Ladino: A Language Resurrected

Originally written for the Multicultural Arts Exchange newsletter.

“Music is a universal language,” Sarah Aroeste says. “If it moves you, it doesn’t matter what language it’s in.”

Sarah Aroeste is one of the premier Ladino performers and writes original songs in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language of the Sephardic Jews. A language on the brink of extinction, Sarah helps preserve and promote Ladino through her performances. She is known for her signature blend of traditional music and modern genres like rock and jazz. “I grew up in America, on Bruce Springsteen. When I first heard the music [of Ladino], that’s how I heard it,” she says. After a 20-year career (that’s still growing), Sarah has run the gambit from traditional to experimental and released six albums, even a children’s album and book. “My interest is to push the culture forward,” Sarah explains. “Preservation is about going forward, because of kids, you want it to be alive and make this culture exciting.”

In Ellie Falaris Ganelin, Sarah found someone who shared her vision. Ellie is the founder of the Greek Chamber Music Project, an organization dedicated to promoting Greek composers. Ellie and Sarah connected through their shared Greek heritage, Ellie’s father also hails from Salonica. In Sarah, Ellie saw an individual with the same passions from a culture with similar struggles. “When I learned about the Sephardic Jews, I felt a deep connection with them, coming from the Mediterranean and being part of a diaspora,” Ellie explains.

Diaspora is when a group must flee their homeland and are scattered. Diaspora is universal, happening to all kinds of people throughout time. The experience of Syrian refugees fleeing from the civil war is a diaspora of today. “I live in diaspora as well, and I try to keep my dad’s language alive for my daughter,” Ellie says, being of Greek heritage and growing up in the U.S. “Living abroad is always a challenge when there’s a dominant language, but you have to keep alive what’s important to you.”

The pair, along with Israeli pianist and producer Shai Bachar, are currently touring their concert, Remembering the Jews of Greece: A Musical Journey, to share Ladino through music. The multimedia concert will feature Sarah performing old and new songs in Ladino, accompanied by Ellie on flute and Shai on piano. There will be a mix of music from all over, just like the culture of the Sephardim—Spanish, Balkan, folk, rock. The program uses video projection to display lyric translations, footage of Sarah’s grandparents in Salonica, and interviews with Holocaust survivors from the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University. The complete experience will be a celebration of the Greek Jews, bringing them alive through the music and film of real people who lived through that time. “I hope this music inspires people and educates them,” Ellie says. “I am excited to share this and move people in a way that matters.”

The trio will have already performed up and down the east coast, from Connecticut to Washington, DC. On November 10th they will finish their tour in Philadelphia, in partnership with the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE). Sarah and Ellie are multicultural artists striving to make a positive impact in their communities through their art and music, the type of artists the Multicultural Arts Exchange strives to support. Together they hope Jewish and non-Jewish people alike join them in paying tribute to the Sephardim, bringing new experiences to the Northeast Philadelphia community and helping keep a lost language alive.

“This is not a Jewish concert. This is universal,” Sarah emphasizes.  “All of the songs and stories express such universal themes that anybody will be able to relate to. Ladino as a language and culture is so inviting because it keeps all of the best parts of European cultures. It is a bridge-building culture.”

To learn more about Sarah Aroeste and Ladino, visit saraharoeste.com or her blog. You can listen to her music on her youtube channel. To learn more about Ladino, read my previous blog “Ladino: The Lost Language of the Jews of Greece.” 

To find out more about Remembering the Jews of Greece: A Musical Journey concert, visit maephila.com or www.greekchambermusic.com.

Reading Round Up #1 – Young Adult

The semester is finally over! Now I have time to tell you all about the books I’ve been reading.

518iftlvnol._sx327_bo1204203200_Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Finn is the local strange kid in his rural town of Bone Gap, Illinois. The book opens some months after Roza, the close friend and roommate of Finn and his brother, has disappeared. While everyone else has given up, Finn believes Roza is still out there, kidnapped by a mysterious man.

I can’t really say anymore than that without spoilers, because this book is nothing what it seems. It’s beautiful, heartfelt, and very, very strange. Would recommend for anyone who likes character driven stories with a magical twist. The prose is a bit heftier than usual YA books, but Ruby’s use of language is so rich. Her use of imagery and clever foreshadowing really gives the characters and world a whimsical feel and great depth.

51u0ltozipl._sx329_bo1204203200_Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Dante’s Inferno meets a Christmas Carol, this novel in poetry follows one elevator ride, during which the protagonist, Will, must decide whether to avenge his brother Shawn. Will gets into the elevator convinced he is going to kill his brother’s murderer, but by the end he isn’t so sure.

This story is truly meant to be told in poetry. Reynolds’s conversational, emotionally raw style conveys the voice of the narrator honestly. He also uses the size, shape, and space between words to create tone, rhythm, and flow. Not to mention the characters are so rounded, flawed, and fascinating. Even if you don’t like poetry–Read. This. Book. I would say it is a perfect for both poetry lovers and people who don’t even like reading because it goes by so fast.

33830830The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood

Five teens enter Boulder House, a tourist attraction that is part museum, part maze, part crazy fun house, where they are trapped by a demon. Despite being drastically different, and often in opposition to each other, they must work together and confront their own demons to escape.

A fun ride, is a perfect description of Atwood’s YA horror novel. The characters have unique personalities and there’s always a different crazy monster or obstacle around the corner. The novel flies by, partly because it continuously switches between the five perspectives of the main characters. I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves a supernatural adventure.

91x3tjpbsmlThe Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert 

Alice and her mother have always been chased by bad luck. After her grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of dark fairy tales with a cult following, dies, Alice’s mother thinks their bad luck is over. However, it only gets worse. Her mother disappears and Alice starts seeing her grandmother’s fairy tales come to life. Along with a super-fan from her school, Finch, Alice must find her grandmother’s estate, the Hazel Wood, to find her mother and solve the mystery of her family’s past.

The Hazel Wood is one of my favorite twisted fairy tale stories because it captures the essence of fairy tales, but instead of retelling old tales, Albert invents new ones. Her tales are dark and imaginative. The world pulls you in. There is an ominous atmosphere to the whole book. The stakes feel real. Also, the characters are real standouts. Alice is fierce and independent, but her brashness makes her flawed. Her chemistry with Finch, a sweet but sheltered rich boy, is natural and fun. They balance each other nicely. This novel is great to anyone who loves fairy tales, but also darker adventures.

51iwzpshkpl._sx346_bo1204203200_The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

This is the true story of Sasha and Richard. Both teens living in Oakland, CA. Sasha is nonbinary, from a middle class, white family, attends private school. Richard is young black man from an area plagued by gang violence and crime doing his best to stay on the right path. One day, while both taking the same bus home, Richard sets Sasha’s skirt on fire.

I read nonfiction very rarely, but I could not put Dashka’s book down. Her writing carries a journalistic style, but she chooses all of the right details and quotes that let the story tell itself. The reader can read what Sasha, Richard, their parents, the local justice department, and everyone involved has to say for themselves. I would recommend this book to anyone with a natural curiosity to learn about the social issues of today, whether its gender, race, or the justice system. Even if you think your opinions on these issues are set in stone, I would ask you to give The 57 Bus a try. Despite the heavy politics involved by the nature of the story, the book never forgets that its characters are human.

51mb-gczedl._sx331_bo1204203200_Ash by Malinda Lo 

Ash is a retelling of Cinderella, but that description does not do this book justice. Yes, it takes elements of the original–the sweet orphan girl, the evil stepmother, the prince’s ball–but it weaves those elements and the spirit of fairy tales into an imaginative, original story about a a girl yearning for freedom, a mysterious young Fae man, and the King’s Huntress.

Ash is a quiet book, but I think it’s one that surprises you in subtle ways by subverting the typical fairy tale. It’s so refreshing to see a story where the Fae are beauitful and dangerous.  It stays with you because the characters are so memorable, it’s not a “the girl gets everything in the ending” story, and the love story is so honest. Trust me, unnecessary romantic plots are my pet peeve, but this one is done so wonderfully because it, like everything, always comes back to how it changes the protagonist and what the story is ultimately saying. And don’t worry, it’s not a prince gets the girl type of love story. 😉