If you've ever heard Sephardic Jewish music, with it's haunting vocals and lute and mandolin accompaniment, you won't easily forget it. Also known as Ladino, with strong Spanish, Portuguese and Moroccan influences, it is the music of a unique community whose heritage is both Mediterranean and Jewish. Celebrations held most years include the American Sephardi Music Festival, New York Ladino Day and the Wisconsin International Ladino Day Celebration.
The first wave of Jewish settlement to America, during our Colonial days, was mostly Sephardic -- Mediterranean Jews who had developed their unique culture first in Spain and Portugal during the Middle Ages, and later throughout Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. They brought with them the distinctive Ladino language (a mix of Old Spanish with Turkish, Hebrew and Arabic influences), their evocative music, a tradition of scholarship, and a warm and lively community.
NYC's Congregation Shearith Israel,
Est. 1654, popularly known as the
"Spanish and Portuguese Synogogue"
By the mid-1700's, thriving Sephardic communities, each with their own synagogues, had been established in New York, Charleston, Philadelphia, Savannah, GA and Newport, RI. Although Sephardic immigration
slowed by the 1800s, the richly varied community continued to thrive, and many of the oldest synagogues remain active today. In recent years, in fact, interest in Sephardic music and culture, and in the Ladino language, has been undergoing a spirited renaissance.
One of the most delightful aspects of Sephardic culture is the sheer range of cultural influences, drawing from centuries of Mediterranean migration. NYC's Greek Jewish Festival, celebrated by a community dating to the early 1900's, typically features Greek music, dancing, and cuisine.
To get connected and keep abreast of upcoming cultural events, check out the American Sephardi Federation and the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America.