Ladino Today

Is the language of Sephardic Jews, undergoing a revival?

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Where to Learn Ladino

For those who are intrigued by Ladino, classes are available at a few universities, and some Sephardi synagogues offer adult-education Ladino. The Spanish-Portuguese synagogue in New York has been offering Ladino classes for years, and The Center for Jewish History in New York offers Ladino as well.

Many local Sephardic federations offer courses in Ladino. In Israel, Spain, and Paris, Ladino programs are readily available. The online discussion group Ladinokomunita has correspondents from all over the world, and is a great resource for more Ladino information; the catch is that you must write in Ladino.

Ladino Treasures

The rewards for the student of Ladino include the ability to read the classic Me'am Loez in the original. Me'am Loez, the 18th- and 19th-century commentary on the Bible, is the major work of Ladino writing. The Ladino reader can also enjoy the many collections of proverbs and folk tales that are wise, funny, and very Jewish. Efforts to collect these treasures are making them more widely available than ever, and English translations are also being prepared.

Apart from Me'am Loez, there was a flowering of newspaper writing, translation, and pamphlets in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There were several Ladino newspapers in Istanbul, Turkey, and Salonika, Greece.

For centuries, Ladino was written in Hebrew characters, using either the special alphabet employed by the medieval commentator Rashi or a cursive script called solitreo. Most Ladino literature is written in the Rashi alphabet. Today, Ladino is written in Latin alphabet, but in phonetic transcription instead of the spelling system of today's Spanish. Ladino speakers emphasize that they are not writing incorrect Spanish, but rather phonetic Ladino.

Today, a few dozen American, Israeli, and European universities offer courses in Ladino. In Istanbul, a Ladino newspaper is published, but it's the only Ladino newspaper in the world. There is an all-Ladino journal called Aki Yerushalayim, published in Jerusalem, and a Ladino-French journal called La Lettre Sepharade is published in France. Israel Radio still broadcasts in Ladino, and Radio Exterior de Espana in Spain also has a Ladino broadcast.

Ladino's Revival

The Israeli government and private foundations are making efforts to rescue and promote Ladino. Israel has declared both Yiddish and Ladino to be endangered languages, and it has established the National Authority for Ladino and its culture. Israeli government programs include training for dozens of high-school teachers in Ladino.

Private groups have begun to move, too. The Ma'ale Adumim Institute for Ladino, located a short drive from Jerusalem, is trying to collect and catalog all Ladino books in order to preserve Judeo-Spanish heritage. It has added 300 volumes over the past three years, and its director is actively trying to locate more Ladino books. In 2002, the United Nations got involved. UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization sponsored an international conference on Judeo-Spanish language and culture, held in Paris in June 2002.

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Aviya Kushner

Aviya Kushner is a Lecturer of Creative Writing at Columbia College of Chicago. She is the author of And There Was Evening, And There Was Morning.