UCLA, already an unparalleled institution for the study of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Jewry, is now, through the Sephardic Archive Initiative, building a digital archive to match.
Los Angeles is home to one of the oldest, most important, and largest Sephardic communities in the United States. While archives and libraries dedicated to preserving materials of the Jewish past have tended to lay emphasis on Central and Eastern European Jewish histories, far less institutional attention has been devoted to preserving documents and objects of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Jewish (or “Sephardic”) past. Currently, few archives, libraries, or museums in the United States maintain a significant collection dedicated to Sephardic Jewish history. The UCLA Sephardic Archive Initiative, launched in the spring of 2015, aims to reverse the historic neglect of the Sephardi past by:
- Gathering material sources related to Los Angeles’ diverse Sephardi heritage
- Cataloguing these sources in tandem with UCLA Library and Special Collections
- Digitizing selections of these sources to make them immediately accessible to scholars, students, and the community.
Given that the material sources of interest are now acutely vulnerable and at risk of being lost forever (often languishing in garages and other facilities ill equipped for preservation), time is of the essence.
The UCLA Sephardic Archive Initiative, directed by Professor of History and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies Sarah Abrevaya Stein, a scholar possessing at once a local expertise and a global focus, is well poised to safeguard and steward one of the most important collections of Sephardi Jewish life in the world – based in Los Angeles.
A new lead gift from the Sady Kahn Trust will allow us to intensify the efforts that took shape in 2015 thanks to initial sponsorship of the Advisory Board of the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and the Viterbi Family Program in Mediterranean Studies. Thanks to this gift, Project Manager Chris Silver, an advanced PhD candidate in the Department of History, will be named the Sady Kahn Fellow: at the same time, the Initiative will accelerate our digitization, cataloguing, and outreach efforts, solidifying the foundation of the UCLA Sephardic Archive.
We are honored to remember Sady Kahn, an immigrant to Los Angeles who made a new life in California without forgetting her own history: a story evocative of so many of Los Angeles’ Sephardic families.
In the summer of 2015, the Sephardic Archive Initiative commenced a partnership with Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel – among the most important Sephardic institutions in Los Angeles – to begin creating a preliminary assessment of their archival collection. With rare papers dating to the late nineteenth century, photos from the early twentieth century, and mid-century home recordings of long-forgotten musical traditions, this archive arguably represents the single most significant repository of data on Los Angeles’ Sephardic past. Over the summer months, Michael & Irene Ross Post-doctoral Research Fellow Caroline Luce, Civic Engagement Fellow Joanna Chen, Project Manager Chris Silver, and undergraduate intern Deborah Lewis worked closely with members of the STTI community, including Marie Altchech, Mike Hattem, Arthur Benveniste, and STTI Librarian Annette Goldsmith, to create a finding aid that takes complete stock of the STTI archive.
The Sephardic Archive Initiative is now working with the Temple to produce an initial assessment of that institution’s archive and provide a roadmap for making such historical rarities accessible to students, scholars, and a wider public.
In order to move forward with its ambitious goals, the UCLA Sephardic Archive Initiative has convened a Community Advisory Board consisting of roughly a dozen members. Professor Stein and a small team of professionals and graduate students are now in the process of working with members of the board to identify collections of considerable interest spread throughout the Los Angeles area. Over the next two years, in addition to ongoing collecting and cataloguing efforts, the Sephardic Archive Initiative will build a parallel digital humanities platform, engage students with the archive, and host an international symposium on “Sources of the Sephardic Past.”
These efforts are intended to ensure that the rich history of Los Angeles’ Sephardi Jews remain relevant not just to the present but to the future.
If you have family documents, photographs, or objects pertaining to Sephardic history that you might consider sharing with the Sephardic Archive Initiative, please contact Project Manager Chris Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Project Director
Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
Al & Rose Finci
Jim & Lori Keir
Hazan Cantor Mizrahi
Genie Guerard, Manuscripts Curator, Special Collections
Caroline Luce, Michael & Irene Ross Post-doctoral Research Fellow
Susan E. Parker, Deputy University Librarian
Professor Todd Presner, Chair, UCLA Digital Humanities Program, Professor of Germanics
Ginny Steele, University Librarian