Sephardic Jews Threatened with Loss of Identity, Leader Warns

Sephardic Jews are threatened with loss of their spiritual identity, it was stated here tonight by Dr. Solomon Gaon, the chief rabbi of Sephardic Jewish communities in the British Commonwealth. He was the principal speaker at a conference of leaders of the Sephardic communities in the United States, held at Yeshiva University.

This, he said, is true even in countries where Sephardic Jews make up the majority of Jews, such as Israel, Spain and France. He attributed the development to lack of leadership in Sephardic Jewish communities and waning commitment among the younger generation. In Israel, he contended, Sephardic Jews “cannot make their influence felt because, although they live within Sephardic communities, they are unable to make active expressions of the Sephardic past in present days.”

In France, he said, “if something is not done very soon, we may find that Sephardim will be lost irretrievably and thereby we shall be deprived of the influence of an important part of world Jewry, rich in its past and traditions.” Even in Spain, Dr. Gaon added, Sephardic Jewry faces a gloomy future despite that country’s liberalization of laws to give religious minorities freedom of expression and worship, because the community has “no qualified rabbis.”

To take advantage of the opportunities inherent in the liberalization of Spanish laws, he said, “there must develop a spiritual influence which will help the children become committed to the community and the older people to look beyond the fight for every-day bread.” Sephardic Jews trace their ancestry back to Spain and Portugal. Their ritual and dialect differ slightly from those of Central and Eastern European Jews, known as Ashkenazim. Many of the earliest Jewish immigrants to America were Sephardic Jews, descendants of those expelled from Spain during the Inquisition in the 15th Century.

Since World War II, Dr. Gaon pointed out, Sephardic Jews have been on the move again. Many have settled in Israel, while others have founded new communities in Italy, England, Canada and North and South America. It is estimated that there are approximately 16,000,000 Jews in the world, with about 2,000,000 of them having Sephardic backgrounds.

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