Thursday, February 15, 2007

Are Turkish Jews Turkish enough?

Turkish Jews have tried to appear more Turkish by abandoning their unique language, Ladino, Haaretz reports. But are they Turkish enough for some nationalists? (With thanks: Albert)

Turkish Jews have succeeded in preserving their language for more than 500 years, since the expulsion from Spain. But in the 20th century, Turkish Jewry, like Turkey itself, underwent a tremendous change. The community sought to become part of the citizenry of the new Turkish nation, and to become Turks also in tongue. Toward the late 1940s, the use of Ladino became unacceptable among Jewish youth.

"I could not stand it when my mother spoke to me in Ladino in public," says the editor of Salom, Matilda Levy. "I asked her to speak to me in Turkish, and she did that in a terrible accent."

Karen Gershon Sharhon edits the newspaper's Ladino page and is the moving spirit behind the effort to boost the language. "It is still early to consider Ladino dead," she says, as she sits surrounded by books translated into Ladino and published in Istanbul.

"When I was studying the subject at university, they told me that the language would be dead in 10 years. That was 15 years ago, and in practice what is happening is the opposite," she says.

A few years ago, Sharhon and some of her friends set up a band, Los Pasaros Sepharadis, or the Spanish Birds, to perform Ladino songs, and find they are having great success in attracting audiences. Last year, in cooperation with the Istanbul branch of Institute Cervantes, courses in Ladino and modern Spanish were set up for the Jewish community, and about 80 young members of the community registered and began learning the language.

Members of the younger generation all speak fluent Turkish, of course, but their names are still foreign. According to Levy, people who do not know her think she is a Turkish Muslim, until they hear her name. "They think I am a foreigner, and then I need to explain that I am not. I am a Jewish Turk," she says.

Nationalist elements in Turkey have attacked Jews for their ethnic background.

"This is a new trend," says the deputy head of the Jewish community in Turkey, Lina Filiba. "The nationalists are questioning our Turkishness, even though the fact that we are Turkish is accepted by all others," she adds.

Read article in full


Highest Infidelity said...


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Anonymous said...

we turks have no problem with our jews. they are our jews. we love them. they are an indispensible part of our life here in turkey. their broken turkish could only be a nice rememberance of their past. they are free to speak ladino wherever they want. nobody critisizes them doing so. my best regards to those who has immigrated to israel, and still living our common culture there!