Harris 1
Taryn Harris
6/6/14
Naar
HIST 498
Sephardim and Ashkenazim: Jewish Immigration, Identity, and Discrimination in A...
Harris 2
in New York City, and a dissenting letter addressing the report from Henry Besso. The
Sephardim contested the dis...
Harris 3
Romania, Russia, Spain, Turkey, and Austria-Hungary were seen as having “fewer skills, less
training, and often d...
Harris 4
the side of the Allied Forces. Thus, Sephardic Jews would come to more strongly associate the
term “Sephardic” in...
Harris 5
within a minority led to further marginalization of their status. An array of differences, including
religion and...
Harris 6
diet and synagogue chants, and being psychologically accustomed to the threats of ghettos and
pogroms. Sephardic ...
Harris 7
example, Hacker asserts “the Sephardim are accustomed to a slower tempo of thought and
action and a characteristi...
Harris 8
Much of Sephardic American history is vague, with continued assertions that not all can be
known about them. In t...
Harris 9
the scholarship that is more heavily dedicated to Ashkenazim, as well as an attempt to address
both Sephardim and...
Harris 10
strange-looking water pipes, sipping a dark liquid from tiny cups and playing a game of checkers
and dice” (Auer...
Harris 11
In rejection of Auerbach’s piece, Behar Ben-Sion’s letter to La Amerika demonstrates the
growing defensive movem...
Harris 12
Ashkenazim and place them in prominence within the realm of international history. Behar
Ben-Sion was one such p...
Harris 13
represents their own presentation in the face of discrimination, and the existence of the term
today is indicati...
Harris 14
Yiddish occupies in respect to Middle German” (Hacker, 33). In a very simple fashion, this
statement is true, as...
Harris 15
accent, which is untrue and unsupported. This instance illuminates the fact that Ashkenazi
Jewish culture domina...
Harris 16
industrialization, “presenting such important factors as education, commerce, religion,
communal life in which t...
Harris 17
All of the above accusations, especially the multitude of languages the Sephardim spoke
and their localism, furt...
Harris 18
“Jewish identity” would make it difficult for Sephardic Jews to establish their own identity,
which can be obser...
Harris 19
Bibliography
Auerbach, Samuel M. “The Levantine Jew.” The Immigrants in America Review: 47-53.
Print.
Bali, Rifa...
of 19

Naar Essay

Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Source: www.slideshare.net


Transcripts - Naar Essay

  • 1. Harris 1 Taryn Harris 6/6/14 Naar HIST 498 Sephardim and Ashkenazim: Jewish Immigration, Identity, and Discrimination in America With the increasing immigration of Sephardic Jews to America in the early twentieth century, a cultural and psychological clash occurred as Sephardic Jewish communities enlarged and populations centered primarily within a few cities in America, including New York City. Sephardic Jewish immigration to America was situated within the context of increasing immigration from many Southeastern European countries, as well as other countries deemed outliers to the already established, Northwestern European American population in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Sephardic Jews’ relatively new presence in America was an unintended catalyst to discrimination against them in two capacities; discrimination originating both from their “Eastern” cultural and geographical origins, as well as discrimination emanating from their place as Jews, alongside Ashkenazim, and within the American Jewish community. These tensions are most apparent in many articles, letters, and descriptions of the new arrivals to America during this era. A 1916 article, The Levantine Jew, by Samuel Auerbach and a 1915 letter from Behar Ben-Sion to La Amerika plainly display the respective attitudes between those perpetuating discriminatory ideas against Sephardim, due to their perceived lesser status and confusion on their Jewish identity, and how Sephardim portrayed and defended themselves. The contentious debate continued and culminated in a direct dialogue in 1926 due to Louis Hacker’s report, The Communal Life of the Sephardic Jews
  • 2. Harris 2 in New York City, and a dissenting letter addressing the report from Henry Besso. The Sephardim contested the discrimination directed against them that was both a part of a general American trend against immigrants not hailing from Western Europe, as well as a tension arising from their identity within the American Jewish community, by portraying their own identity within the context of Spanish history and its associated glory. Sephardic Jews were first discriminated against in the broader context of discrimination that was applied to Southern and Eastern Europeans, Asians, and “Orientals”, as their numbers increased in America in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. This collided with a notable shift in immigration policy, as formerly, “America would practice a relatively unrestricted policy of admitting immigrants, and that policy would begin to be questioned only toward the end of the 19th century” (Bali, 36). Poor economic conditions in America and a precedent of majority Northwestern European immigrants drove anti-immigration sentiment. An attempt to stymie the immigration of the millions of new immigrants followed. This sentiment was formalized in the passing of strict immigration laws, which included especially strong sentiment against Asians, and in 1882; “the Chinese Exclusion Act forbade Chinese workers to immigrate to the U.S. for a period of ten years” (Bali, 37). Stricter immigration policies continued with the Immigration Act in 1891, which gave the U.S. Federal Government the responsibility of examining all arrivals to America, in order to judge if they would be allowed entry (Bali, 37). Between 1880 and World War I, a significant increase in Southeastern European immigrants increased the urgency of concern for the preceding generations who wanted to maintain a dominance of Northwestern Europeans in America. The newer immigrants from countries like Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Poland, Portugal,
  • 3. Harris 3 Romania, Russia, Spain, Turkey, and Austria-Hungary were seen as having “fewer skills, less training, and often different religions than the ‘old’ immigrants” (Bali, 38). Sephardic Jews from the Ottoman Empire were included in this assessment, and were equally affected by the passage of the Emergency Quota Act in 1924. The Act enacted quotas which limited immigrants deemed unfavorable; “its quotas were based on the 1890 census…and the rate used to determine the quotas was lowered from three percent to two percent” (Bali, 39). Its purpose was to favor earlier generations of Americans and to discriminate toward the flux of immigrants arriving from Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as the Ottoman Empire, and Asia. Immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were considered uncivilized, and their differing religious or cultural associations deviated from the Protestant, Northwestern European norm of American culture. By the passing of the 1924 Act, “as many as sixty thousand [Sephardic] Jews from the Ottoman Empire and successor states immigrated to the United States” (Naar, 1). They had come to America as a result of many events associated with political, economic, and social upheaval in the Ottoman Empire, including the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, the Balkan Wars of 1912, and the First World War from 1914-1918 (Naar, 4). With established laws formalizing discrimination against new immigrants, such as Sephardim; it was clear that Sephardic Jews would be easily encompassed in these laws and generally disadvantaged as people labeled “Orientals”, from the Ottoman Empire. This original self-identification meant they were to be “classed with Hindus and Chinese and Japanese and other Asiatics…’Oriental’ expresses the Turkish Jew” (Gedalecia, 343). The identification would prove problematic, and loyalty to the Ottoman Empire would be discouraged with time and with the entrance of the United States into the First World War on
  • 4. Harris 4 the side of the Allied Forces. Thus, Sephardic Jews would come to more strongly associate the term “Sephardic” in describing themselves, and in order to create European associations, rather than “Oriental” ones. In addition to broader American discriminatory immigration practices, the significantly larger and more established Ashkenazi Jewish population advanced an idea of what Jewish identity in America represented. The cultivated Ashkenazi-derived Jewish American identity during this era further ostracized Sephardic Jews, who deviated from the Ashkenazi norm. While it is true that Sephardic Jews from Holland, England, and the Spanish Americas were the first Jewish immigrants to America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, their numbers were not substantial enough in establishing the dominant Jewish narrative in the realm of American society. Sephardic Jews were outnumbered-and remained so by the year 1924-“in comparison to the more than two million predominantly Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe who came to represent ‘mainstream’ American Jewry” (Naar, 1). By the same year, sixty thousand Sephardic Jews from the Ottoman Empire immigrated to America (Naar, 1). In New York City, where the greatest number of Sephardic Jews lived, only 40,000 of the 1,500,000 Jews were Sephardic in December 1926 (Hacker, 32). The New York City population contained the largest number of Sephardic Jews, but this figure constituted less than 3 percent of the Jewish population of New York City. The smaller population of Sephardic Jews, coupled with the bulk of them arriving to the U.S. later than the Ashkenazi Jewish population, resulted in an unequal cultural dynamic. On the international scale, Jews had previously faced great and persistent discrimination that would also follow them to the United States. Jews were already outside the religious and cultural American normative, so Sephardic Jews’ place as a minority
  • 5. Harris 5 within a minority led to further marginalization of their status. An array of differences, including religion and language between the Ashkenazim and Sephardim would most conspicuously set them apart; however, their smaller size and shorter length of time in America would cause these differences to be looked upon by both the Ashkenazim and the general American population with confusion, and even dismay. The result would be marginalization of Sephardim, as well as a dispute of Sephardim’s Jewish identity and what it meant to be Jewish in America. In the same way that newer immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were discriminated against from Northern and Western Europeans in America, Sephardic Jews were discriminated when compared with Ashkenazi Jews, because Ashkenazi Jews were a larger, more established community. Ashkenazi Jews were advantageous in comparison with Sephardic Jews in the early twentieth century, but Ashkenazi Jews, too, faced similar discrimination as new immigrants to America. This anti-Semitism did not cease for Ashkenazim with the increasing arrival of Sephardim, it only mitigated their status as a less established group in Jewish American society. While Hacker asserts Sephardic Jews “were on the verge of becoming articulate”, it was only “a repetition of the history of the Ashkenazic Jew in the United States” (Hacker, 37). The presence of Sephardic Jews offered an opportunity to note the difference between them and the more established Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazi Jew was realized as being Jewish and their identity was understood. Some Sephardic Jews purposely misidentified their race, religion, citizenship, or place of origin to escape anti-Semitic discrimination and to “’pass’ as Italians, Frenchmen, or Spaniards”; but, still, their identity as Jews had to be denied for a chance at upward mobility (Naar, 21). The epitome of the American Jewish narrative included speaking Yiddish, originating from Eastern Europe, having particular
  • 6. Harris 6 diet and synagogue chants, and being psychologically accustomed to the threats of ghettos and pogroms. Sephardic Jews were not cooperative with this narrative. Therefore, the identity of Sephardic Jews’ was discriminated against not only because they were associated with the Ottoman Empire and the East, but also because their identity was denied as being fundamentally Jewish. The external pressures of anti-Semitism from the American public on Sephardim and Ashkenazim, and the differences between them, would help make their relations tense and difficult to reconcile as a whole Jewish community. In the context of existing scholarship on Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews in America, current literature more often than not addresses Sephardim and Ashkenazim separately. The two communities are generally not discussed as two groups being part of a whole Jewish population. They are instead presented as having different histories, different origins, different causes and processes of immigration, and different cultural and religious practices. While many of these comparisons are valid and distinct; existing scholarship disregards the similarities among the Sephardim and Ashkenazim, as well as their common shared history, origins, similar immigration themes, and the very thing that most intertwines their identities-religion. This constant focus and discussion of difference among the two populations perpetuates both subtle and blatant discrimination in texts describing the Sephardim, such as Louis Hacker’s supposedly objective report on The Communal Life of the Sephardic Jews in New York City. Although the New York Federation requested an examination into the communal life of Sephardic Jews in New York City by the Bureau of Jewish Social Research, the report by Hacker fails to inform the reader of the complete truth of Sephardic Jews and is latent with descriptions of Sephardim that perpetuate derogatory ideas and are borderline disdainful. For
  • 7. Harris 7 example, Hacker asserts “the Sephardim are accustomed to a slower tempo of thought and action and a characteristic way of life…with a distinct historical consciousness and, often, an inordinate pride” (Hacker, 38). It is clear that his words are derogatory, but the added assertion that they are too prideful, when coupled with the former assertions, indicates Hacker’s view that their pride is misplaced and undeserved. By attacking their “pride”, Hacker is indirectly stating that Sephardic Jews have nothing to be prideful for. This is even more damaging than the first assertion, as its subtle manner of presentation makes it a subconscious and unrecognized thought in the mind of the reader. Henry Besso, an active member of many Sephardic organizations, must, therefore, counter the first assertion in a letter addressed to Hacker that often portrays the Sephardim as superior in an effort to balance the dynamic between the two Jewish groups. The focus on difference between Ashkenazim and Sephardim perpetuates complacence of the status quo in accepting more frequent and well-researched information of Ashkenazi Jews in America. Since Ashkenazi Jews are better understood, they are more represented and given a clear historical identity. The fact that Sephardic Jews are not given the same treatment in scholarship disadvantages them on the basis that Sephardic Jews are negatively derived as being strangers, like Samuel Auerbach asserts in The Levantine Jew in 1916. Sephardim are dehumanized, as they are portrayed as being unable to be fully understood, due to initial differences in language and culture. Even more notable, Samuel Auerbach writes his article with the background of being an Ashkenazi Jew from the Sephardic-dominated Istanbul. This indicates the possibility that perhaps Ashkenazim were so discriminated against as Jews, that it was easier for them to be complacent in portraying Sephardim as less established and acculturated than themselves.
  • 8. Harris 8 Much of Sephardic American history is vague, with continued assertions that not all can be known about them. In the history of Seattle’s Sephardic population, scholars are unable to name the Greek friend who brought them to Seattle; their movement is attributed mainly to “chance” (Family of Strangers, 60). There is little contextual information that exists for placing the communities as part of a whole Jewish population, how their interactions affected each other, and how it contributed to the narrative of the American Jewish identity. In this manner, Sephardim assert the use of the name Sephardi to ally themselves with a Spanish, European background, so they are equalized with Ashkenazim. This is discussed in Behar Ben-Sion’s letter to La Amerika, with opposition from Joseph Gedalecia in testimony on what name should be used. Ben-Sion’s argument won the semantics debate in scholarship, and had real impact on the Sephardic identity in America. Scholarship continues to use the term “Sephardic” in describing Sephardic Jews, which tacitly reinforces the need of the term to bolster the identity of Sephardic Jews and to eliminate an Eastern identity for preventing discrimination due to associations with the Ottoman Empire and its successor countries. This article both supports, argues against, and fills a hole in existing scholarship. This article tacitly supports the status quo of using the term “Sephardic” as a marker for Sephardic Jews, rather than markers like Oriental and Turkish. This is more for practical reasons, but it continues to enforce the term as a preventive measure against discrimination arising out of stereotypes against “Oriental” or “Eastern” peoples. However, this article also argues against previous scholarship’s complacency in the acceptance of the marginalization and stereotyping of Sephardim by illuminating the differences from Ashkenazim that caused stereotypes and ideas of Sephardim to persist without further examination. This article is an attempt to balance
  • 9. Harris 9 the scholarship that is more heavily dedicated to Ashkenazim, as well as an attempt to address both Sephardim and Ashkenazim as component groups of one greater Jewish community in America. On a related note, this article strives to address how external factors and general American discrimination influenced internal tensions within the Jewish community. The interactions between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in America resulted in consequences for the American Jewish identity that are often not addressed. The culmination of the American Jewish identity is still unbalanced, and the fact remains that Ashkenazi Jews still provide the dominant narrative for Jewish American history and culture. Even other Jewish identities, such as Mizrahi or Ethiopian Jews, are placed under the Sephardic name, which is historically inaccurate. Subjective, primary sources during the heaviest era of Sephardic Jewish immigration and the immediate years after vividly showcase the origins of opinions against Sephardim, as well as the Sephardic opinion of themselves and their defense in rationalizing their Jewish identity and value in American society. Two sets of articles, a decade apart, are evidence of the contentious issues produced by the Ashkenazi and Sephardic differences. These issues include the status of Ladino, on whether the Levant was industrialized, the education and establishment of Sephardic Jews, localism, disunion within the Sephardic community, and the importance of Sephardic organizations. The Levantine Jew by Samuel M. Auerbach, which was published in The Immigrants in America Review in 1916, and a letter from Behar Ben-Sion to the Ladino periodical of New York, La Amerika, in 1915, are respective testaments to assertions leveled by both sides of the debate. These articles precede the Hacker Report and Besso letter of 1926. Auerbach consistently presents the Sephardic Jews as unknowable people; “strangers who can be seen in the ghetto of the East Side, sitting outside of coffee-houses smoking
  • 10. Harris 10 strange-looking water pipes, sipping a dark liquid from tiny cups and playing a game of checkers and dice” (Auerbach, 47). Their identity is presented to the reader as confusing and detrimental. Sephardic Jews spoke a variety of languages, including Arabic, Greek, Turkish, and Ladino; while “the other members of the great Jewish communities in this country, which are mostly Ashkenazim, understand Yiddish…the Sephardim have not even a common language” (Auerbach, 48). Practices from the Eastern world were not as easily understood or recognized by the average American, so Auerbach labels Sephardim in America as strangers and aliens, since “Jews talk Yiddish; these strangers do not; therefore, they cannot be Jews” (Auerbach, 48). Their identity is maligned and the Sephardim are dehumanized, while their Jewish identity is denied. Again, the narrative of the Ashkenazim dominates the Jewish American identity. Sephardic Jews are not interviewed in Auerbach’s piece, nor does he try to fully understand them. His distance from them makes it much easier for him to portray them negatively. He is not subject to clarification from Sephardic Jews themselves. Instead, Auerbach continues to negatively portray Sephardic Jews. They are considered by Auerbach to be “low in the social scale…[with] living and housing conditions that are not very desirable” (Auerbach, 49). Additionally, Auerbach informs his readers that “educational facilities provided by the Turkish government are entirely inadequate and primitive”, perhaps with the exception of the Alliance Israelite Universelle (Auerbach, 50). Instead of embracing Sephardic Jews’ cultural heritage, they are urged to be more be “in more contact with American ways” by learning English and divorcing themselves from the various characteristics that associate Sephardic Jews with the Ottoman Empire.
  • 11. Harris 11 In rejection of Auerbach’s piece, Behar Ben-Sion’s letter to La Amerika demonstrates the growing defensive movement of Sephardic Jews to use the word “Sephardi”, as opposed to the word “Oriental”, in describing themselves. The former term purposefully expresses a European connotation, which reminds “of the glorious history of [their] ancestors in Spain” (Ben-Sion, 343). This was necessary in combatting discrimination in early twentieth century America, as European heritage was certainly less discriminated against than anywhere else in the world, despite Southern and Eastern Europeans remaining disadvantaged in comparison with Northern and Western Europeans. Still, the former term was effective in disassociating from the latter term-indicating a connection to Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, and the “East”. Some Sephardic Jews originally favored the “Oriental” term because “the name reminds [them] of dear Turkey, to whom [they] owe so much gratitude and love for protecting [them] when the civilized countries were oppressing [them]” (Gedalecia, 343). However, the association was marred “especially after the United States’ entry into the First World War in 1917, expressions of Ottoman loyalty—like German—became increasingly untenable” (Naar, 36). Sephardic Jews mostly spoke a language derivative of Spanish, came from the Ottoman Empire, and practiced the Jewish religion, all of which created a complicated identity to those who did not understand the history of Sephardic Jews. Elaborating on their historical roots in Spain—vis-à-vis the Sephardi name—would act as a defense for Sephardic Jews, to legitimate their history and existence, and to ally themselves as more European. With this, Sephardic Jews gradually ceased in defending the Eastern culture associations of their immediate origins, and instead, aligned themselves with a European, Spanish identity. The term also aids in derailing the view of Sephardim as Jews who were secondary to the
  • 12. Harris 12 Ashkenazim and place them in prominence within the realm of international history. Behar Ben-Sion was one such proponent of the word change, accompanied by the powerful assertion that they “who came here as immigrants from Turkey were no more than guests for 400 years” (Ben-Sion, 346). The assertion undermines the influence of Turkish culture on Sephardic Jews, which he confirms by the fact that most Sephardic Jews continued to speak the Judeo-Spanish language and mannerisms as descendants from Spain. The millions of these Jewish descendants from Spain can be remarked upon with pride, as a group, “which is composed of two million people, has produced archaeologists, philosophers, astronomers, poets, rabbis, and politicians in the courts of various kingdoms” (Ben-Sion, 345). Placing Sephardic Jews in the context of Spanish history not only helps with disassociating fromthe Ottoman Empire, but also gives others in America evidence of their cosmopolitan and elite origins. Ben-Sion fights against assumptions leveled against Sephardic Jews, like in Auerbach’s article, by emphasizing that Sephardic Jews should not be seen as “the other Jews” or as “different Jews”. Ben-Sion is contending, instead, that Sephardic Jews have been instrumental in the history of the Jews, the United States, and the world as a whole. The first is argued with the fact that they “were the first who formulated the [idea] of the return of the Jews to Palestine 400 years ago” (Ben-Sion, 345). On the second point, it is reminded by Ben-Sion that it was Sephardim “who were the first Jewish immigrants to America who took an active part in all of the revolutions and wars for liberty of the American flag” (Ben-Sion, 345). Sephardic Jews are countered here as being very American, as being involved in the revolutionary fight to create their new home country, and as being more American than Ashkenazi Jews, who arrived to America later. The term “Sephardic”
  • 13. Harris 13 represents their own presentation in the face of discrimination, and the existence of the term today is indicative of its importance and the success of the term which allowed its remain. The issues presented in Auerbach and Ben-Sion’s pieces a decade earlier, would continue to be debated and are culminated in a written dialogue between Louis Hacker and Henry Besso in 1926. The debate underscored the tension of the Sephardic Jewish identity and what their standing should be in American Jewish life, as well as American society in general. Louis M. Hacker wrote The Communal Life of the Sephardic Jews in New York City as response to a request by the New York Federation for an examination of the problems plaguing the communal life of the New York Sephardic Jews by the Bureau of Jewish Social Research (Hacker, 32). It is organized by addressing the Sephardic Jews’ establishment, organization, economy, social life, and organizations. While it was likely meant to be objective, the report raised many objections from the Sephardic community, as encompassed in a letter from Henry Besso to Louis Hacker following its publication. Differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim were used to portray Sephardim as less educated, more primitive, and more foreign than Ashkenazim. On the question of language, differences between the Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews point to a tension on the question of Sephardim’s Jewish identity. While Yiddish was the primary language of the Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews spoke many languages, including Ladino, Greek, and Arabic. As Auerbach shows ten years before, the difference of language led many to question if Sephardic Jews were, in fact, Jewish if they did not speak Yiddish. Yiddish was considered the Jewish language of American Jews, as fueled by the Ashkenazi narrative. In Hacker’s report, he posits that Ladino is “a dialect which holds the same relation to Spanish that
  • 14. Harris 14 Yiddish occupies in respect to Middle German” (Hacker, 33). In a very simple fashion, this statement is true, as both are Jewish variants of European languages. However, Besso considers this simplistic and not entirely accurate. While Hacker presents Ladino and Yiddish as equal Jewish languages, the context and background of this subject matter leads to Besso countering Yiddish as the primary Jewish American language by strengthening the superiority of Ladino. This argument is crucial in countering discrimination and propels the Sephardic narrative in the context of Spanish history. Because Ladino is the source of much contention on Sephardic Jewish identity, it is necessary for Besso to raise Ladino’s place in the repertoire of American Jewish languages. He posits, “it must be remembered that Judaeo-Spanish, or Ladino, is in no wise as corrupt a language as is the Juadeo-German, or Yiddish. Judaeo-Spanish is…The Castilian of the 15th century; Judaeo-Spanish is the tongue of Cervantes, that is to say, the purest idiom, the sweetest, the most melodious to talk, the most complete and expressive idiom that one can hardly imagine” (Besso, 1). Ladino is presented as having a closer relationship to Spanish than Yiddish to German; Ladino is purer than Yiddish and evokes the same beauty of the original 15th century Castilian of which is derives. The language debate is a debate on Jewish identity and the forms it may take in America. The Jewish language shared by both the Ashkenazim and Sephardim—Hebrew—was also a source of contention emanating from differences between the two populations. Even though both populations use Hebrew for religious purposes and services, it is the Sephardim who are considered to speak Hebrew “with a slightly different accent” (Hacker, 33). This is a subtle form of discrimination because it considers the Sephardic Jews as being the Jews saying it “differently”, indicating that it is the Ashkenazi Jews who first used and normalized the
  • 15. Harris 15 accent, which is untrue and unsupported. This instance illuminates the fact that Ashkenazi Jewish culture dominated and was considered the Jewish norm in America, no matter the context or truth of their originated differences. The use of the Sephardic term still did not entirely preclude Sephardic Jews from being discriminated against on the notion of their origins from the Ottoman Empire, or the Levant. Their most recent origins from the Levant created a derogatory picture of Sephardic Jews on the account of economy and psychology, as related to each other. These origins are considered by Hacker to “have brought a mode of life along with them that in many ways differs radically from Occidental manners and point of view…The Levant has not yet become industrialized. As a result, the Sephardim are accustomed to a slower tempo of thought and action” (Hacker, 33). Hacker’s description of the Sephardim is harsh and complete with negative insinuations that counter American values. Many people, like Hacker, deduce the Sephardim to be more primitive as a result of these stereotypes. Again, Besso counters Hacker’s description of the Levant and the Sephardim, with the opinion that “the Levant is now one of the best countries where the industry and commerce are gradually growing…[Sephardic Jews are] keen, intelligent, and trained in the extremely competitive commercial life of the Levant countries” (Besso, 2). Additionally, Besso gives the example of the city of Salonica, “the largest and most important city in the Levant…the chief town after Athens and the only town in Europe where the Jews are in majority” (Besso, 3). The example is adequate in dispelling the notion that Sephardic Jews were not industrialized, since the city had a dominant Jewish population. Salonica embodied many characteristics that would be accepted by the West as signs of
  • 16. Harris 16 industrialization, “presenting such important factors as education, commerce, religion, communal life in which the Sephardic Jews have taken a considerable part” (Besso, 4). In the same token, Sephardic Jews were also seen as being primitive and uneducated. Education and literacy is also criticized as being nonexistent or of low quality in the Levant countries. According to Hacker, “the Sephardic Jew is not educated” (Hacker, 38). However, both Hacker and Besso cite the success and existence of the Alliance Israelite Universelle schools in the Ottoman Empire, but Besso clarifies that “the Turkish schools had the same curriculum as the Alliance” and that Hacker neglected “from mentioning the big educational institutions of the city of Salonica…[showing himself] completely indifferent to the Sephardic Jews coming from that city” (Besso, 3). The attack on the education and literacy of Sephardic Jews is in conjunction with the idea that Sephardic Jews “are the products of an old world localism” (Hacker, 35). This statement perpetuates the stereotype that Sephardic Jews are less civilized and less modern than Ashkenazi Jews, because Sephardic Jews identify more with the city they came from. These criticisms are acute with the juxtaposition of Sephardic Jews to Ashkenazi Jews. Although Sephardic Jews are desired by Hacker and others to Americanize and learn the English language, Ashkenazi Jews are contrarily praised for the size and scope of their Yiddish literature (Auerbach, 52). The attack on the Sephardim’s Americanization (or lack thereof) and their ability to speak English is refuted once more by Besso, given that “the Sephardic Jews have attended quite a number of dinners and parties given in American hotels…and have had the opportunity to listen…to speeches in English made by world famous orators (Besso, 2). Even so, the rich cultural life that exists within the Sephardim population is unappreciated and nullified by others for the purpose of preserving it.
  • 17. Harris 17 All of the above accusations, especially the multitude of languages the Sephardim spoke and their localism, furthered the accusation that Sephardim were not able to organize and created “obscure” local societies, “only about one-third are in any way important” (Hacker, 35). This is especially offensive, as it completely belies the Sephardic Brotherhood of America Inc., “the most important and…largest [Sephardic] organization in the United States; or the B’rith Shalom with a membership of 500-600 men” (Besso, 3). Besso considered personal animosities to be a barrier toward more unionization of Sephardic organizations, not a fundamental inability on their part on the basis of illiteracy or intelligence. Hacker also considers disunion among Sephardim to be a factor in lacking Sephardic organizations, due to no vitality in religious life, the social center centering in the café, and paternal dominance in home life. Localismof city loyalty is also considered a factor. Besso argues against the first by stating the Sephardic Brotherhood has always “adopted a policy of non-interference in religious matters” (Besso, 6). Besso also declares is not the social center of the Turks, and is comparable to Romanian tea rooms, Russia tea rooms, German cafés and French cafés (Hacker, 2). The last is not addressed, but disunion is argued as being the result of the leaders, and since, “the Salonican element…practically revolutionized” organizations like the burial society (Hacker, 6). The arrival of Sephardic Jews in America enveloped a complex web of issues within and outside of the Jewish community. A host of factors led to marginalization of Sephardic Jews in America, be it the general American policy toward immigrants, or their disadvantaged place within the Jewish community on the basis of population size and the timing of their arrival. Stereotypes toward Sephardic Jews misrepresented and simplified their history, culture, and customs. The constant comparison and already implanted idea of the Ashkenazi narrative of the
  • 18. Harris 18 “Jewish identity” would make it difficult for Sephardic Jews to establish their own identity, which can be observed in the semantics debate on what to call themselves and how to portray themselves to others. The external tensions from American immigration policy, with the internal tensions within the Jewish community and the subset Sephardic community, was reason enough for the marginalization of Sephardim and for the Ashkenazi narrative to dominate in the American consciousness. Only can consciousness of the past alleviate any imbalance of the present. Further research on Sephardim would equalize the status and knowledge of both communities, as well as strengthen understanding between each other.
  • 19. Harris 19 Bibliography Auerbach, Samuel M. “The Levantine Jew.” The Immigrants in America Review: 47-53. Print. Bali, Rifat N. From Anatolia to the New World: Life Stories of the First Turkish Immigrants to America. Istanbul: Libra Kitap. 2013. Print. Behar, Ben-Sion. “Sefaradim, ma no orientales,” La Amerika, October 29, 1915, 2. Translated from Ladino by Devin E. Naar. Print. Besso, Henry. Letter to Louis Hacker. 11 September, 1926. MS. Bureau of Jewish Social Research, New York City, New York. Cone, Molly; Droker Howard; and Williams, Jacqueline, Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003). Gedalecia, Joseph. Testimony of Joseph Gedalecia on the Question of Whether Ottoman Jews Should be called “Orientals,.” Diasporic and Émigré Circles, 1915. Print. Hacker, Louis M. “The Communal Life of the Sephardic Jews in New York City.” Jewish Social Service Quarterly: 32-40. December 1926. Print. Naar, Devin E., “Turkinos Beyond the Empire: Ottoman Jews in America, 1893-1924,” manuscript, forthcoming in Jewish Quarterly Review, Fall 2014.

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