This summer issue brings a variety of interesting topics from writers around the world. Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer has entrusted to Sephardic Horizons some excerpts from the 1919 travel diary of her father, who recounts his voyage from Turkey to New York under difficult conditions, with which one can easily empathize. He was travelling Third Class and not steerage, so one hesitates to imagine conditions in the class below his, as so many Sephardic immigrants experienced.
Matilde Tagger and Doğan Akman bring us a fascinating and erudite discussion of sources for the origins of the name ‘Aseo’ and possibly related names, Anqawa, Elnekave, and Akman, among others.
Laura Leibman and Suzanna Greenblatt have spent much time studying the inscriptions on the gravestones of Newport, Rhode Island’s Jewish cemetery, and have contributed an extensively illustrated study of what we may learn from them about this very early Sephardic community of North America, particularly with regard to its attitudes to children and childhood mortality. This article is a good example of the ‘new spatial turn in Jewish studies’, a phrase coined by Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert in a recent review essay.
In Ladino, we present our regular contributor Rivka Abiry’s translation of Leora Goldberg’s account of the Holocaust on an idyllic Greek island (this time a fortunate story of sheltering and survival). We also reproduce a recent article of my own on “The Story of Ladino: From Roots to Branches.” Also, Regina Igel and Vivienne Roumani-Denn review a novel and a film respectively in our review section, and we have a concert review as well.
We would like to remember here our recent Ladino-language contributor to Sephardic Horizons, member of the Vijitas de Alhad, and a friend to many of us, Santos Mayo, z”l. Readers can find his article about the meaning of Pirke Avot in the previous (Spring 2012) issue. We have also recently lost Rifat Barokas, z”l, a Washington DC Vijitas de Alhad member, eulogized below by his son Ben Barokas:
Eulogy for Rifat Barokas:
A True Sephardi1
By Ben Barokas
My father was an extraordinary person. He was born on August 24th, 1939, and died April 1st .My sister and I were with him in Istanbul when he died.
These last weeks I have been hearing from everyone how my Dad was an individual not easily forgotten. With a broad smile, people would remind me how he had a unique ability to befriend everyone, really everyone.
I would agree with them when they would say how my Dad would organize and delegate tasks to people on short notice, I would laugh. Dad would certainly organize and delegate to me – and to all my friends who were included on his short lists.
What were the most important things in my father’s life? Certainly, family, friends, knowledge, compassion, honesty, work, art, pleasure. Indeed one of his mottos, and he had many to share, was “Seek Pleasure, Avoid Pain.”
My Dad was a man in motion. He left Istanbul after studying at Robert College and leaving with an incredible thirst for knowledge and for life that he maintained throughout his 72 years. He worked and played in over sixty countries and loved the experience of new cultures, new foods, new people, new languages and new philosophies. He was a voracious reader and consumer of media: books, plays, movies, television.
Dad was always, always up for a movie, even if he had already seen it, or if it started in the middle of the night, or was in a theatre fairly far away. I believe my nephew, Lev, has inherited my father’s love of all screens.
Dad was a lover, not a fighter. He wasn't into sport. He didn’t have the most competitive spirit, and he wasn't one to cheerlead from the sidelines.
Dad did have charisma. The consummate charmer, his stories entertained many at breakfasts, lunches and dinners all over the world. As a guest and as host he always brought a party with him.
No conversation about my father is complete without the mention of food. His was the only authentic recipe for French toast: day old challah with separate bowls for eggs and milk. To the milk, Dad added a large squirt of Baileys or Grand Marnier, with large shakes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Sunday morning French toast became a tradition in our household. Many joined in, most as invited guests.
Above all Dad valued connections and relationships. He was a networker of the highest caliber. He loved to have his friends and acquaintances meet with one another, even if there were no immediately discernible reason for the connection. I can’t tell you how many times I was in London or Hamburg or Austin or Seattle and my father said, Benjico, I have this friend that you should go connect with.
Dad knew folks everywhere, and was loved everywhere he went. Yesterday, Mejdi, Dad’s friend and colleague – and they were often the same -- was telling me the story of my father’s return to Iraq. Apparently his friends argued over who would throw the first party for him!
Dad also loved to connect people with new ideas to new forms or new methodologies for learning. He loved books, ancient and modern. He was versed in the classics and kept up with modern literature. He especially loved to bring people over, to connect them to his point of view about anything.
Dad was a pusher of education. He did his undergraduate degree in economics at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He then started a master’s at the University of Chicago and finished at the City University of New York. Dad then went on to get his PhD at Antioch where he wrote a dissertation on land reform – specifically A Micro Socio-Economic Study of Two Agrarian Reform Communities in the Atlantic Coast of Colombia.
Having received his own PhD, Dad felt that his children, and his wives for that matter, should receive theirs as well. At almost every opportunity he would ask when I was going back to school, and would suggest to my sister that a PhD was in her future as well.
My father was an educator, both formal and informal. At work and at home he was always a teacher and a storyteller. For the past five years he taught at a private university in Turkey; before that at University of Phoenix and the United States Department of Agriculture Graduate School.
Dad loved teaching, lecturing and mentoring. My father was someone who taught me, and the many, many others who surrounded him, the value of education, the value of honor, the value of trustworthiness. He would maintain that it is always better to do what you say and say what you do.
I need to say something about my dad’s work that was so important to him. Dad let us know that the work he did truly made the world a better place. My father loved his work. His projects spanned from water supply and sanitation in Latin America, to the privatization of cheese production in Hungary to greenhouses in Gaza. From Bangkok to Bangalore, from Ouagadougou to Oslo, my father’s career spanned more than 50 years and many villages, urban centers and suburbs on all seven continents and 60 countries. He spoke four languages fluently and could converse somewhat in another dozen.
In the 1970s Dad worked primarily in Latin America, having visited every country on that continent. He focused his work, however, in Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, where he and my mother lived for the better part of that decade, and where my sister and I were born.
In the 1980s Dad worked primarily in Africa, mostly in Kenya, Zaire, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Dad then spent the 1990s in Central Asia and Eastern Europe including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Hungary and Bosnia.
Over the past decade he worked in Gaza, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan.
My friends, and the parents of my friends, in hearing about Dad’s international travel to the world’s ‘pleasure spots’, that is, the most violent and scary places on earth, thought my Dad was a spy. But this notion was quickly dispelled upon meeting my father and seeing that his fitness level was inversely proportioned to his joy and love of food.
Dad waltzed through war zones as easily as through ballrooms, just listening to his own tune, dancing to his own music, and paying little mind to the chaos that surrounded him.
When people asked Dad what he did, well, he didn’t always have one specific answer. I didn’t exactly know until now, when my sister and I looked in his resume to see his expertise which included, as I began to say: privatization of state enterprises, public sector reform, project finance, agriculture and agri-business, commodity exchange development, nutrition, rural health, investment and trade promotion, small and medium enterprise restructuring, sales and marketing management, human resource development, emergency and disaster planning and assistance.
I was amazed, yet not totally surprised, while I was in Turkey. Person after person approached me and told me how much of a brother or father or uncle my Dad became for them. So many of his employees became so much a part of his life that years after they had ended a formal relationship in some project, his colleagues/friends/employees would send cards, call, and connect with him whenever he or they happened to be in or near the same town. Teams of interns in Budapest and Egypt and Iraq were touched by his wisdom, charm and love.
Dad’s real family life was complicated. He came to America when he was twenty and settled in Chicago to attend Roosevelt University. Over the course of the next 40 years in and out of America, he was married three times. He adopted Kim and Debbie --two children from his first wife’s first marriage. He and his first wife, Mary Jane had a daughter named Peri.
Dad’s first marriage ended in a challenging split after six years. One of his great regrets was not keeping in close touch with his three daughters. He later reconnected with Peri, Debbie, Kim and Kim’s kids. Being with them brought him a lot of joy in his later years.
In 1971 Dad married Judy Barokas, my mother, and they spent the next 10 years in Latin America. When they returned to America, they were drawn to Reston. Dad spent around 25 years living on and off in Virginia, traveling to other parts of the world to work. Dad loved Reston, especially the woods and the lake. When Dad was in better shape than he had been for the last few years, he and Safiye, Dad’s third wife, would walk down to Lake Anne and back.
And Dad loved our around-the-corner State Park at Lake Fairfax. Dad would drive us there and kick around the soccer ball with us for two minutes. Then he would arrive at his true purpose, and begin unpacking the elaborate picnic lunch he brought.
Dad taught my sister Sara to drive on a dirt road in the back of Lake Fairfax as well. Nothing dangerous was there, no other cars, just some stones and trees.
Dad loved Wolf Trap and looked back fondly on concerts he attended, especially Peter, Paul and Mary, Woody Guthrie, the NSO and Shakespeare. He thought of those years as the best of times.
And always, always, Dad made lists -- for everyone and especially for me. Literally to his dying day my father shared with me his lists of things for me to do. Errands or projects, Master degrees, or investments, Dad was always, delegating tasks to various and sundry people to investigate information, and always chasing the deal, sometimes to his benefit and sometimes to his detriment.
My father was the consummate bargainer. He was most at home in the bazaar whether in Gaza or Guadalajara. Whether buying a rug or a suit, a watch or a radio, he loved to employ a veritable quiver of techniques, wearing down the seller until he gave in -- my father walked away. Countless cups of tea, excited tones of voice, back and forth, bargaining was like traveling: at least half the fun was in the process.
But the legacy that my father left all of us is love: his great loves of family, of life, of food, of work, of travel, of learning, of life’s complexities that must be overcome.
I’m so proud to be my father’s son.
1 Delivered by BenBarokas at a memorial marking the Shloshim in RestonVA: 29 April 2012