Preserving Ladino Treasures
A century ago, Moise Gadol, the Bulgarian-born founder of the first Ladino newspaper in the United States, published a guidebook for Sefardic immigrants that included Ladino-English-Yiddish phrases, information about the benefits of American life (public parks, the subway, ice cream) and other basics. The rare book, from the collection of retired cantor Isaac Asoze, is one of the highlights of the new Seattle Sephardic Studies Digital Library and Museum (www.ladinolibrary.org), an online treasure chest and interactive archive that is expected to be the largest Ladino library in the country—and maybe in the world.
The archive is a result of a match between Seattle’s strong Sefardic community and Devin Naar, 31, a New Jersey native with roots in Salonika who became chair of the Sephardic Studies Program of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Washington two years ago. Naar, a fluent Ladino speaker and reader, received inquiries from community members about manuscripts and letters in their possession; he asked them in turn if he could temporarily borrow their treasures to create the archive. Naar has now amassed more than 750 books and documents dating as far back as five centuries, from Bible commentaries, dime novels and amulets to a notebook of poems written by an Ottoman-Jewish soldier who immigrated to Seattle.
“Each treasure,” says Naar, “opens a new door into the Sefardic experience.”