Toward Stronger Ashkenazi-Sephardi Ties


Thank you for the acknowledgement that the institutional bias in American Judaism remains “Ashkenormative” and that this disadvantages Jewish unity at a time when it has never been more critical (“Bias Against Sephardim Tests Jewish Unity,” May 17).

As one who identifies proudly as an American-born Sephardi Jew, I sometimes feel that Sephardim are still treated as interlopers, tokens, and curiosities in institutional Jewish settings. At the same time, as an American and pluralist, I reject calls to limit myself to exclusively Sephardi settings or to abstain from institutional Jewish life like the many “nones” identified by Pew.

For me and many others, these nuances present in myriad settings, such as schools, synagogues, philanthropies, journalism, to name a few. Sephardim face the real risk of our practices (rituals, trop, piyyutim, languages, cuisine, music, and ethnic cultures) being subsumed under the weight of pressure to acculturate and assimilate into presumptively Ashkenazi and American cultural expectations.

Without institutional partners to support family home practices, Sephardi culture will not successfully transmit to the next generation (as parents need to themselves be knowledgeable to transmit to their progeny). Knowing all too well that my own family’s roots in the Middle East stretch back nearly three thousand years, a break in the chain of Persian Jewish transmission strikes me as a huge and unnecessary loss.

Moreover, Jews of all backgrounds are surely enriched by encounters with one another’s experiences. Encouraging cross-pollination between Sephardim and Ashkenazim is to our mutual benefit.

I commend Gary Rosenblatt, The Jewish Week, Dr. Mijal Bitton, and Matti Friedman for spotlighting the omission of Sephardim. The challenge for all of us is to build ongoing capacity for Jewish institutions in 21st century America to inculcate both Ashkenazi and Sephardi customs and rites.

President SHAI- Sephardic Heritage Alliance, Inc. Great Neck, N.Y.