13 January 2010

Books: Other sides to Jewish culture

Author Mara W. Cohen Ioannides guestblogs for the Jewish Publication Society about lesser-known Jewish cultures.

In her latest guest post for the JPS Blog, she discusses the fact that American Jews tend to view American Jewishness as yiddishkeit, or Ashkenazi Jewish culture, although there are so many other Jewish ethnic groups to consider.

Before you pooh-pooh this idea, list Jewish ethnic food. Did you list: matzah balls, bagels, pastrami, rye bread, mandelbrot, challah, or honey cake? Then you are an Eastern European ethnic Jew. What ever happened to humus, lahana, or halvah?

Mara writes that she grew up at a time when Sephardim were only mentioned in history books, even as she grew up an hour from the historic Sephardic synagogue in Philadelphia, Mikve Israel. There were few children's books about American Jewish children.


When she became the mother of a daughter with a Greek father, she wanted her daughter to know all about her history, but there was nothing for children about Greek Jewry. This was the impetus for Mara's series of children's novels.
We know that Jews lived throughout history in almost every part of the world, but we don’t really understand what their lives were like.
She authored "A Shout in the Sunshine," a young adult novel set in 15th-century Greece, about a friendship between two boys from different cultural backgrounds: Miguel, a post-Inquisition Spanish refugee, and David, the son of a wealthy Greek Jewish fabric merchant. As they work together in David's family shop, they find they share a special connection. The book explores what happens when two distinct Jewish communities must learn to live together after the 1492 Exile and Spanish Sephardim arrived in Salonika, which already had a resident indigenous Romaniote Jewish community. See the book link for PDFs of the forward, first chapter and study guide.

Her blog post lists five books for children and adults to help readers get started on seeing other parts of Jewish culture.

Here are just the titles and authors, so read the original post to see Mara's notes. Tracing the Tribe personally recommends all of them.

-- I Remember Rhodes by Rebecca Amato Levy.

-- Zayda Was a Cowboy by June Levitt Nislick.

-- The Book of Jewish Food: An odyssey from Samarkand to New York by Claudia Roden.

-- The Life of Gl├╝ckel of Hameln

-- Rashi’s Daughters: Rachel, by Maggie Anton.

Mara further suggests acquiring Sephardic music CDs and notes that the language still spoken that is most similar to medieval Spanish is Ladino.

Mara W. Cohen Ioannides is also the editor of the only published manuscript on the Jews of the Ozarks, and co-director of “Home, Community, Tradition: The Women of Temple Israel” (a documentary about the Jewish women of Springfield, MO).

Read Mara's complete post at the first link above.

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