Istanbul Jews fight to save their ancestral tongue
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Istanbul Jews fight to save their ancestral tongue
In this photograph taken on December 8, 2019, 30 year-old Can Evrensel Rodrik (L) who was taught Judeo-Spanish when he was a child by his 90 year-old grandmother Dora Beraha, look at a family photo album during an interview with AFP in Istanbul. In an attempt to save this pillar of the identity of the Jewish community in Turkey, the largest in the Muslim world with 15,000 members, a handful of resistance fighters are fighting a fight that seems lost in advance. Mixture of medieval Castilian, Hebrew and other languages such as Turkish, Arabic and Greek, Judeo-Spanish, also called Ladino, was born after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 who mainly dispersed in the Ottoman Empire. Ozan KOSE / AFP.

by Gokan Gunes

ISTANBUL (AFP).- If there's one thing Dora Beraha regrets in her twilight years, it is not passing on the 500-year-old language of Istanbul's Jews, Ladino, now on the point of extinction.

"After us, will there still be people who speak this language?" says 90-year-old Beraha.

"Surely, very few. It is possible that it will disappear."

Ladino is a unique mix of medieval Castilian and Hebrew, with sprinklings of Turkish, Arabic and Greek, that emerged when Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, with many ending up in the Ottoman empire.

Turkey now has the largest community of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel -- around 15,000 -- some of whom are belatedly fighting an uphill battle to preserve the language before it disappears.

Ladino was passed down through the generations, peaking in popularity in the 19th century, but increasingly fell out of use in favour of French among Jews in the later Ottoman period.

Minority cultures and languages were deliberately suppressed when modern Turkey was formed in the 1920s. "Citizens, speak Turkish!" was a rallying cry of the new republic.

Beraha made a conscious decision to avoid teaching Ladino to her children, wanting them to assimilate as much as possible. "We wanted them to succeed," she says.

Saving Ladino
Turkey's neutrality during the Second World War spared Ladino-speakers the decimation of Jewish communities in other parts of the region, but today the remaining practitioners are mostly advanced in age.

According to UNESCO, more than 100,000 people still speak Ladino around the world, mostly in Israel where tens of thousands of Jews from the former Ottoman empire have immigrated to in recent decades.

Technically, 'Ladino' refers to a different language used by Spanish rabbis to teach Hebrew texts, but it has become the common name for Judeo-Spanish, which is also known as Judesmo and Spanyolit.

Karen Sarhon, 61, has dedicated her life to saving Ladino.

She heads the Turkish Ottoman Sephardic Research Centre and El Amaneser, a monthly supplement written entirely in Ladino, for the Turkish newspaper Salom.

Sarhon says there has been a resurgence of interest in the language lately.

"We launched El Amaneser in 2003 with eight pages. Today, it's 32 pages," she said, adding that 8,000 people read the supplement each month in Turkey and abroad.

She knows that Ladino is losing out to "more useful" languages such as English and Spanish, so in the hopes of reaching younger readers, she posts regular tutorials on social media.

'Who we are'
The fight to preserve a crucial piece of the Turkish Jewish identity comes at a difficult moment for the dwindling community, which has faced security threats including bomb attacks on two synagogues in 2003, and flagrant anti-Semitism in some newspapers.

Can Evrensel Rodrik, Beraha's grandson, is one of those hoping to regain the lost tongue.

The 30-year-old biologist says none of his cousins spoke Ladino and he had to force his grandparents to teach him.

Rodrik says a different approach is needed to spark the interest of younger generations and give the language a future, such as opening a Ladino radio station, translating a video game or teaching it to children at a Jewish creche in Istanbul.

For many Jews in Turkey, Ladino is the last, vanishing tie to their historical roots in Spain.

"From a very young age, I've been told: 'Vinimos de la Espana en 1492'," says Evrensel Rodrik, using the Ladino phrase.

"A big part of who we are, a great culture and a great language, will disappear if we lose Jewish-Spanish."

For others, like Denise Horada, 63, who sings every Thursday in a Ladino choir, the language evokes more recent memories.

"It reminds me of my grandmother. I always heard these songs when I was young," she says, smiling. "When I sing, it's as though she was by my side."

"Before it's too late" Sarhon has started building an archive and has conducted interviews with the few people, like Beraha, for whom Ladino is their mother-tongue.

Tapping the hard disk that contains her treasure trove, she says: "If future generations want to know where they came from, how their ancestors spoke, their sense of humour, they will have it all here."

© Agence France-Presse

Today's News

January 4, 2020

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart marks the 250th anniversary of Tiepolo's death with exhibition

In the swim of digital images, there's nothing boring about sculpture

The Met receives promised gift of over 700 extraordinary photographs from the William L. Schaeffer Collection

Rachel Feinstein unveils the darker side of fantasyland

Louvre's record numbers fall as museum tries to limit visitors

Richard Artschwager retrospective on view at Mart Rovereto

Istanbul Jews fight to save their ancestral tongue

Museums & galleries acquire 14-18 NOW commissioned works by Yinka Shonibare and John Akomfrah

Vaughan Oliver, 62, dies; His designs gave Indie Rock 'physical dimension'

Animation art sale tops $2.9 million, becomes largest of all time at Heritage Auctions

Copenhagen Contemporary exhibits works by the Danish-Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour

Season of photography at the National Museum Cardiff

Life beneath an urban canopy

Underage rape probe opened into French author Matzneff

German designer Zobel quits fashion label Courreges

Ballet dancers down tutus in longest strike ever at Paris Opera

Photographer John Offenbach explores the nature of what it means to identify as Jewish today

Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 announces its curatorial team and theme

Kimsooja installs her works at landmarks throughout the City of Poitiers

Curtain goes down on New York Musical Festival

Wesleyan University's Center for the Arts appoints Interim Director Jennifer Calienes

'Little Women' director 'sad' at awards snub of female filmmakers

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful