November 9, 2006
I bet you can’t nosh that bagel in Ladino, bubbaleh!
Need a translation? Probably not.
A majority of Americans not only know exactly what that sentence means -- including the four Yiddish words it contains -- they've even noshed on quite a few bagels themselves.
But can the same be said of five Ladino words? Of Sephardic foods?
Which is precisely why the eighth Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival is upon us.
Neil Sheff, international chair of the Sephardic Educational Center's young adult movement and co-founder of the festival, hopes the eight films in this year's lineup will help "educate those who don't know about the 'other' Jews -- the Sephardim."
Although Sheff -- a native Angeleno -- spoke Ladino growing up, he admits that he used to be embarrassed "to speak a different language, to eat different foods."
Sheff's paternal non-Sephardic family thought there was something wrong with his maternal Sephardic family - after all, what kind of Jews didn't speak Yiddish?
For the Sephardim themselves, who comprise less than 10 percent of the American Jewish population, Sheff says he hopes the festival will foster a sense of pride in their unique "historical experience, customs, foods, music and language."
Yet Sheff seeks an array of films representing both the diversity and the commonality of Sephardic Jewry. He says he is especially proud of the "eclectic group of films" being presented this year.
Muslim director Ramin Farahani's documentary "Jews of Iran" and Carole Basri and Adriana Davis' "The Last Jews of Baghdad" are two offerings that simultaneously explore unique communities and reflect the common Sephardic historic arc of coexistence, repression and exile.
The feature film, "Until Tomorrow Comes," on the other hand, tells the story of a Jewish Moroccan woman struggling with her aging mother, her daughter's marital crisis and her own romantic entanglement -- universal dilemmas, universal themes. In this way, Sheff hopes the festival can also "be a bridge to those who don't know much about Jews, to realize what we have in common, maybe bring us a little closer."
Sheff's goals, then, are nothing short of lofty: to engender pride in a particular identity, to educate "others" about a minority, and at the same time to create a bridge between cultures.
All by sitting in a darkened theater and being entertained. What more could we ask?
The eighth Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival runs Nov. 12 and Nov. 14-19 (at Laemmle's Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills).
For more information visit www.sephardicfilmfestival.com.