Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History

Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History

by Aviva Ben-Ur, Colin Leys


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A significant number of Sephardic Jews, tracing their remote origins to Spain and Portugal, immigrated to the United States from Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans from 1880 through the 1920s, joined by a smaller number of Mizrahi Jews arriving from Arab lands. Most Sephardim settled in New York, establishing the leading Judeo-Spanish community outside the Ottoman Empire. With their distinct languages, cultures, and rituals, Sephardim and Arab-speaking Mizrahim were not readily recognized as Jews by their Ashkenazic coreligionists. At the same time, they forged alliances outside Jewish circles with Hispanics and Arabs, with whom they shared significant cultural and linguistic ties.

The failure among Ashkenazic Jews to recognize Sephardim and Mizrahim as fellow Jews continues today. More often than not, these Jewish communities are simply absent from portrayals of American Jewry. Drawing on primary sources such as the Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) press, archival documents, and oral histories, Sephardic Jews in America offers the first book-length academic treatment of their history in the United States, from 1654 to the present, focusing on the age of mass immigration.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814725191
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 01/01/2012
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Aviva Ben-Ur is Associate Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she also serves as Adjunct Associate Professor in the history department and the Spanish and Portuguese programs. She is the author of A Ladino Legacy: The Judeo-Spanish Collection of Louis N. Levy.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Jews Who Weren’t There: Scholarly and Communal Exclusion
1 Immigration, Ethnicity, and Identity
2 Hebrew with a Sephardic Accent: A Test Case for Impact
3 East Meets West: Sephardic Strangers and Kin
4 Ashkenazic-Sephardic Encounters
5 The Hispanic Embrace
6 Conclusion: A View from the Margins
Appendix: Population Statistics of Non-Ashkenazic Jews in the United States of America
Notes Index
About the Author

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Carefully documented with particular reliance on the Ladino press, this book addresses a shortcoming involving both scholarly and “communal” engagement. Ben-Ur underscores the failure of academics and Ashkenazic Jews to acknowledge Sephardic Jews, which has resulted in “historic oblivion.””


“The book contains a great deal of information about relatively recent Sephardic immigration, much of it from interviews. . .and her research in obscure newspaper sand other printed and manuscripted sources that will be of value to any person who attempts such a history, which is surely one of the more apparent gaps in American Jewish history.”
-Roger Daniels,University of Cincinnati

“A landmark contribution to the history of those Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews who were all too often invisible to the “mainstream” Jewish community and to the historiography of American Judaism.”
-American Jewish Archives Journal


"Offers refreshing new insights into the Sephardic migration from Ottoman lands to America in the early twentieth century. Drawing heavily upon the unknown riches of the Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) press, Ben-Ur illuminates many unknown aspects of the Jewish immigrant experience. She sheds new light on American Jewry, providing a different narrative that will be especially welcome to students of ethnicity and immigration in general as well as readers seeking information on the Hispanic-Jewish encounter."

-Jane S. Gerber,Director of the Institute for Sephardic Studies, City University of New York

"In this excellent book, Ben-Ur helps address a severe gap in the historical scholarship of American Jewry, and blazes a trail for other scholars to follow. . . . Scholars in the field will no longer have an excuse not to mention or give significant space in their works to Sephardic Jewry within American Jewry. Sephardic Jews in America will be of use in any course concerning immigration, ethnic identity, American and Jewish American history, and Ladino culture, as well as Spanish Diasporas."
-Zion Zohar,Director and Chair, President Navon Program for the Study of Sephardic and Oriental Jewry, Florida International University

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