prototypical, imaginary shtetlekh in order to situate his stories, including his most fantastic and parodic narratives, in a verifiable Eastern European geography. He is moreover the first great Yiddish writer to describe these traditional communities from a perspective of the writer living in a modern metropolis, even if the metropolis itself figures in comparatively few of his narratives. What emerges from these strategies is a writer who situates himself not only as an “outlier” with respect to the linguistic and literary conventions of his contemporaries, but also with respect to the territories he describes. His narratives are neither traditional nor modern, neither metropolitan nor peripheral, neither realistic nor phantasmagoric, but in each instance somewhere in between and, more significantly, constantly in a state of flux among these contrasting locations. This essay will trace the narrational techniques and representations of space in Peretz’s fiction to demonstrate the dislocations which determine his best writing and provide a model for the leading trends in Yiddish modernism that follow in his wake.

issue 17 / September 2020 by Marc Caplan