Press Release from The Foundation for the
Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture
Release date: February 7, 1997
Contact: Robert Bedford info@ sephardicstudies.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LADINO REVERIES Tales of the Sephardic Experience in America by Hank Halio
Even though Hank Halio, author of Ladino Reveries: Tales of the Sephardim in America, directs his book to the first-generation of Sephardim born in the United States, many of those second-generation born Americans who long to know of their grandparents' traditions will benefit the most from his stories. Unfortunately, in their ardent desire to be American, the first-generation Sephardim did not, for the most part, extend their language and culture to their children. Mr. Halio, however, does succeed in passing the torch by giving the reader access to some of what was missed, and by bringing to life long-forgotten Ladino words and expressions. Beyond offering nostalgia, Ladino Reveries connects us to the sayings, wisdom, folklore, and ambiance that constituted the lives of Sephardic families in America.
Hank Halio, one of the last surviving members of this American-born generation, has made it his mission to present with simplicity and humor the expressions, stories, proverbs, and songs that he heard from the adults around him. He offers us glimpses into how Sephardic families -- newly arrived from Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans -- celebrated holidays, socialized, cooked meals, and told stories -- always ending with an important moral lesson, exemplified so well in the 'Djoha' tales.
From food to festivals Mr. Halio gives us an intimate peek into the everyday lives of these Sephardic immigrants. The chapter on food makes one's mouth water, with mention of kyoftes de prasa (meat patties with leeks), pishkado kon guevo i limon (fish with egg an lemon sauce), and yaprak (grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground meat). The Jewish holidays also come to life, especially with Mr. Halio's description of Purim, when Sephardic custom entitled the children to bring bags of goodies including such delicacies as baklava to neighbors and family, who would in return shower the children with coins. On Passover, Sephardic families would conduct their Seders in Hebrew and Ladino and sing the Ladino rendition of Had Gadya.
One of the most wonderful aspects of this book is Mr. Halio's collection of the many sayings and proverbs (refranes) that were common in Sephardic households. They represent the rich oral tradition that had been handed down from generation to generation. Some examples are "El haragan es konsejero" - The lazy one is an advisor) and this jewel: "Dos amigos con una chanta, uno konta, el otro yorra" - Two friends with one bankroll, one counts, the other cries.
In a detailed account of Sephardic language, culture, and customs, Mr. Halio includes Ladino bar mitzvah speeches given by Sephardic boys in the '30s and '40s, and lists Sephardic-owned grocery shops and coffee houses in Brooklyn, the Bronx and New Jersey, popular at that time. This kind of material would be lost forever had Mr. Halio not preserved it in his book. Mr. Halio also brings to light the customs that were particular to the Sephardim, such as the mortaja, the party thrown when Sephardic women finished sewing a death shroud. In many of Mr. Halio's anecdotes, we also learn how the Sephardic immigrants struggled to navigate the landscape of Yiddish-speaking neighbors and shopkeepers, who often refused to believe that they were fellow Jews. It was all the more reason for the Sephardim to celebrate their own heritage.
Mr. Halio tells us that his purpose is not to bring about a renaissance of Djudeo-Espanol (another term for Ladino -- the Castillian language that the Jews from Spain brought with them to the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century) nor to provide a history of the Spanish Jews, but rather to "remind [us] of our glorious past, to bring back loving memories of our parents and grandparents who spoke Ladino." We know that Hank Halio meets every week with other first-generation Sephardic Jews, all members of the Sephardic Social Club of Florida. In informal sessions they continue to recall the expressions and customs of their parents, and in Ladino Reveries Mr. Halio relates these anecdotes, and credits his willing contributors. It's been written many times that the Ladino language, and the culture of the Sephardim, are struggling for survival. Without doubt, Mr. Halio's book will help preserve it for many generations to come.
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