Belonging to Exile: The Elusive Homelands of the Sephardic Jews

Lang Hilgartner, Judith K., Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Pellon, Gustavo, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

My dissertation examines the themes of exile and homeland in contemporary Sephardic literature. Through the literary lens of different cities that the Sephardim have called home over the centuries, I argue that the concept of Sephardic exile is an invented and carefully constructed narrative from which belonging is forged and questioned. Chapter One deals with the complex Zionist narratives present in poetry by Avner Perez, Moshe Ha Elion, and Matilda Koen Sarano. Through studying poems of ascent, descent, and absence, I argue that ideological positioning is correlated with geographical vantage point. In Chapter Two, I examine the narrative of belonging connected to the changing borders of Bulgaria. Studying newspaper articles, trial testimonies, legal documents, and an unpublished manuscript, Archival Unit 192, I elucidate the tensions between Bulgarian nationalism and Zionism in combination with poetry by Gracia Jak Albuhayre. Chapter Three approaches the city of Thessaloniki, Greece as a metaphorical gal-ed which allowed Moshe Ha Elion to have an experiential encounter with his past. Tracing the themes of physicality and physical space in the concentration camps throughout Ha Elion’s multi-generic oeuvre shows how traumatic memories are reframed through the prism of his reencounter with Jewish Salonika. Finally, Chapter Four invites my readers to consider the philo-Sephardic case of Juan Gelman, an Askenazi, who chose to write in Ladino in order to illustrate his desire for Argentina to be his homeland. This dissertation’s examination of poetry, theatrical texts, prose, interviews, archival material, and other primary source materials demonstrates that instead of allowing the condition of exile to destabilize cultural memories, the contemporary Sephardim create a broader narrative of recuperation and resilience, proving that exile is not just an inherited condition. Belonging to exile is also a choice.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Sephardic, Sephardim , Jewish Spanish, Jewish, Ladino, Holocaust, Shoah, Poetry, Exile, Homeland
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: