Defended in April 2017, my dissertation examines the themes of exile and homeland in contemporary Sephardic literature. Through the literary lens of different cities that the Sephardim have called home over the centuries, I argue that the concept of Sephardic exile is an invented and carefully constructed narrative from which belonging is forged and questioned.
Moshe Ha Elion and I at his home in Bat Yam, Israel
Chapter One deals with the complex Zionist narratives present in poetry by Avner Perez, Moshe Ha Elion, and Matilda Koen Sarano. Through studying poems of ascent, descent, and absence, I argue that ideological positioning is correlated with geographical vantage point. In Chapter Two, I examine the narrative of belonging connected the changing borders of Bulgaria. Studying newspaper articles, trial testimonies, legal documents, and an unpublished manuscript, Archival Unit 192, I elucidate the tensions between Bulgarian nationalism and Zionism in combination with the work of Sofian poet, Gracia Jak Albuhayre.
Gracia Jak Albuhayre, from Sofia, Bulgaria, autographing her book for me.
Chapter Three approaches the city of Thessaloniki, Greece as a metaphorical gal-ed which allowed Moshe Ha Elion an experiential encounter with his past. Tracing the theme of physicality and erasure of physical space in the concentration camps throughout Ha Elion’s multi-generic oeuvre shows how traumatic memories are reframed through the prism of his reencounter with Jewish Salonika.
"Gal-ed" means "memorial heap" in Hebrew. Thessaloniki has turned into a metaphorical gal-ed because of all of the scraps of tombstones scattered about the city.
Finally, Chapter Four invites my readers to consider the philo-Sephardic case of Juan Gelman, an Askenazi, who chose to write in Ladino in order to illustrate his desire for Argentina to be his homeland. This dissertation’s examination of poetry, theatrical texts, prose, interviews, archival material, and other primary source materials demonstrates that instead of allowing the condition of exile to destabilize cultural memories, the contemporary Sephardim create a broader narrative of recuperation and resilience, proving that exile is not just an inherited condition. Belonging to exile is also a choice.
My presentation of Juan Gelman's work at the Richard J. Gunst Foundation's writing workshop under the auspices of Daat HaMakom through Hebrew University and the University of Virginia in Jerusalem 2017. A book of essays is forthcoming.
Here is the documentary trailer which documents some of my dissertation research:
Thanks to the many people who have helped make me who I am today. I owe a great deal to my beloved advisor Prof. Gustavo Pellón as well as my dissertation committee members: Prof. Asher Biemann, Prof. Alison Weber, and Prof. Ricardo Padrón. While at UVa, it was an honor to work with these exemplary mentors to whom I will always owe a debt of gratitude.
This video is of Prof. Gaby Finder's exceptionally kind comments about me at the Jewish Studies graduation ceremony on May 21, 2017.