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It is not only South Asian Indians who enroll their children in their respective language classes, whether Telugu or Gujarati or others. Greeks in the US have routinely been offering Greek classes for their children in their Greek congregations for years.
One is left wondering why Sephardic Jews – at least temporarily – dropped their own language? That becomes a question to mull over at home nd for congregations to begin discussing. For what exists now is a glaring gap in the education of Sephardic youngsters, leaving them without the heart of their own culture.
How hard would it be to begin to correct this stark omission?
Not hard at all.
There are students taking college courses in Ladino who would be capable of offering beginning classes to little chldren if there were simple primers to follow, as inexpensive as the stapled primers used for beginning Hebrew. And those college students could earn income from teaching the classes parents pay to enroll their children in, thus creating demand among college students for Ladino classes for themselves.
Studying Ladino would be a route to teaching children Ladino. Children taking Ladino would be graced by having college and graduate students to teach them, making no demand on a congregation but bringing young people and children together. Older Ladino speakers might come to contribute, uniting even more generations and creating a bond through the language.
And in terms of bonds, university students who have been studying Ladino could take up residencies in smaller communities in order that they, too, could benefit. Those university students would find themselves especially welcome and the traveling students would not only bring Ladino to the smaller Sephardic communities but connect communities through their stays.
Those creating the primers would be publishing books in Ladino. Add those to the text books for university students and a small Sephardic industry would begin to grow.
What is the direction of all this?
College Ladino classes lead to university students as teachers for young Sephardic students, which leads to parents having an avenue for their young children to learn the language, which leads to children developing language skills that are unique and a source of pride and accomplishment, which leads to Sephardic kids beginning to converse with existing Ladino speakers, which leads to excitement in the entire Sephardic community as they do a stunning but, oddly, very do-able thing – bring Ladino back into the life of the community.
For overtime, the young teachers will become more skilled themselves, the primers will develop, and the young students will become fluent.
And paradoxically, with Ladino as a language, the world opens up to those young people the more deeply immersed in their own culture and history.
What is the alternative? Sephardic parents could buy their children corporate T-shirts (“It’s not a party without a Sephardi”), hoping that and occasional boyas serve as culture, and meanwhile sigh at vulgar English slang. In Ladino, is there a sneering use of the word, “Whatever!” for teens to answer flippantly to their parents’ remarks, as happens so typically in English? One can hope there isn’t.
* A note to those in congregations which include Persian Jews or others whose language would not be Ladino. This route to teaching children family languages that are being lost is open to everyone, and there is no reason a congregation might not have more than one language class for children – all dependent on university students acquiring enough knowledge to use primers with the children.