Events

On this page you will find information about upcoming events and videos of past eventsIf you want to be notified of future events, you can join our email list here. If you appreciate this content, we encourage you to make a donation to the Jewish Language Project.

Upcoming online events

 

Languages of the Jews of Iran:

A series of online conversations and performances

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Jews in Iran historically spoke many languages - from Semitic, Median, and Persian language families. The languages/dialects of Jews in different cities and towns were so different that their speakers often could not understand each other. Now these longstanding Jewish languages are endangered, as most Jews shifted to standard Persian in Iran or to Modern Hebrew, English, and other languages after emigrating.

The HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project presents a series of conversations and performances highlighting this rich linguistic heritage. By attending these events, you will learn how Jewish languages compare to each other and to local Muslim, Zoroastrian, and Christian languages. You will be inspired by the elderly speakers and young activists who are working hard to preserve them for future generations. And you will be entertained by new songs in Judeo-Isfahani, Judeo-Hamadani, and Jewish Neo-Aramaic.

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These events will last for 75 minutes. Please register for each event separately. While the Jewish Language Project usually posts recordings of events the following day, these events will only be accessible at the times they are presented (due to preferences of some of the presenters).

January 9 (10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern / 6pm UK / 8pm Israel) 

Historical and linguistic overview of Jewish languages in Iran

In this engaging presentation, some of the world experts on Jewish Iranian languages - Dr. Nahid Pirnazar, Dr. Habib Borjian, and Dr. Thamar E. Gindin - explain the rich history, from medieval Judeo-Persian documents to diverse spoken languages and dialects today. The event ends with a new song in Judeo-Isfahani by Dr. Galeet Dardashti.

January 30 (10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern / 6pm UK / 8pm Israel)

Judeo-Hamadani, Judeo-Isfahani, Judeo-Yazdi, and other Median languages

How do the Iranian languages/dialects of various cities and towns differ? What work is currently being done to record them and share them with the public? Why is this work so important? Dr. Saba Soomekh moderates a conversation between Haideh Herbert and Haideh Sahim, who have been interviewing native speakers. Finally, attendees will be treated to a Judeo-Hamadani song by Farhad Heravi.

Register for the January 30 event

February 20 (10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern / 6pm UK / 8pm Israel)

Lishán Didán and Hulaulá: Jewish Neo-Aramaic in the Kurdish region of Iran

In each town of the Kurdish region, Jews and Christians spoke different dialects of Jewish Neo-Aramaic. Dr. Geoffrey Khan gives a historical and linguistic overview and showcases an interactive map with recordings based on his decades of research. Shahnaz Yousefnejadian shares her long-term dictionary project of the Hulaulá dialect of Sanandaj. Alan Niku gives the perspective of a heritage learner/speaker. And musicians Alon Azizi and Adi Kadussi explain why it’s important to record songs in these languages. The event ends with the world premiere of two new songs by Azizi and Kadussi.

Register for the February 20 event

March 13 (10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern / 5pm UK / 7pm Israel - note time - US Daylight Savings)

Judeo-Persian in the 20th century: New research

Dr. Daniella Farah explains why Jews in Iran shifted from Judeo-Isfahani, Judeo-Shirazi, etc., to Standard Persian. Dr. Habib Borjian and Ibrāhīm Šafiʿī present personal documents written in Persian in Hebrew letters. Alan Niku discusses the distinctive Tehran Jewish dialect of Persian based on recordings and fieldwork. And Cantor Jacqueline Rafii presents Passover psalms translated into Judeo-Persian and recorded by her grandfather in Tehran in 1971.

Register for the March 13 event


Sponsored by HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project, Iranian American Jewish Federation, Nessah Synagogue, and USC Casden Institute.

Co-sponsored by 30 Years After, American Jewish Committee, American Sephardi Federation, ASF Institute for Jewish Experience, Be’chol Lashon, Endangered Language Alliance, Iranian Jewish Women's Organization, JIMENA, SHAI: Sephardic Heritage Alliance, Inc., UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, and Y&S Nazarian Iranian Young Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

We welcome donations to support this event series and the broader project to document and revitalize endangered Iranian Jewish languages. If you or your organization or business would like to sponsor one of these events, please contact us.

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Other upcoming events in Winter/Spring 2022:

 

Monday, February 28, 9am Pacific / 12pm Eastern / 7pm Israel

Jewish Languages Today: Endangered, Surviving, and Thriving

A multimedia lecture by Sarah Bunin Benor

Throughout history Jews have spoken many languages, such as Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, Jewish Neo-Aramaic (Iraq-Iran), and Judeo-Malayalam (Southern India). Over the past two centuries, migrations and other historical events have led to many of these languages becoming endangered. At the same time, Jews are now engaging with these languages in postvernacular ways, such as through song and food, and new Jewish language varieties are developing, including Jewish English, Jewish Latin American Spanish, and Jewish French. This talk explains these developments and makes the case for the urgent need for documentation and reclamation.

Sponsored by the ASF Institute of Jewish Experience and the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project

Register for "Jewish Languages Today: Endangered, Surviving, and Thriving"

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Wednesday, May 25, 10-11:30am Pacific / 1-2:30pm Eastern / 8-9:30pm Israel

Multilingual Jewish Prayer Throughout History: Performance and Analysis

Following last year's popular performance/lecture series by Asher Shasho Levy, we present a panel of scholars and musicians discussing and performing Jewish prayer in many languages. Which communities and which individuals recited prayers and other sacred music in languages other than Hebrew? Were these translations of traditional prayers or original compositions? What is the historical process for vernacular prayers becoming sacralized and part of the liturgical canon? What do the rabbis have to say about prayers in the vernacular?

Moderators:

- Linguist Sarah Bunin Benor

- Musicologist Mark Kligman


Panelists:

- Musician/researcher Asher Shasho Levy: Contemporary Ladino and Judeo-Arabic

- Anthropologist/musician Galeet Dardashti: Modern Persian and Moroccan Arabic
- Liturgy scholar Ruth Langer: Ancient Judeo-Aramaic
- Linguist Michael Ryzhik: Renaissance Judeo-Italian
- Linguist Ora Schwarzwald: Early Modern and Modern Judeo-Spanish

Sponsored by the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project and the UCLA Lowell Milken Center for Music of Jewish Experience

Registration coming soon.

Past events

 

Click on the images below to watch videos of each event.

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April 16, 2020

Do American Jews Speak a Jewish Language?

Sarah Bunin Benor

Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and – Jewish English? Is it possible that Jews today continue the centuries-old tradition of speaking distinctly from their non-Jewish neighbors? This talk looks at several features common among Jewish languages of the past and discusses whether American Jews use them. From the tradition of translating biblical and rabbinic texts to the incorporation of Hebrew words, most of these features are common among religiously engaged American Jews. A major exception is the use of Hebrew letters to write the vernacular. Through analysis of language, we can gain a better understanding of contemporary American Jews and how they compare to Jewish communities of the past.

Co-sponsored by JewishLive.

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April 23, 2020

Mensch, Bentsh, and Balagan: Language as a Marker of Jewish Identity

Sarah Bunin Benor

Using quotes and images, this talk highlights the diversity of American Jews by focusing on the diverse uses of “Jewish American English” – enriched by Yiddish, Hebrew, Aramaic, Russian, Farsi, Arabic, and other influences. Jews use subtle variation in language to signal their textual knowledge, religious denomination, ancestral origin, and orientation toward Israel. Songs by Mickey Katz, Seymour Rechtzeit, Country Yossi, and Journeys demonstrate the similarities and differences of two types of Yiddish-influenced English: Yinglish and Yeshivish. “Jewish language” serves not only to distinguish Jews from non-Jews but also to distinguish Jews from Jews.

Co-sponsored by JewishLive.

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April 30, 2020

Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language & Culture of Orthodox Judaism

Sarah Bunin Benor

There is more to becoming Orthodox than observing religious laws. Newly Orthodox Jews, or ba’alei teshuva (lit. ‘those who return’), encounter a very different culture, including new ways of talking, dressing, and acting. Focusing on the Yiddish and Hebrew words used by English-speaking Orthodox Jews, this lecture explores how “BTs” integrate into the community partly by taking on these new practices. Based on Dr. Benor’s first book, this talk is appropriate for all audiences, regardless of prior exposure to Orthodox Judaism.

Co-sponsored by JewishLive.

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May 7, 2020

Ruach in the Chadar Ochel: Language at American Jewish Summer Camps

Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni

At most American Jewish summer camps, programs are conducted primarily in English, but the environment is infused with Hebrew signs, songs, and cheers. Hebrew-English sentences are common: “Madrichim [counselors], please bring your chanichim [campers] to the teatron [theater] immediately after the Birkat [Grace After Meals].” Why do some camps infuse Hebrew in these unusual ways? How are other languages used, including Russian, Yiddish, and Ladino? How do participants feel about this language mixing? This talk draws from Benor, Krasner, and Avni’s forthcoming book, Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps, based on over 200 interviews and visits to 36 camps.

Co-sponsored by JewishLive and the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University.

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May 14, 2020

Jewish Surnames and Name Changing Around the World: Diversity and Unity

Sarah Bunin Benor

What makes a family name Jewish? Did immigrants change their names at Ellis Island? This session answers these and many more questions about Jewish family names. Participants will learn the origins and meanings of patronymic (father-based) surnames like Abramovitch, Isaacs, and Yaghobian; geographic names like Ashkenazi, Dardashti, and Shapiro; and profession names like Hakim, Melamed, and Fingerhut. They will learn about Jews changing their family names in the 20th century, especially in the United States. They will come away with an understanding of the cultural diversity and unity of the Jewish Diaspora.

Co-sponsored by JewishLive.

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May 21, 2020

Jewish Personal Names Around the World: Tradition and Creativity

Sarah Bunin Benor

From ancient to present times, Jews have given their babies Hebrew and/or local names, demonstrating both their Jewish distinctiveness and their integration into local societies. This lecture offers a glimpse into this history, from the ancient Middle East to medieval Cairo, from Renaissance Rome to modern Poland. Then participants will learn how these trends continue among contemporary American Jews. When Jews today select names for their babies, they are sending a message about their specific type of Jewish American identity. The lecture ends with an (adorable) foray into American Jewish pets’ names. When Jews give their dogs and cats names like Babka, Rashi, Ketzele, and Golda Meow, they highlight some aspects of Jewishness that are important to them.

Co-sponsored by JewishLive.

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May 29, 2020

Pastrami, Verklempt, and Tshoot-spa: Non-Jews’ Use of Jewish Language in the United States

Sarah Bunin Benor

Jews in the United States use many Hebrew and Yiddish words in their English conversation. To what extent do non-Jews pick up these linguistic markers? This multimedia talk explains how words like klutz, shpiel, and kibbitz have become part of the broader American lexicon, sometimes popularized by comedians. Politicians use Hebrew and Yiddish words in diverse ways, from Bill Clinton’s “Shalom, chaver” to Michele Bachmann’s mispronunciation of chutzpah. A much more sinister use of Jewish language is white nationalists mocking Jews with words like Goyim and Shoah. Several video clips are shown, from James Cagney as a Yiddish-speaking Irish taxi driver to Barack Obama “getting all verklempt” while honoring Barbra Streisand.

Co-sponsored by JewishLive, part of Shavuot lineup.

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December 17, 2020

Diversity in Jewish English Writing

Jewish English writing uses multiple combinations of alphabets, such as English words written in Hebrew letters and letters that combine visual elements of Hebrew and English letters. This engaging lecture by Professor Sarah Bunin Benor demonstrates those uses, giving examples from Yiddish and Ladino newspapers, pedagogical materials, organizations’ and restaurants’ logos, and regalia advertising sports teams, universities, and political candidates. The analysis demonstrates that hybrid combinations of Hebrew and English writing serve four functions: 1) Translanguaging; 2) Symbolism; 3) Code; and 4) Pedagogy.

Co-sponsored by Judaism Unbound.

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May 4, 2021

Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps - A Conversation

Authors Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni in conversation with scholars Shaul Kelner and Riv-Ellen Prell, moderated by Jon Levisohn. Sponsored by the Brandeis University Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education; co-sponsored by several organizations.

May 6, 2021

Endangered Jewish Languages: Spotlight on Iranian and Bukharian Jews

Sarah Bunin Benor and Ruben Shimonov

Several long-standing Jewish languages have become endangered, as they are spoken primarily by older people, including Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and Judeo-Malayalam (Southern India). This talk explains these developments and makes the case for the urgent need for documentation and reclamation, focusing on the Jewish languages of Iranian origin (Judeo-Tajik/Bukharian, Judeo-Tat/Juhuri, Judeo-Isfahani, Judeo-Shirazi, etc.).

Sponsored by the Yiddish Book Center and 7000 Languages.

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December 6, 2020

Jewish Languages from A to Z: Celebrating a New Book

Aaron Rubin and Lily Kahn present information and images from their book. Sarah Bunin Benor interviews them and leads a question and answer session.

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May 11, 2021

Jewish Language Project: A Conversation

Sarah Bunin Benor, interviewed by Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal

How is the Jewish Language Project applying academic research to solve real-world problems? Learn about auto-captioning of Jewish English videos, resources for people learning how to pronounce Hebrew and Yiddish words, and efforts to document endangered Iranian Jewish languages.

Sponsored by Central Synagogue, New York City.

Jewish Prayer in Many Languages: From Sephardic Seattle to Syrian Brooklyn

A concert/lecture series by Asher Shasho Levy

May-August 2021

In most Jewish communities throughout history, the dominant language of prayer has been Hebrew, the “holy tongue.” Yet since antiquity, there has been a rich parallel tradition of prayer in the “mother tongue” – the primary language spoken in a region or country. This series focuses on the varied traditions of liturgy in the languages of the Middle East, North Africa, former Ottoman Lands, and beyond, as they are currently practiced in the United States. These liturgies, composed in different Judeo-Arabic languages, several dialects of Judeo-Spanish/Ladino, various Judeo-Iranian languages, and Judeo-Portuguese, served different functions for different communities, ranging from translations of Biblical passages and traditional Hebrew liturgy, to completely new texts composed to meet particular communal needs. We will move through the cycle of the year with sessions devoted to Shavuot, Shabbat, and the High Holidays, exploring these texts, the context of their development, the process of their proliferation, and a variety of musical settings.

 

Presented by the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project and the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music; co-sponsored by the Cantors Assembly, the Sephardic Educational Center and Sephardic Studies – UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.

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May 11, 2021

Ketubba de la Ley: Sephardic Vernacular Liturgy for Shabuot from Former Ottoman Lands and Beyond

July 13, 2021

Pizmonim for Havdalah in Ladino and Judeo-Arabic

July 11, 2021

Echoes of Judeo-Arabic in the Baghdadi Jewish Diaspora

Lecture by Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah

Response by Benjamin Hary

Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah speaks about linguistic aspects of her book Baghdadi Jewish Networks in the Age of Nationalism. She explains how migrants from the Baghdadi Jewish community established satellite communities in India, England, and elsewhere. They maintained elements of Baghdadi Judeo-Arabic, also known as Judeo-Baghdadi, along with other languages, in their education, correspondence, home life, and business dealings.

October 17, 2021

Gala Celebrating the Documentation of Endangered Jewish Languages

This celebratory gala, benefiting Wikitongues and the Living Tongues Institute, includes a panel of speakers of endangered Jewish languages (including Rachel Amado Bortnick and Alan Niku), a presentation of oral history videos compiled by Wikitongues, and a showcase of Living Dictionaries for endangered Jewish languages. Sarah Bunin Benor gives a brief introduction to Jewish languages, and attendees ask questions and share their own Jewish language stories. The theme of the night: intergenerational transmission of Jewish languages. Make a donation to the gala here.

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June 15, 2021

Shabbat Liturgy in Ladino

August 24, 2021

Ladino High Holiday Liturgy

October 10, 2021

An Introduction to Sephardic Jewish Papiamentu

Bart Jacobs, Neil Jacobs, Lucille Berry-Haseth, and Heske Zelermyer

A Jewish language on a Caribbean island? Linguists Neil Jacobs and Bart Jacobs introduce the role of Sephardic Jews in the history of the Papiamentu language in Curaçao and discuss its Jewish dialect. Papiamentu advocate Lucille Berry-Haseth and speaker Heske Zelermyer discuss the specific Jewish features and the contemporary status of Jewish Papiamentu.

November 14, 2021

Documenting Endangered Jewish Languages:

Practical, Ethical, and Cultural Issues

​Panel discussion featuring Daniel Bögre Udell, Executive Director, Wikitongues; Yehudit Henshke, Director, Mother Tongue; Tamari Lomtadze, Linguist, Akaki Tsereteli State University, Georgia; Ross Perlin, Linguist, Co-Director, Endangered Language Alliance. Moderator: Sarah Bunin Benor, Director, HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project. These scholars and activists describe their many years of high-stakes work recording the remaining speakers of Judeo-Tat, Judeo-Arabic, Jewish Neo-Aramaic, Judeo-Georgian, and other endangered languages. Then they discuss key issues in the field, such as how researchers locate speakers, structure their interviews, document language variation, and ensure ethical treatment of speakers.

December 5, 2021

Ladino/Judeo-Spanish Documentation and Revitalization Efforts: Language, Music, and Folklore

A panel conversation featuring Derya Agis, Rachel Amado Bortnick, Judith Cohen, Bryan Kirschen, Devin Naar, Rey Romero, and Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald. These scholars and activists introduce their recent work, which includes collecting artifacts of Sephardic history, teaching Ladino, and researching Ladino language and song. They discuss what additional documentation is necessary and how researchers, activists, and performers can work together to increase knowledge about and engagement with Ladino language and culture.

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