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Ladino

Aki Yerushalayim: The Digital Revival of a Fascinating Ladino Magazine

Aki Yerushalayim (1979-2016, 2019-present) is the oldest and arguably most authoritative all-Ladino magazine in the world. Making sense of its sociopolitical and community impact requires us to venture into the changing role of Sephardim since the inauguration of the modern State of Israel.

Issue 105 of Aki Yerushalayim, published online in September 2021

As explained by Prof. Shmuel Refael in his anthology Un Grito en el Silencio (“A Scream in the Silence”, Tirocino, 2008), it took decades for the descendants of the Sephardim in Israel to be considered part of the national narrative. The turning point was arguably the election of Yitzhak Navon (1921-2015) as the fifth president of Israel. In 1978, he became the first Sephardi Jew to serve in that office, which he did until 1983. In 1979, Navon was appointed the first chairman of the board of Aki Yerushalayim, whose first issue was launched that very year. The magazine was published by the cultural organisation Sefarad, in cooperation with the National Authority for Ladino (1996), of which Navon also became the first chairman in 1997. The editorial committee of Aki Yerushalayim featured three emblematic Sephardic authors: Moshe Shaul (editor-in-chief), Mordehay Arbell and Zelda Ovadia.

Its 2-3 yearly issues contained articles about Sephardic personalities, history, literature and various organisations, as well as sections on topics such as food, philately, upcoming cultural events, poetry, short stories, books and CD reviews. More importantly, it featured three iconic and unique rubrics: El kantoniko de haketía (“Haketía Corner”, devoted to the vernacular linguistic variety spoken by the Sephardim that settled in northern Morocco); El kantoniko de solitreo (“Solitreo Corner”, featuring texts written in the cursive script used by Sephardim in the Ottoman empire); and El kantoniko de letras Rashi (“Rashi Corner” devoted to the semi-cursive Sephardic script). Other than its content, a further significant contribution of Aki Yerushalayim to Sephardic language and culture was the standardisation of Ladino in the Latin script by, of and for Sephardim across the world, courtesy of the pronunciation table elaborated by Moshe Shaul and adopted almost unanimously in subsequent Ladino publications.

However, due to budgetary constraints, low subscription renewals and the advanced age of its readers and editors, in 2016, the adventure of Aki Yerushalayim seemed to come to an end. The announcement of Aki Yerushalayim’s supposed final issue (99-100) was met with dismay from the global community of Ladino lovers (most of whom were Sephardim, though not all). To date, I still remember reading at that time numerous poignant testimonies of regret and nostalgia from dozens of members on the Ladino email list Ladinokomunita (Rachel Amado Bortnick, 1999- ). Yet as the motto of the Turkish Ladino-only newspaper El Amaneser reminds us, “kuando muncho eskurese es para amaneser” (“when it’s dark out, that’s because dawn in coming”), an adage whose truth has stood the test of time for the global community of Ladino speakers.

In 2019 and upon the initiative of Haim Carmi, a new generation of Ladino scholars and activists took upon themselves the challenge of restoring Aki Yerushalyim and assuming its editorial board, which nowadays includes the following activists: Aldo Sevi (editor-in-chief), Nava Cohen, Esther Rute Cediel, David Atias, Orit Salinas and Hedva Perahia. Now exclusively published in digital version, Aki Yerushalayim continues to feature the above-mentioned sections and kantonikos, as well as a new website (https://yerushalayimaki.wixsite.com/ladino) containing old and new issues (though this is still a work in progress).

As a Ladino scholar and CEO of Ladino 21 who specialises in revitalising this language by digital means, I have had the opportunity to interview and converse with most of Aki Yerushalayim’s current editorial board members. In my daily interactions with them, I have the fortune of witnessing their relentless passion and selfless devotion to Ladino.

Based on the above, I am confident that the future of the most authoritative all-Ladino magazine in the world is in the safest and warmest hands, and would like to take advantage of this post to acknowledge and celebrate everybody that has made possible the existence and continuation of Aki Yerushalayim, all of which has granted this publication a place of honour in our Jewish Languages Bookshelf.

Dr Carlos Yebra López
Spanish and Portuguese Post-Doc/Lecturer,
Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literature,
New York University


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