Welcome to the Spring 2013 issue of Sephardic Horizons.
This issue presents Dogan Akman’s in-depth and definitive study of the uses of the vituperative term marrano, as used during the centuries when Spain, Portugal and their overseas possessions were persecuting Jews and former Jews, whether crypto-Jews or sincere conversos. The author argues convincingly that the term should never be used today, and especially not by Jewish scholars, who have sometimes continued its use in a romantic, metaphorical or ironical sense. There is always a danger, he argues, that the term with the full force of its original insulting intention may return to haunt us at some time in the future. He provides proof that the use of this term is gradually, but not yet completely, being replaced by more neutral historical terms in scholarly usage.
Hillel Halkin has given us permission to reproduce a chapter from his recent biography of Yehuda Halevi, and the first portion of the book, containing several of Halkin’s own translations of Halevi’s and others’ poems, appears in Sephardic Horizons. It describes vividly the atmosphere of conviviality and intense poetic competition in medieval Andalusia, where the brightest minds of the day tried to rival each other in producing intricate Hebrew poems of love or friendship. In a sense Halkin is attempting rehabilitate Yehuda Halevi after intimations that through his writings he may have begun the process of unravelling the state of convivencia in medieval Andalusia. Yet this chapter portrays vividly a very young Yehuda Halevi, enthralled with poetic technique and intellectually still in the “utmost West.” For Hillel Halkin’s full discussion of the issues, in which he draws on recent scholarship and archival discoveries from the Cairo Geniza, the reader is directed to his book, Yehuda Halevi, published by Nextbook/Schocken.
A. B. Yehoshua’s novel, Hesed Sefaradi, has appeared in March 2013 in Stuart Schoffman’s long-awaited English translation as The Retrospective. This novel won the Prix Medicis for best foreign novel in France for the French translation. We are adding a link to the now updated interview that we conducted with Yehoshua in 2010 when his novel first appeared in Hebrew. It is a meditation on the creative impulse and tells the story of an aging Israeli film producer who travels to Spain for a retrospective of his early films and there experiences a reconciliation with his long-estranged scriptwriter.
The Ladino/Judeo-Spanish section is expanding, bringing a moving story by Rivka Abiry, a poem on the Shoah by Haim-Vidal Sephiha, beautifully translated by Matilda Koen-Sarano, and an important updated study of the Holocaust among the Sephardim by Rachel Amado Bortnick. The latter is based on carefully verified statistical sources and others, to present the full impact of the Shoah among the Sephardic people, especially of the Balkans.
We are also pleased to bring you a review of a new encyclopedia of Bulgarian Jewish communities, written by Steven Sage of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and an incisive film review of a new Turkish film, “Turkish Passport” by Corry Gutstadt of the Holocaust Museum in Berlin. She expresses her expert skepticism with regard to Turkey’s claims of an impeccable record in rescuing Jews. Thus, as Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, a number of presentations in this issue relate to the Sephardim and the Shoah.
Thank you to all our authors, to Rosine Nussenblatt for translating one of the reviews, and to our webmaster, Elliott Blufer.
With best wishes to all our readers for a Pesah alegre,