Learning from La Vara: Shaping Sephardic Identity in New York City after the Second Diaspora
In New York City, the Sephardic immigrant community had established a strong foothold by the 1930s. However, the children of these immigrants were not learning traditions of their old homelands, or of centuries-old aspects of Sephardic culture. In response to this situation, Albert Levy, editor of the Sephardic newspaper La Vara, recognized that he and his paper could help to build bridges between the first generation immigrants from the Second Diaspora and their American children. Thus, on August 31, 1934, Levy published the first English section page in La Vara, which had previously been printed exclusively in the Ladino language in Hebrew characters. The main goal of this page was to reach out to Sephardic youth who were increasingly primary English speakers. This strategic move to English succeeded in creating an open arena for Sephardic youth to gain access to Jewish, and more importantly Sephardic, issues. These issues led to the ultimate formation of their unique identity, which centered on access to education; the lack of unity among Jews in New York; concerns about anti-Semitism; concerns about nationalism; an interest in strong historical ties to other world Jewish communities; and cultivating Jewish-American identity as well as connections to the Hispanic community in the metropolitan region. This paper explores the complicated question of the identity of Sephardic American Jews based on the issues raised by La Vara, and discusses how and why Sephardic identity changed over time.