PJ LIBRARY PRESENTS: Ladino Songs and Stories

Throughout the year 2023, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven will highlight many of the Jewish stories that have often been relegated to the sidelines of our communal discourse, exploring the mosaic of identities that make up the Jewish communities in the U.S. and in Israel.

As part of this initiative, the Jewish Federation and JCC, through PJ Library, the JCRC and the Beckerman Cultural Arts Series, will welcome author, anthropologist and Cuban-American immigrant Dr. Ruth Behar to New Haven for a series of programs to be held January 18 —20. Dr. Behar’s visit will be preceded on January 12 by a virtual cooking demonstration from the “Cuban Reuben,” Jennifer Stempel, who will join us live from her kitchen in St. Louis, Missouri. Closing out the festivities on Sunday will be “PJ Library Presents: Ladino Songs and Stories,” a special event with PJ Library author and musical artist Sarah Aroeste.

This celebration of Ladino and Latino Jewish heritage is part of a broader push across the U.S. to create a culture of belonging for Jews of different backgrounds. There is a common misnomer in the United States that Jews are “white,” largely due to the manner in which Jewish cultural identities don’t map neatly onto the American division of racial and ethnic identities.

These identities are further complicated by the Jewish history of migration, often as a result of oppression in previous host countries. The complex nature of identity will be discussed by Dr. Behar, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, and the author of books for children, young adults and adults, exploring issues of identity and belonging. Dr. Behar was born in Havana, Cuba into a family, like so many Jewish families around the world, with roots on numerous continents, and with members who spoke a wide array of languages. Dr. Behar, who is visiting our community through the Jewish Book Council, will speak on Wednesday evening, January 18, about her book “Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in Between Journeys.” The book is filled with reflections on growing up as the Spanishspeaking grandchild of Ladino-speaking Jewish immigrants from Turkey and Yiddishspeaking Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland.

Dr. Behar will share reflections from her PJ Library book “Tia Fortuna’s New Home” at an early evening program (with dinner) entitled “A Jewish Cuban Journey with PJ Library” on Thursday, January 19, 5:30 p.m., at the JCC. During her stay, Dr. Behar will also lead programs at several New Haven Jewish community organizations, including Ezra Academy and the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.

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