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The Seattle Sephardic Network, open to all, engages in inspiring and informative programs celebrating the Sephardic culture in Seattle and beyond.
We envision a Seattle Sephardic community that embraces the full dimension of Sephardic life, functioning in an always inclusive and coordinated manner.
We strive to be a resourceful organization and community catalyst for encouraging and supporting Sephardic cultural awareness, exchange and expression. We also aim to support and augment Sephardic programs and activities already offered by existing institutions in Seattle and other communities, and to develop future programs, partnerships, resources, and educational and cultural initiatives that advance and promote deeper understanding of and celebrate Sephardic life in the region.
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We are a cooperative that welcomes participation from all interested individuals, regardless of religious affiliation or
level of observance.
The Seattle Sephardic community traces its roots back several centuries to the the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Jews, Moors and Christians lived and worked together harmoniously for centuries in a “Golden Age” society known for its accomplished artists, poets, and businessmen.
The Catholic-led Spanish Inquisition of 1492, followed by a similar decree in Portugal in 1496, drove Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula under threats of “convert or die.” This resulted in a Sephardic diaspora across the Mediterranean and North Africa. Depending on where they settled, Sephardic Jews experienced varying levels of religious and cultural freedoms in their new communities, but always held on tightly to the traditions and faith that has sustained them as a people.
Seattle’s Sephardic community began to take shape in the early 20th century when two groups of Jews from the Mediterranean immigrated to the U.S. in a search for greater freedoms than what was allowed back in their homelands.
One group originated from various towns in Turkey, such as Tekirdag, Marmara and Gallipoli. Often referred to as “Turks,” this group founded Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation.
Around the same time, another came from the island of Rhodes. Often referred to as “Rhodeslis,” this group founded Congregation Ezra Bessaroth.
With roots planted a century ago, the Turks and Rhodeslis remain central to Seattle’s Sephardic community, their distinctive identities preserved through the two synagogues that their ancestors founded. Turks and Rhodeslis are quick to point to their nuanced differences yet are united through joint organizations and a joyful spirit that defines Seattle’s Sephardic community.
Many descendants of the original immigrants continue to observe Judaism in the Sephardic Orthodox tradition, just like their ancestors, as members of the two synagogues. The synagogues and their congregants are instrumental in keeping alive the religious and cultural practices of the “Old Country.”
Several thousand other descendants of the original immigrants identify strongly as members of Seattle’s Sephardic community even though they are not affiliated with either of the two synagogues – or possibly even any synagogue. The pull of Seattle’s Sephardic Jewish community transcends institutionalized religion.
It also transcends geographic origin. Seattle’s Sephardic community is fortunate to have diversified over the years. Many community members have ties to other countries, including Morocco, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Israel, Mexico, Cuba and elsewhere in South and Central America. Their parents or grandparents may have emigrated from there, or they are immigrants themselves.
Even more people are connected to Seattle’s Sephardic community through marriage, a recent affiliation with the two Sephardic synagogues or an academic interest in Sephardic heritage.
In addition to the two Sephardic synagogues and the Sephardic Studies Program, other institutions help keep the community thriving. The Seattle Sephardic Brotherhood operates the Sephardic cemetery in North Seattle and handles all funeral arrangements when a loved one has passed. Both synagogues also have an active Ladies’ Auxiliary, each putting on annual bazaars and/or bake sales famous for traditional Sephardic food and good company.
Each summer, Sephardic Adventure Camp welcomes children from both synagogues and also from across the country for a cultural- and faith-based retreat. Last year, SAC hosted several counselors from Spain, thereby extending the international reach of the Seattle Sephardic community.
Both the Turkish and Rhodesli immigrants arrived in America speaking little English. Instead, they spoke Ladino (also known as Judeo-Spanish). Ladino is a Spanish dialect that incorporates many words from Hebrew, Turkish, Greek, Arabic and more, reflecting the history and nomadic travels of its speakers.
Few within Seattle’s Sephardic community are lucky enough to be fluent in the language today, but many still know and use Ladino phrases and slang that they have carried with them since childhood. The Ladineros is a group of community members who participate in regular Ladino classes together, enjoying the company of others who read books and articles in the language of the Old Country.
The Ladino language is enjoying a worldwide revival, much of it centered right here in Seattle. The University of Washington’s Sephardic Studies Program has brought Ladino to the classroom, in addition to sponsoring an annual International Ladino Day program each December for the entire community. UW Professor Devin Naar heads a community initiative that has amassed and preserved the largest collection of old Ladino books and manuscripts
in the country.
One of the strongest connections to our community is at gut level. For many in the community, Sephardic food represents the tastes of our childhood.
Delicacies include savory turnover pastries like bulemas (spinach and cheese), borekas (potato and cheese) and pastelicos (meat). Other favorites are sweet, like biscochos (braided cookies), panizicos (sweet rolls), ashuplados (meringue cookies) and mazapan (marzipan).
Main and side dishes include yaprakes (stuffed grape leaves), keftes de prasa (leek patties), quashado (spinach souffle), calabasas (zucchini stuffed with hamburger), berenjena (eggplant stew) and megina (matza and meat pie).
As part of a pre- or post-meal tradition, some Sephardim follow the ways of the “Old Country” by sipping raki (also known as arak), a clear anise-flavored liqueur made from raisins.