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Sephardi Mizrahi Studies Caucus Discussion List - March 24, 2002

Association for Jewish Studies Sephardi/Mizrahi Studies Caucus
Discussion List
Week of: Sunday, March 24 2002 (11 Nissan 5762)
Editor/Moderator: Aviva Ben-Ur <>


1. Panel/Paper Proposal for AJS 2002: Dona Gracia Nasi (Aelion Brooks)

2. New Publication: *Jews of the Dutch Caribbean* (Benjamin)

3. Seeking Ladino Expert for UNESCO Conference on Ladino (Roumani, Zweiben, Schiffman)

1. Panel Proposal for AJS 2002: Dona Gracia Nasi (Aelion Brooks)

From: Andree Brooks <>
Date: Monday, March 25, 2002 2:51 PM

Andree Aelion Brooks, an author and lecturer, has just completed the first modern comprehensive biography of Dona Gracia Nasi to be based almost exclusively on newly-found and previously unpublished 16th century documents. The biography, called *The Woman who Defied Kings* (Paragon House, June 2002) uses interrogations, Inquisition testimony, commercial documents, notarial records, inventories of personal belongings and so forth to provide an expanded and corrected portrait not only of Dona Graica's life but the lives and business dealings of the conversos around her.

Brooks would be pleased to consider participating in any AJS panel discussions or presentations that might be relevant.

She also has interesting material about how she found and utilized material in 13 different languages from seven countries.

Many thanks,

Andree Aelion Brooks
From: Alan Benjamin <>
Date: Wednesday, March 20, 2002 2:48 PM

Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues,

I am pleased to announce the publication of my volume, *Jews of the Dutch Caribbean: Exploring ethnic identity on Curaçao,* through Routledge ( <> ).

This work will interest a variety of readers. It addresses identity and ethnicity, and describes a little-known group of Jews in the Dutch Caribbean with an intriguing history--indeed, members of one of the two congregations worship at the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas.

This volume draws on ethnographic research among members of the Jewish congregations in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles to extrapolate about ethnic identity generally. It treats ethnic identity as fluid and context-dependent rather than fixed. It explodes the notion of ethnicity as a given, treating it instead as a process that we must seek to understand.

Ethnic identity relates to basic questions of who we are and from whom we differ. It is involved in stereotypes and jokes, political struggles, and is a category by which people are differentiated, counted, measured, and oppressed.

The volume takes a broad and innovative perspective, presenting ethnic identity as a local as well as a transnational phenomenon, shaped by history and re-shaped through contemporary, everyday interactions. Benjamin suggests that people form cognitive "maps" of the ethnic groups in the region they live, and index them through a variety of changing markers. Ethnic markers and boundaries are shaped by culture and experience, and often correspond to relations of status and power.

In the volume, special attention is paid to rituals. Each chapter includes an extensive description of a sacred or secular ritual practice, which is used to illustrate its theme.

A notable feature of the volume is its reflective inquiry into research ethics. Benjamin suggests that fieldwork is relational as much as scientific, involving subjectivity, power differences, and trust.

Curaçao, with people from around the world who often speak four languages, is home to Jews with widely disparate histories. Jews from Portugal who had converted to Roman Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition founded one congregation. Descendants of this group have played a central role in Curaçaoan history for 350 years. Eastern European Jews fleeing twentieth century oppression founded the second congregation.

Small as it is, Curaçao embodies many of the global processes of change and economic relations that have taken place over the past 500 years including colonialism, migration, slavery, and religious persecution. The ways that Curaçaoan Jews participate in Curaçaoan life, relate to one another, connect with Jews elsewhere, and experience changes in these relationships is reflected in their ethnic identity.

Expanding our notions of ethnicity and our familiarity with Jews and the Caribbean, this volume will be of interest to a variety of social scientists, especially anthropologists and sociologists. It will appeal to the educated general public, students, and specialists in the fields of Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, Ethnic Studies, Caribbean Studies, Methodology, and Ethics.

Thank you for the support you've provided me in this research--whether you realized it or not!

With warm regards,
Alan F. Benjamin, Ph.D.
Research Associate
Population Research Institute
601 Oswald Tower
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802-6211
3. Seeking Ladino Expert for UNESCO Conference on Ladino (Roumani, Zweiben,

From: Beverly Zweiben and Lawrence H. Schiffman
Via: Vivienne Roumani-Denn <>
Date: Wednesday, March 20, 2002 10:37 AM

I am handling the UNESCO portfolio at the U.S. Dept. of State, and in that context I am exploring a UNESCO request for a U.S. expert to attend a UNESCO-sponsored conference on safeguarding and promoting Ladino, June 17-18 in Paris. The experts will be asked to assess the Ladino situation in their country in the areas of preservation and transmission policies, Language Songs and Music, Media, Press and Communication, Literature and Intangible Culture. Experts will be asked to propose steps relevant to the safeguarding and revitalization of Ladino as part of an Action Plan in the form of Recommendations to UNESCO at the end of the conference.

Unfortunately, the State Department will not be able to fund a U.S. expert. Dr. Wesley Fisher suggested I contact you about possible experts for this conference. Your advice and assistance would be very welcome. Thank you.

Beverly Zweiben

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