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Marc D. Angel is the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City, founded in 1654. He is the author of The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community and has served as editor of Studies in Sephardic Culture and Rabbi David de Sola Pool: Selection from Six Decades of Sermons, Addresses and Writings. He is the founder and director of Sephardic House, a national institution dedicated to Sephardic history and culture, based in Congregation Shearith Israel.
The Story of This Book
In the Beginning
Organizations and Disorganization
A Hispano-Levantine Community
Toward a Unified Community
Old and New Sephardim Meet
The Struggles of La America
8 Zionism among the Sephardim
The Sephardic Diaspora in the U.S.
The Next Generations
In an article reporting a new union of Sephardim and Ashkenazim in Turkey, Gadol rejoiced and hoped it would be a symbol of continuing cooperation between the two groups. Indeed, a goal of La America was to unite the Sephardim and Ashkenazim here in the United States. He condemned those who tried to keep Sephardim and Ashkenazim separated. “We are all children of one great nation, we must all unite, union is power.”
But Gadol, was not one to compromise the honor of the Sephardim or to swallow his pride if he felt offended by the Ashkenazic community. He did not believe in peace at any price; rather, he wished the Ashkenazim would accept the Sephardim as equals in every way and work together for the advancement of the Jewish people.
On February 8, 1912, the Progressive Oriental Society (composed mainly of Ashkenazim from Turkey) held a meeting with the intention of bringing Sephardim and Ashkenazim closer together. Speakers included Rabbi David de Sola Pool of the Spanish and Portugese Synagogue, and Nessim Behar. There were also several speeches by Ashkenazic leaders. One of the speakers was A. Kretchmer, an Ashkenazi, who spoke at length. His talk disparaged the Sephardic Jews of Turkey, indicating that they were merely ignorant laborers and had played no role whatever in the Ottoman Empire. He asserted that the Ashkenazim were superior to Sephardim in various ways. Interestingly, Kretchmer spoke in Yiddish so that the Sephardim in the audience applauded along with everyone else when he was through, since they could not understand what he had said. But Gadol, who was present, understood Yiddish and he took copious notes of the speck in order to let the Sephardim in the United States and in Turkey know what Kretchmer had said. In the pages of La America, Gadol began a concerted campaign against Kretchmer and another Ashkenazic speaker of the day, Seff. He refuted their assertions and called on all Sephardim to protest vrgorously against these charges.
In the March 15, 1912 issue of La America, Gadol printed a monk dialogue between himself, Joseph Gedelecia (president of the Progressive Oriental Society), Kretchmer, Seff, Nessim Behar, Alfred Mizrahi, and several others. The dialogue began with a statement by Gedelecia objecting to La America”s critique of his friend Kretchmer, implying that it was unfair of Gadol to attack these men since the Progressive Oriental Society had been supportive of La America. Gadol responded expressing his appreciation of the support that La America received from Gedelecia"s society. “ I never attacked you or your society. I would not have attacked Kretchmer and Seff unless they had first attacked all Oriental Sephardim. If they had spoken kindly about our people, I would have praised them instead of criticizing them.”
Kretchmer and Seriff rebutted: “Oh, devil of an editor! Our intention was not to attack the Sephardim, but only to make the Ashkenazim aware of the Sephardim so that they can help them.” Gadol replied: “If that was your intention, you did not need to invite our people, fooling them into thinking you"d speak in Spanish as was written in the advertisements. If I had not taken issue with you, my journal would be a timid thing which does not know how to defend the honor of our people. The Ashkenazim who found out what was written in La America thought that Kretchmer and Seff deserved even worse treatment from us. If our people would have understood you then, you would have been showered with abuse.” Gadol went on to praise Nessim Behar as “the noblest Oriental Sephardim in New York.”
Kretchmer and Seff then asked: “What can we do now to correct an error?” Gadol replied: “You have only one way, and that is to confess and repent in the presence of the same Yiddish-speaking people: we have sinned, we have erred, we have transgressed, and to promise not to speak any more like this, since now you recognize that the Sephardim are people who have a journal which knows how to defend their honor.” However, Kretchmer and Seff retorted: “We will never do that. It is better for us to destroy La America so that we can begin again to speak what we like about the Sephardim.” Gedelecia was then made to say that a new paper was needed to counteract the influence of La America, which would promote him personally as well as his organization. “Fool of an editor, haven"t you learned yet that with the truth you cannot make money in America?” Alfred Mizrahi chimed in: “I do not know Yiddish, but if you pay the price, I will publish La Aguila in order to ruin La America.” The newspaper La Aguila is then personified and made to say: “I am made up of lies and falsehoods. La America"s eagle stands above the word emet (truth) but I stand over the word sheker (lie).”
Angel seems compelled in those areas where information has survived to present the reader with the totality of his sometimes undigested research, often obscuring the conceptual point under consideration. He also often fails to remind us that the point of view of one highly partisan foreign-language newspaper does not constitute the outlook of the entire community it sought to serve. Such are but two of the pitfalls confronting the historian seeking to write a comprehensive communal history based on the most limited and parochial of sources. Still in all, this work is welcomed and one hopes will inspire both its author and other like-minded scholars to continue the examination of this most understudied segment of the Jewish immigrant saga.
- Gurock, Jeffrey S.
Reviewer, The American Historical Review
The title of the book is taken from the Judeo-Spanish-language newspaper La America, which was active between 1910 and 1925 under the editorship of Moise Gadol. Using the newspaper as his primary archival source, as well as interviewing some of those who were active in the American Sephardic community before WW II, Angel (seeks to) depict the life of the Sephardi community during this time period.
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