UCI will host a one day conference on Sephardic Jewry this Friday. The conference is part of a larger attempt by the University to deflect criticism as being a place hostile to Jewish students. While we applaud all attempts to promulgate knowledge about Jews and Jewish culture, the pareve nature of the conference cannot be overlooked.

Rather than pressing Sephardic issues, such as the displacement of 850,000 Jews from Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East since the founding of Israel in 1948 [pictured on right], the one day conference delves into topics such as: “Sephardic Culture and Hispanic Studies”, “Andalusi Jews and Sephardim”, “Crypto-Jews, Conversos, and the Doenmeh/Maaminim of Salonica” etc.

One session on Ottoman Jews could be interesting, but it is being given by a woman who specializes in Turkish Jews— not the Jews of Palestine.

This conference, together with other recent nods to the Jewish community, such as providing pre-packaged kosher food options in dorms, and a minor in Jewish studies, are a not-so-secret attempt to portray the campus as a hospitable place.

Study and research into Sephardic culture is a very worthwhile area of study—however, ensuring that Jewish students receive fair and equal treatment on campus, without fear of reprisal or intimidation, seems to be a much more pressing issue.

But if you are passionate about Sephardic culture head on down to:

Diaspora and Return: Sephardic Jews Beyond Spain
Sephardic Culture and History Conference at UCI

Friday, March 7, 2008, 10am-5pm
Newport Beach, Conference Room
Student Center, UC Irvine

The schedule is below the break:

Sepharad and the early Sephardic diaspora

David Wacks, Romance Languages, University of Oregon

“Sephardic Culture and Hispanic Studies”

Michelle M. Hamilton, Spanish & Portuguese, UC Irvine

“Andalusi Jews and Sephardim”

Marc Baer, History, UC Irvine

“Crypto-Jews, Conversos, and the Doenmeh/Maaminim of Salonica”

Julia Cohen, History, Stanford

“Ottoman Jews and the Spanish Past”

Memories of Sepharad

Daniel Schroeter, History, UC Irvine

“Sephardic Identity and Morocco”

Sarah Portnoy, Spanish & Portuguese, USC

“Gender and meaning in the Sephardic Ballads of Latin America”

Jacobo Sefamí, Spanish & Portuguese, UC Irivine

“Contemporary Sephardic Writers in Latin America”

Emily Colbert, Spanish & Portuguese, UCI

“Contemporary Sephardi Identity in Spain”

Key Note:
Samuel G. Armistead
Spanish & Classics, UC Davis

“Judeo-Spanish Culture, Literature and Language: Hispanists’ Fantasies and Sephardic Realities”

About the author

Rabbi Yonah


  • Wow, that was angry and harsh, Rabbi.

    I know I agree with your anger about UC Irvine and what has become of that campus with respect to Jewish students, particularly those who support Israel. I’m not sure I agree with your anger at this conference.

    Anybody who attends will learn some things they didn’t know, especially considering the emphasis on Ashkenazi culture among most North American Jews. The keynote talk seems interesting and on topic, as do the “Sephardic Identity and Morocco” and “Andalusi Jews and Sephardim” presentations.

    Besides, it’s better to have the UC Irvine administration try to improve the situation on campus than not. You seem to feel this is a band aid for a much deeper wound, but people who attend the conference will still learn about aspects of Sephardic life. If you reject the attempts by the university to improve the situation, how will you ever convince them they need to emphasize other areas of improvement? They’ll just see their efforts as thankless – which will make the daunting efforts of trying to get the MSA to tone things down even more challenging.

  • Given that Rabbi Yo has been in the trenches at UCI, I can understand his perspective. But after stating his issues and concerns he then goes on and lists the event. Looks like it’ll actually be pretty interesting. I applaud any effort to celebrate/investigate Sephardic culture for a change. If someone goes can you report back on how it went? I’d love to know!

  • Kind of ironic that the host of the apolitical (and rather pareve) Jewlicious festival is criticizing an academic conference for being apolitical.

  • TM and J sorry you missed my points. I am not angry, and not critical of the event being apolitical – I am pointing out that the University that has a serious problem. The failure of the University to acknowledge that it is a center of racist Jew hatred, by a group of thugs known as the MSA, makes it impossible for this rabbi to whitewash the conference.

    If you reject the attempts by the university to improve the situation, how will you ever convince them they need to emphasize other areas of improvement? They’ll just see their efforts as thankless – which will make the daunting efforts of trying to get the MSA to tone things down even more challenging.

    I do not reject attempts — there are none that are significant. Their efforts are totally self-serving. The Chancellor Michael Drake has said there is no problem of anti Jewish racism at the school. The vice Chancellor has said the same thing.

    I invite all of you to come to UCI in the spring and to see the situation for yourselves. Don’t take my word for it, see the hatefest for yourself. The MSA will never “Tone things down” – until they are kicked off campus.

    The UCI administration recentluy refused to be interviewed by the Task Force on Anti-Semitism. They have not taken action on student complaints.

    Lastly the issue of the displacement of Jews is a massive human rights issue that is ignored.

    And who said Jewlicious was apolitical and pareve — we just don’t advocate one position or another. The Festival was hardly apolitical. We discussed serious political, environmental, and social issues. Students represented the entire spectrum of political and religious ideologies. We served meat, milk, and vegi meals too.

  • Rabbi, thanks for the explanation.

    J, I was at last year’s Jewlicious festival and it was far from apolitical. In fact, there were a couple of panelists that someone from your organization would have appreciated having there. It was also far from pareve because of the broad mix of people and opinions. Based on that experience, I suspect this year was no different.