I was last with Moshe in January 2017... my plan is to return to Israel this summer

One year ago in June 2016, I took this recording in Thessaloniki, Greece. Hella Kounio Matalon and her husband are singing "Adio Kerida" in honor of the Sephardic Jews who perished in the Shoah. 

A Small Window of Opportunity                                                                                         B"H

The window of opportunity to study the original generation of Israeli immigrants is quickly coming to a close. For this reason, my most recent project seeks to capitalize on the chance to work alongside Moshe Ha Elion, a decorated military officer, intellectual, writer, and Auschwitz survivor. To hear from Moshe himself, watch this testimony from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

Born in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1925, Moshe was deported to Auschwitz at the age of seventeen. As a Sephardic Jew, Moshe’s first language is Jewish Spanish although he was educated in Greek, French, and Hebrew. His grandfather was a rabbi, and his father a writer.

While his entire family perished in the gas chambers, through a series of remarkable circumstances, Moshe managed to survive the lager, the death marches, and even an experimental craniotomy performed by Nazi surgeons. Moshe’s autobiography recounts how on the day of liberation, he was first introduced to the idea of Israeli Zionism by a group of fellow inmates singing HaTikva. He decided to immigrate illegally to the British Mandate and later taught military strategy for the Israeli Defense Forces. Although he spent over forty years in relative silence about his trauma during the Shoah, in recent years, Moshe has written prose, drama, and poetry about his harrowing imprisonment.


My story with Moshe

In 2015, I was introduced to Moshe’s literary work while studying with Dr. Eliezer Papo at Ben Gurion University’s Sephardic Institute. Since then, I have been privileged to meet with him on several occasions and correspond with him frequently. I completed my dissertation in large part on his literary contribution in conjunction with interview material from our conversations.

Recently, Moshe asked me to complete a translation of his Ladino poetry into Spanish and English. One of his poems is a ballad that he dreams will become an International Hymn of Holocaust Remembrance. It needs to be arranged for instrumentation, and since Moshe has asked me to preserve the Alexandrine meter in which his work is composed, this is no small task! This piece has never been translated into English or Spanish and is completely unknown outside of a small Sephardic circle in Israel.

Your Support Makes a Difference 

Financial support for this endeavor would enable me to travel to Israel and stay near his home during summer 2017 completing the project. In so doing, a priceless artefact of Holocaust memory would not only be preserved, but transmitted to Spanish and English-speaking audiences. Working with Moshe one-on-one would allow me to submit a wonderfully annotated translation for publication—a work made all the more valuable because of the author’s input and commentary. Spending this quality time with Moshe would enrich my current scholarship, and the translation would be become a natural outshoot of my forthcoming book project, Belonging to Exile. Publishing and presenting the cantata would widen the reach of Moshe's own musical composition and help others connect with Holocaust remembrance in a memorable way. 

To hear a glimpse of the opening chords that I composed on the piano see below. You can tell that this is only a piano demo because of the unwelcome sound of the piano pedal in the background. In the finished cantata, the piano will not be featured. 

The completed cantata will feature SATB choir and orchestra with a soloist. Practicing on the piano is only the first step to orchestrating the entire piece. To me, the openness of the opening chords signifies the tremendous and incalculable loss of Moshe's family, especially his little sister, Nina during the Shoah. The erie echo affect and dissonance symbolizes the reoccurring pain that haunts him until this day. 

#NeverAgain Is More Important Now Than Ever

Many Sephardic Jews like Moshe Ha Elion were nearly erased during the Shoah, and their experiences are expressed in the ancestral language of Ladino—a language which has been systematically marginalized as both Hebrew and English have been exalted as the lingua franca of the future. Creating a translation and trilingual cantata is one of the best ways to exalt his maternal tongue of Ladino and transmit it to the next generation. 

Translating Moshe Ha Elion’s literary works and composing this cantata are a crucial first-steps to giving non-Ladino speakers (students, professors, and community members alike) the opportunity to hear his voice. As an Israeli, a Sephardic Jew, a poet, and a survivor of the Shoah, Moshe Ha Elion deserves to be heard.




This project has already been supported by the Jules Roos and Samuel Grunfeld scholarship thanks to Aaron and Satoko Nir and their family who decided to give through the University of Virginia Jewish Studies program. Jules Roos and Samuel Grunfeld, the grandparents of Aaron Nir, were survivors of the Holocaust. This grant, which partially funds my project with Moshe Ha Elion, has been given in honor of these two grandparents' memory. Z"L

Jules Roos was of Sephardic background and Samuel Grunfeld of Ashkenazi background. There is an opera, "Lost Childhood," that honors the lives of Jules Roos and Samuel Grunfeld. To learn more about the opera, please see this link from the Forward. I am honored to be working with Moshe Ha Elion in their name and to honor their lives and memory! May it always be a blessing! 

  • Rabbi Shlomo and Channa Mayer from the Rohr Chabad House at the University of Virginia have contributed generously to fund this worthy endeavor. Thanks to an "ordinary" conversation around the shabbat dinner table, I was inspired to spread the word about this project. Since then, the inspiration and encouragement has only multiplied! 

  • Aaron Ari Afilalo @AriAfilalo generously gave through PayPal to fund this endeavor.  

  • Sheri Brown director of the Mildred and Jess Fisher Early Childhood Center at Gan HaYeled at Adas Israel Congregation generously gave through PayPal.

  • Robin Sobey Managing Member at BSE Performance LLC gave generously to fund lodging in Bat Yam! Robin's family hail from Thessaloniki. In honor of their memory, here is a photo of one of the Nehama headstones from the reconstructed Salonikan Jewish cemetery. 

  • Daniel Schaefer, student at the University of Delaware gave generously through PayPal. 

  • Nancy Davila Waldman gave generously by check. Thank you so much! 


                   As of June 28 2016, 2,790.56 was raised. I was able to go to Israel for the month of August to embark on this incredible project. Thank you to everyone who contributed!