Sepharad, Beyond Nostalgia

Esther Bendahan Cohen

Writer and Director of Culture at the Centro Sefarad Israel

The word Sepharad, which designates a distant place of exiles, was used to refer to the Iberian Peninsula, while the Sephardim lived in this territory and were expelled in 1492. Many of them went to northern Morocco, some to Eastern Europe or Holland, while others decided to stay and convert, but paid a high price. They all maintained a collective awareness of belonging to a culture, the Sephardic culture, which has survived over the centuries, although the common language, Judeo-Spanish, is no longer spoken at home. Over the years, many famous figures emerged from that exile, such as the writer Albert Cohen, the philanthropist and businesswoman Gracia Mendes or the poet Emma Lazarus, whose verses are engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Today, thanks to a series of reencounters and approaches driven by historical and political vicissitudes, the memory of these Sephardic communities in their various dimensions can be recovered. This memory is part of Spanish richness and, beyond nostalgia, is one of its multiple identities.

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