From New York City to Buenos Aires and Madrid to Istanbul, Ladino* activists and scholars, all of whom speak the language, met in Jerusalem from October 11-13, 2018. The purpose of this 3-day gathering was to discuss documentation, preservation, and revitalization efforts in Ladino throughout the world and consider ways that communities could collaborate with one another as well as with the National Authority of Ladino in Israel.
The National Authority of Ladino (NAL) was established in 1996 with the approval and support of Israel’s Knesset. The first NAL chairperson was the fifth president of Israel, Yitzhak Navon; it is currently directed by Dr. Tamar Alexander, Professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The NAL has taken on a wide-range of initiatives over the years to disseminate knowledge about Ladino and Sephardic culture throughout Israel, such as supporting the now defunct journal Aki Yerushalayim, edited by Moshe Shaul, as well as more than a dozen sirkolos del Ladino (language groups) around the country.
Over the past year, the Executive Committee of the NAL has selected fifteen delegates from around the world who will work toward one of the NAL’s goals of maintaining contact with Ladino-speaking communities outside of Israel. Currently, delegates reside in the United States, Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, France, Spain, Argentina, and Germany. All delegates were chosen based on their track record of activism in and on Ladino as well as their ability to speak the language (regardless if it has been acquired as a first language or learned as a second language). The National Authority of Ladino has asked Dr. Bryan Kirschen of Binghamton University in New York, the author of this article, to lead this delegation.
These (voluntary) delegates will be known as Shadarim, a term once used to designate the honorary title of rabbinical emissaries in Israel, but hereby used to refer to emissaries of the NAL. With this initiative, delegates will represent the NAL in their communities, disseminating information about the language, related activities, and working together to promote the use of the language at the local, national, and international levels.
Creating a network of representatives from around the world will help reinforce the NAL’s commitment to preserve the Ladino language as well as maintain contact with Sephardic communities worldwide. After more than a year of planning, ten of the fifteen Shadarim met in Jerusalem to convene with representatives of the National Authority of Ladino, scholars of the language, as well as some of the foremost activists from around Israel. During the chairperson’s opening remarks, Dr. Alexander noted that an encounter like this has not occurred in the past.
Another aspect that stood out was the use of the language. Unlike this article, everything was in Ladino: round-table discussions, lectures, city tours, conversations at meals, jokes, and singing. Ladino served as the lingua franca (shared language) among this international delegation. Despite the endangered status of this language worldwide and the misconception held by some that this language is already dead, the encounter of the Shadarim demonstrates that Ladino is still a living language.
During this meeting, the Shadarim engaged in meaningful conversations about concerns facing the language and its speakers today, such as what needs to happen in order for Ladino to be passed on to future generations. Members also spoke about establishing an International Week of Ladino (Semanada del Ladino) instead of the current Day of Ladino (Dia del Ladino), as well as creating more online resources for people interested in learning the language who may not have access to speakers. The Shadarim, who will work interdependently with the NAL, are in the process of creating a website, obtaining sponsors, and carrying out a number of proposals that were considered at this first assembly. The Shadarim look forward to providing more details on these projects in the near future. For inquiries, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kaminando i avlando…
…קאמינאנדו אי אב׳לאנדו
(One day at a time; Literally: Walking and talking)
*Linguistic and cultural nuances exist regarding the nomenclature of this language. For the purposes of these lines, however, Ladino is used given the Shadarim’s partnership with the National Authority of Ladino. What we know as Ladino today was most commonly referred to within Sephardic households in the past as Spanish (Spanyol, Spanyoliko, Muestro Spanyol) or even Jewish (Djudezmo, Djudió, Djidió). Due to the hybrid nature of this language, the term Judeo-Spanish serves as an umbrella term to encompass all varieties of the spoken vernacular (including the Moroccan variety of the language, Haketia).