Megan Quinn: Boulder Jewish Festival focuses on Sephardic traditions this year


Megan Quinn: Boulder Jewish Festival focuses on Sephardic traditions this year

Megan Quinn, Camera faith columnist

The spices of Morocco, the music of klezmer bands and the work of local artisans swirl into one annual celebration of diverse Jewish culture.

Each year, the Boulder Jewish Festival is filled with music, art, cultural booths and food that celebrate Judaism’s many faces and traditions. This year, organizers plan particularly to underscore Judaism’s Sephardic traditions, which originate in the Iberian Peninsula.

“A lot of times, we think of Jewish culture as typically from Eastern Europe, but there is another entire Jewry that comes from Spanish-speaking areas,” said Cheryl Fellows, an organizer of the event.

Sephardic Jews, sometimes referred to as “Spanish Jews,” typically come from the areas of Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Many were forced to leave their homes in the 1400s and 1500s, or converted to Catholicism to avoid the consequences of the Inquisition.

Sephardic Jews moved throughout numerous regions in North Africa, the Balkans and even South America, but their impact is not often as widely felt in the U.S. compared to the Ashkenazi, whose traditions originate in Eastern Europe.

Fellows said many Boulder-area participants are familiar with Ashkenazic traditions because their ancestors are from place such as Poland, Russia or Czechoslovakia. Those traditions show up strongly in American culture, bringing to mind delis in New York’s Lower East Side, bagels and “men in black hats with beards,” Fellows said.

Yet a shifted focus on Sephardim is a chance to talk more about Jewish people whose ancestors fled their homeland due to the Inquisition, struggled to preserve fading Judeo-Spanish dialects or went into hiding as crypto-Jews. Crypto-Jews historically professed conversion to another religion, typically Catholicism, while still practicing their Jewish beliefs in secret.

Festival organizers began plans to include more Sephardic elements after closing down the 2011 festival. A Rose Community Foundation study of the area’s Jewish population showed that a number of those surveyed identified as Hispanic. Those interviewed listed at least one Jewish member of their household.

The statistic helped frame conversations about adding more elements that reflected Judaism’s Spanish heritage, Fellows said.

The Sephardic theme will show up most noticeably in the festival’s food, which is already a major draw for festival-goers, she said.

This year, Tangiers Moroccan Restaurant will set up its offerings next to booths offering blintzes, kosher hot dogs and gyros.

In addition, performances will include Ladino music, which incorporates Latin sounds and Sephardic dialects.

The Sephardic theme adds a different hint of vibrancy to the festival this year, Fellows said.

“The colors are a little brighter,” she said.

The theme is also a chance for Boulder Jewish groups to delve into the historical and cultural traditions of the Sephardim, said Kathryn Bernheimer, a program director at the Boulder Jewish Community Center. Once a year, the JCC’s Menorah program chooses a country to explore within the context of Jewish roots, food, music and culture.

The popular program, which has covered Greece, Italy and Russia in the past, will focus on Cuba this fall.

“The Jewish community has a lot of diversity, and most people think of the Ashkenazi and forget about the large number of Sephardic traditions,” she said.

To promote the Jews of Cuba event, the Boulder JCC will provide handouts and activities in their brightly-decorated booth. A volunteer will also dress as Carmen Miranda, the popular 1940s performer known for her towering fruit hats.

“The spirit of Menorah is to be lively and cultural, and the Sephardic elements and delicious food give it a different flavor,” she said.

The festival takes place 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday in front of the Boulder County Courthouse on Pearl Street. For more information, visit


Posted on June 9, 2012, in Morocco News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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