Ladino: The Lost Language of the Jews of Greece

Originally written for the Multicultural Arts Exchange newsletter. Featured image from here.

“My grandfather used to say he was a Turk from Greece but spoke Spagnol,” Sarah says. “He was a proud Sephardic man.” Like so many across the United States, Sarah Aroeste grew up learning about her heritage from family members, like her grandfather—the history, traditions, the food, the music.

Sarah, her grandfather, her whole family are Sephardim or Sephardic Jews. It is believed that Jews lived in Spain all the way back to 930 BC. They did so until the 13th century when the Spanish Inquisition began. They were tortured and killed alongside Christians accused of heresy. In 1492, while Columbus landed in the New World, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled all Jews from Spain. The Sephardim are descendants of the Jews who fled Spain. They traveled east, across the Mediterranean and Balkan regions, all parts of the Ottoman Empire at the time. The Sephardim picked up pieces of all these cultures on their travels, transforming their prayers, food, and dress.

“We are both traditional and liberal,” Sarah explains. “Traditional in that we hold onto Jewish laws and customs, but liberal in that we are a tapestry of society. We have proverbs and folktales that have a ribbed, self-deprecating sense of humor and make fun of social norms. We are sensual and a very female nurtured culture.”

And out of this new mish-mosh of culture, Ladino was born. The Spanish language they carried from their homeland blended with the rhythm and flow of their Arabic speaking neighbors. “Ladino is a completely unique language,” Sarah says, “that defines this group of Jews.” Sephardic Jews settled all over Europe and North Africa, but this language unites them. In modern times, it is mostly spoken in Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, and Greece. It was in Greece where Sarah’s ancestors began new lives and where her grandfather grew up. Born in Monastir, known today as Bitola in North Macedonia, he also had close family and friends in Salonica, today within the borders of Greece. Salonica was the major center for the thriving Sephardic community in Greece. Until the Holocaust.

“Up until the holocaust, Ladino was the dominant Jewish language of the Mediterranean,” Sarah says, “But people today have never heard of it.” 81% of Jews in Greece were murdered during World War II. The once-thriving community in Greece was nearly wiped out of history permanently.

Since then, there has been a growing effort to preserve Ladino and the Sephardim’s culture. Scholars in several universities have established Ladino programs. Singers, composers, and playwrights around the world perform traditional Sephardic music in Ladino and create new songs to carry on the tradition. Sarah is one of them. After being introduced to the Ladino music scene by her mentor Nico Castel, she began by incorporating Ladino into her performance repertoire. “Audiences would say it was their favorite part,” she says. “I sang it more passionately because I felt it more passionately. Over a couple of years, I kept coming back to it, so I realized that I needed to do it full-time.”

To be continued in “Ladino: A Language Resurrected.”

To learn more about Sarah Aroeste and Ladino, visit or her blog. You can listen to her music on her youtube channel.

PROFILE: Grigory Smirnov

Grigory Smirnov is a pianist and composer partnered with the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE), a non-profit that promotes, presents, and produces performing arts programming in the Northeast Philadelphia area. I interned with MAE over the past summer and had the chance to interview Grigory.

Read all about Grigory’s process and philosophy behind his music in his profile “A Composer’s Introspection: Grigory Smirnov” on the MAE blog, here.

PROFILE: Vladimir Atamaneko, Sound Designer

Vladimir Atamaneko is the Artistic Director and Sound Guru of the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE), a non-profit that promotes, presents, and produces performing arts programming in the Northeast Philadelphia area. I interned with MAE over the past summer and had a blast interviewing Vladimir.

Read all about Vladimir’s days of running sound production for underground Russian rock bands and his business of making custom sound equipment in his profile on the MAE blog, here. 

Reading Round Up #3: Poetry

To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic

TLtCEcoverThis novel in verse tells the story of a narrator mourning the loss of their lover in the 2011 Tsunami that hit Japan. Through poetic fragments of memories, history, and ghosts, Dunic captures the narrator’s journey and how the supernatural informs Japanese culture.

Dunic’s book is something that you’re going to read again and again. Each time I reread it, I found new connections and layers. It is a mysterious, magical little book that shows how the ordinary and extraordinary are intertwined. And to top it off, the language is beautiful, haunting, and full of voice. I cannot recommend this book enough, to lovers of poetry, Asian culture, ghost stories, or well-crafted language.

Mole People by Heather Cox

mole peopleA man in a cafe finding mysterious drawings, memories of a World War, mole people living under the Thames are just some of the things in this enigmatic, haunting chapbook. I thoroughly enjoyed every word, but it definitely is one that requires more than one read. It slips a gritty, underground Wonderland lens over London.

Worth mentioning, the publisher is BatCat Press, which is entirely run by high school students from Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School who HAND MAKE every book. Check out their website because their books are BEAUTIFUL! And if Mole People is any indication, very high-quality work. Mole People says so much in every word. It’s somber, strange, and so moving.

I am Sorry for Everything in the Whole Universe
by Kyle Flak


The first poem in this collection suggests you might be better off going on a fun road trip instead of reading it. The following poems are filled with everything–Mondays, childhood memories, dijon mustard, thoughts on Hemingway and Carver, yellow dresses, and secret sex parties, and so many other things I cannot list them here.

Flak’s work really resonated with me as a relatively new writer. I often question if my poetry is beautiful/profound/clever/whatever enough. But as one of the reviewers said, “Finally, a poet who has no idea what poetry is.” Flak’s poems are funny, funky, and just fun. His work taught me that poetry is more than I think it is and encourages me to embrace my own voice and most importantly, just have fun.

I want to end this post with a small passage from Flak’s collection (And sorry Flak, WordPress won’t let me format your work properly). Feel free to share your favorite poetry in the comments.

Bernadette Mayer once wrote in one of her poems something / about how certain writers used to be called “candle / wasters”

I don’t know if that’s true

but if it is

I always want to be a candle waster

because I am a human fucking being

not a robot

and everybody’s got stuff to say

that only a blank page

would ever


to listen to

-“I love that one poem by Raymond Carver” by Kyle Flak

PROFILE: Mikhail Zorich, Project Director

Mikhail Zorich is the Project Director of the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE), a non-profit that promotes, presents, and produces performing arts programming in the Northeast Philadelphia area. I interned with MAE over the past summer and has the pleasure of interviewing him.

You can read all about how he “caught the performing arts bug” and started the non-profit in a two-part profile on the MAE blog. Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 here.

Broken Links Fixed

I recently discovered that several links on the “Writing” page were broken. Those are now fixed and you can read my creative writing again!

Sadly, the website for the Selah, the literary magazine that published several of my poems online, seems to be down. I have reposted those poems here, but I hope Selah comes back online so I can link to their wonderful publication.


Support the Arts!


I’ve had the great opportunity to intern with the Multicultural Arts Exchange this summer. They’re a group who support local artists and organize performing arts event in Northeast Philly. Everything from classical concerts to musicals to dance shows. I’ve had a blast writing blogs for their website and helping out with events. Everyone involved loves the arts and wants to open their community to those who haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy theatre, music, or dance.

To keep doing what they’re doing, they need help. So please consider donating to their fundraiser:

If you want to know more about the Multicultural Arts Exchange (or check out my blogs 😉 ), visit their website, facebook page (@maephila), or youtube page. They list all of their upcoming and previous events on facebook. There are also clips on youtube of past performances and artist interviews.

Thank you,