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Snatches of Spain in the Stories of Sephardim in Bulgaria


... largely desk-based, research experience, insider to Spanish, Spain, and the ... I realise that this language is an important part of our evolving culture. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Snatches of Spain in the Stories of Sephardim in Bulgaria

Snatches of Spain in the Stories of Sephardim in
  • Leah Davcheva Richard Fay
  • Paper for the 1st Global Erensya Platform Summit
  • September 19th-21st 2011

The researchers
  • Leah - Bulgarian, Sephardic, Ladino-memories from
    childhood, largely field-based, insider
    vis-à-vis researched context
  • Richard Fay non-Bulgarian, non-Jewish, no
    Ladino memories, largely desk-based, research
    experience, insider to Spanish, Spain, and the
    Spanish speaking world, hispanophile
  • Shared intercultural expertise, narrative and
    Balkan interests (incl. history, music, culture,
    politics) and research experiences

Richard (in Las Alpujarras, southern Spain)
Briefly about the research study
  • In the spirit of the oral history tradition, we
    want to preserve for posterity the linguistic
    history and experiences of Sephardic Jews in
  • An exploration of the understandings of
    middle-aged and elderly Sephardic Jews in
    Bulgaria regarding the language they tend to call
    Judesmo (but which is also known as Judæo-Spanish
    and Ladino)
  • 14 storytellers aged between 43 and 92 (who we
    will introduce shortly).
  • Multilingual research about one language
    (Ladino), through stories told largely in another
    (Bulgarian) as analysed and (re)presented in a
    third (English)

Meet some of the storytellers Ivette Anavi
Elli Anavi
David Cohen
Reina Lidgi
Aron Balli
Solomon Balli
Sophy Danon
Sami Frances
Erensya supporting the relations between Spain
and the Sephardic Diaspora
  • Ours is a study of the Ladino speaking
    experiences of Bulgarian Jews, giving rise to
    insights about their closeness to Spain, the
    Spanish language and the Spanish speaking world

Six emergent themes
  • Naming the language
  • Spanish - Ladino interaction
  • Felt links with Spanish speakers globally
  • Participation in / identification with Sephardic
  • Felt links with Spain
  • Participation in Ladino / Sephardic revival

a) Naming the language
  • At home they spoke Spanish and this was the most
    natural thing in the world for me. Our whole life
    then was run in Spanish. Andrey
  • I call this language Judesmo-Espanyol. I cannot
    be absolutely sure what the difference is between
    the various names of this language, but that is
    how I call it. Elli
  • We lived with my maternal grandparents. They
    spoke to me in Spanyol. Gredi
  • When I was a child we called it Spanyolit.
  • She must have been a good teacher because in
    less than three months, I was able to communicate
    with her in Ladino. Reina

b) Spanish-Ladino interaction (1)
  • My developing relationship with Reyes and the
    exaltation from mutually understanding each other
    (mind you, my Ladino was far from perfect),
    inspired me to register on a course to learn
    Spanish. At the time, I thought I could
    understand almost anything that was said in
    Spanish and decided to go straight for 2nd year
    classes. But I didnt take my limited knowledge
    of Spanish grammar into account. It turned out to
    be a mistake because there was no solid
    foundation I could step on. In the end, however,
    I made up for all that. Soon after I completed
    the course, I was able to speak contemporary
    Spanish. Ladino helped a lot but surprisingly, it
    also got in the way to some extent. Reina

b) Spanish-Ladino interaction (2)
  • Every time I hear somebody speak Spanish now, I
    get a general idea of what is being said. I
    wouldnt be able to repeat any of the words or
    sentences, or say anything myself, but I imagine
    I can capture the general sense of the
    conversation. I rarely get this general idea
    wrong and this makes me think that Ladino is part
    of my basic programming. Solomon
  • The younger Jews here do not speak proper Judesmo
    any more. For them, Judesmo is a foreign
    language. If they tell you they understand
    Judesmo, it is because they have studied Spanish.
    The Spanish they have learned interferes with
    their Judesmo and in many ways harms it.
    Pronunciation changes, as well as the usage of
    some words. Judesmo does not sound authentic when
    they speak it. I liken their way of speaking
    Ladino to a joke, it is not serious. Maxim

b) Spanish-Ladino interaction (3)
  • When I opened my mouth to speak to them in
    Spanish, their first question would be, Where
    does your Spanish come from? I always responded
    by first saying Lo aprendi de mi abuaela, que
    avlava de Ladino, meaning that I could speak
    Spanish thanks to the Ladino which I had learned
    from my Grandma. A long conversation about Ladino
    then followed. When they heard me speak Ladino,
    they would say one of two things either that my
    Ladino sounded like the language of Cervantes, or
    that I spoke the Castilian dialect which is
    considered to be the basis of modern Spanish. We,
    the Sephardic Jews, have actually preserved that
    ancient language when we were expelled from Spain
    in 1492. Reina

c) Felt links with Spanish speakers globally (1)
  • Have you ever heard Cubans speak Spanish? They
    tend to swallow their consonants and its hard to
    understand them. For a whole week I kept my mouth
    shut and did not dare speak. By and by, I
    gathered courage and would put in a word here and
    a word there.
  • the response of the Cubans was twofold. First,
    they thought they heard somebody who had risen
    from their grave. So obsolete was the language I
    produced. They were enormously delighted and
    would make me repeat what I said, time and time
    again. Aron

c) Felt links with Spanish speakers globally (2)
  • I have not got too many specific memories
    connected with Ladino but one thing I do know I
    have always been keen to establish common ground
    between myself and other speakers of Spanish. I
    have actively sought out such contacts. Take, for
    example, something that happened during a trade
    fair in Frankfurt. Aron
  • So, I was greatly encouraged by the way I managed
    to get along with my Spanyol in Argentina. I
    spoke it in the streets, in the shops, and with
    my relatives, some of whom were born there, my
    cousins daughter, for example. I bought myself a
    Spanish textbook. Itsko

c) Felt links with Spanish speakers globally (3)
  • Another fine Ladino episode in my life is related
    to my friendship with a Cuban singer. His name
    was Jorge Frances. I first met him in the opera
    canteen ... One day, I heard somebody asking for
    a glass of water in Spanish but the canteen
    ladies could not quite catch what this man was
    saying. I went closer and helped him get want he
    wanted. By and by, we became good friends. Jorge
    spoke Ladino with my mother and, from time to
    time, comic situations arose. We laughed a lot
    together. One day Jorge came to visit In one
    part of the room my mother was talking with a
    friend of hers, in Ladino, and in the other part
    of the room I was talking with the two Cuban men.
    All of a sudden, we heard my mother say to her
    friend, Mi sta comiendo las tripas! The two
    Cubans burst out laughing - this wasnt a phrase
    they would ever use in Spanish. Its literal
    meaning is let him eat my guts, and
    figuratively, it meant He is getting on my

c) Participation in / identification with
Sephardic diaspora (1)
  • I have been using Ladino as an international
    language and I have a whole range of experiences
    to share. Time ago, a group of French Jews
    visited and with two of them, I communicated in
    Ladino. Another example is when I was in Israel
    and set out to see a Holocaust museum. It
    happened to be on a non-working day and the
    museum was closed. I wanted to find out about the
    working hours and came across a man from Egypt
    who spoke Spanyol. He said to me, If you walk a
    bit further, youll find a guy who can also speak

c) Participation in / identification with
Sephardic diaspora (2)
  • Five or six years ago she my mother designed a
    beginner course in Judesmo. She compiled the
    course textbook basing it on a French textbook
    written by Marie-Christine Varol. My mother not
    only translated from the original, she also wrote
    new material. The publication came out with
    pictures from our family album. Elli
  • If I could speak Ladino, I could easily
    communicate with people in Greece and Turkey, and
    elsewhere, especially with the elderly. I would
    have been very well positioned, exactly because
    of that. But even as it is, I am being
    well-positioned and accepted now. Solomon

c) Participation in / identification with
Sephardic diaspora (3)
  • we became Bulgarian Jews only 70-80 yrs ago.
    Before that, we used to be Balkan Jews. Should we
    find ourselves among Jews from other Balkan
    countries, there would hardly be anything to make
    us inherently different from each other except
    for the language of our passports. We behave in
    similar ways. Everywhere on the Balkans I feel at
    home. My great Grandad was born in what is now
    Turkey. What was he? What kind of Jew was he
    exactly? My Grandma used to tell me about her
    family -they came from what today is Serbia and

d) Felt links with Spain (1)
  • I remember my first visit to Spain. It was quite
    an emotional experience. I felt completely
    comfortable in the Spanish speaking context and
    was pleasantly excited by listening to the people
    around me and actually, being able to understand.
    Although I was not at home and not in my own
    country, I still had this amazing sense of being
    in a linguistically familiar context. I must
    have sounded ridiculous and primitive because I
    had never specially studied Judesmo, but what I
    said was very well received. People applauded me.
    I did a presentation at the Chamber of Commerce
    in Barcelona and I said my last couple of
    sentences in Judesmo-Espanyol. I felt at home
    and an insider. Elli

d) Felt links with Spain (2)
  • I have a sense of Spain being a motherland to me.
    . I now remember something and I think you
    would like to hear it. It happened on 24th May. I
    was invited to the residence of the now
    ex-president of Bulgaria Zhelev. He was hosting a
    reception to celebrate the Bulgarian alphabet and
    literacy achievements. I asked to be introduced
    to Juan Carlos, king of Spain, who was also
    present at the reception. And indeed I was. I
    spoke to him in Spanyol. Itsko

d) Felt links with Spain (3)
  • he was keen to hear the language which he had
    never heard anybody speak before. The time we
    spent together made me aware of the special
    attitude the Spanish have for us, Sephardic Jews
    they find it truly amazing that not only have we
    preserved Ladino for five centuries but we also
    cherish the warmest sentiments for Spain itself.

f) Participation in Ladino/Sephardic
revival activities (1)
  • But it might be that Ladino is a like a live coal
    hidden among the ashes it might spark off a
    fire. Aron
  • I became a member of the Dulce Canto choir. My
    time is already gone, but it was a beautiful
    experience singing in that choir. Dulce Canto is
    one example of how we tried to preserve and
    revive Ladino. Aron

f) Participation in Ladino/Sephardic
revival activities (2)
  • All of this has inevitably shaped our worldview
    and has made us distinctive. Through Ladino I can
    trace a connection with one of the most
    progressive civilisations in Europe of those
    times. And now, all of this is disappearing.
    Whether it will disappear for good, I dont
    know. I wish it could stay alive, and deep down
    I believe it will be here forever. From something
    which used to be practical, usable and
    indispensable, Ladino is now turning into a kind
    of intellectual brooch. And you know how it is
    with brooches you wear and enjoy them if you
    have them, but you can very well manage without
    them. Brooches are somewhat eccentric but on the
    other hand, what would life be without a certain
    dose of eccentricity. Solomon

f) Participation in Ladino/Sephardic
revival activities (3)
  • But look at me, in spite of everything that I
    can see happening, I keep being interested in
    this language. I have collected more proverbs
    400 of them I realise that this language is an
    important part of our evolving culture. Our
    ancestors took it with them and went on speaking
    it for a long time. It is worth the effort to
    help preserve some written traces of it. This is
    not only because of its spoken order structures.
    You can follow the traces of so many other
    languages - the languages of the peoples with
    whom the Jews had lived when they left Spain, for
    example Portuguese, Italian, Turkish, Bulgarian
    and maybe others. Ladino is an unbelievable
    mixture and our ancestors have spoken it while
    communicating with each other, when trading,
    making love, singing their songs. To cut it
    short, Ladino has preserved many diverse aspects
    of the lives we had lived in the past. It is part
    of the history of a big branch of the Jewish
    people those who once lived in Spain. David

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