Snapshots of Sephardic culture

DeLeon, an Indie rock band shown performing in the summer of 2008 at Celebrate Brooklyn, features music with 15th-century Spanish influences. (Jori Klein)

DeLeon, an Indie rock band shown performing in the summer of 2008 at Celebrate Brooklyn, features music with 15th-century Spanish influences. (Jori Klein)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — There are dozens of ways to enjoy modern Sephardic culture, art that draws upon traditions from regions such as Spain, Portugal, the Middle East, North Africa, the Far East, Italy, Rome and Greece. The culture includes music, literature, history, cooking, art and theater. Here are just some samples. 

De Leon
Indie rock band with 15th century Spanish influences infused with cadences of the ancient Sephardic tradition.

Pharoah’s Daughter
Jewish folk group infuses an eclectic instrumental blend of traditional Judaic tunes with Arabic rhythm and African beats in “Haran,” an infectiously beautiful album full of haunting joy.
Vanessa Paloma
Singer, performer, scholar and writer specializing in Sephardic women’s songs and their connection to women’s spiritual expression.

“Cry of The Peacock,” by Gina Nahai (Crown, 1991)
The Iranian Jewish author’s first novel (she’s writing her fifth) charts seven generations of a Jewish family beginning in 18th-century Persia to modern-day Iran.

“The Rabbi’s Cat” and “The Rabbi’s Cat 2,” by Joann Sfar (Pantheon Books, 2005, 2008)
A funny and wiry graphic novel about an Algerian rabbi in the 1930s whose cat sometimes speaks but always narrates these tales that investigate Jewish, Arab and French culture. 
“Dropped From Heaven,” by Sophie Judah (Schocken, 2007)
A collection of moving stories about the everyday life of a fictional community of Indian Jews (Bene Israel) as its ancient culture confronts the modern world.

“The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World,” by Lucette Lagnado  (Harper Perennial: Reprint edition, 2008)
Lagnado’s memoir of her father and her family’s life in cosmopolitan Cairo and their painful relocation to poverty in America. 

“The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature,”
edited by Ilan Stavans (Shocken, 2005)
This anthology of fiction, memoirs, essays and poetry from 28 writers spans more than 150 years and offers a collective portrait of the “other Jews,” Sephardim who long for their lost ancestral home even as they create a vibrant, multifaceted literary tradition in exile. 

“Sephardic Jews in Amercia: A Diasporic History,”
by Aviva Ben Ur (New York University Press, 2009)

New York Separdic Jewish Film Festival
The 14th annual festival opens Feb. 4.
“SYNFELD,” a Syrian spoof of the popular “Seinfeld” sitcom.

“The Hebrew Mamita”
Actress/poet/playwright/native New Yorker Vanessa Hidary
Original 2003 Def Jam Poetry Slam video:

“Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen,”
by Jennifer Felicia Abadi (Harvard Common Press, 2007)
Part memoir, part cookbook, Abadi tells stories and recipes from her Syrian grandmother’s kitchen. 

“Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews,”
by Poopa Dweck, Michael J. Cohen and Quentin Bacon, (Ecco, 2007)
Now considered the Syrian cooks’ bible, “Aromas of Aleppo” presents more than 180 Syrian Jewish recipes.  

“Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon,” by Claudia Roden (Knopf, 2006)
The authority on Middle Eastern and North African food offers 150 recipes from three countries. 

“Mama Nazima’s Jewish Iraqi Cuisine,”
by Rivka Goldman  (Hippocrene Books, 2006)
A cookbook-memoir with 100 family recipes with Mongolian, Turkish and Indian influences.

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