Program Wrap Up: From Ladino to DC

Posted on February 12, 2015 by

This past Sunday we warmly welcomed Dr. Adriana Brodsky of Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, to speak on Ladino as part of our Sephardic Lecture Series. Her presentation traced the origins of the language and explored both the oral and written traditions. Ladino is truly a fascinating language; as someone who knew nothing about the language and its history, I found Dr. Brodsky’s presentation incredibly informative!

Quite the crowd turned out.

Quite the crowd turned out.

Also known as Judeo-Spanish, Ladino is the spoken and written Hispanic language of Jews of Spanish origin. Interestingly, Ladino was originally just the language of a Spanish province and was not considered a Jewish language until the expulsion from Spain in 1492. After the Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal, they continued to speak Ladino in the communities and countries to which they emigrated. As a result, the Ladino grammatical structure and vocabulary closely align with 14th and 15th century Spanish. However, as Jewish immigrants became immersed in their new communities their native language began to change and evolve. Dr. Brodsky explained that while some Jews emigrated to countries such as England and Italy (in relatively close proximity to Spain) and were able to maintain their language, other Jews moved to Sephardi communities deep in the Ottoman Empire where their language began to borrow and embrace new words from Arabic, Greek, Turkish and French.

Map of Judeo-Spanish emigration.

Map of Judeo-Spanish emigration.

Dr. Brodsky also explained that a large part of the Ladino language is linguistic traditions such as proverbs and sayings, such as:


  • A gran’ a grano, hinche la gayina el papo (One seed at a time, a hen fills its craw.)
  • Antes ke te kases, mira lo ke hazes… (Watch what we do before you get married.)
  • Kon esos polvos se hizieron estos lodos. (That dust brought, or made, this mud.)
  • Dime kon kien fueres i direte kien eres (Tell me who you go around with and I’ll tell you who you are.)


In addition to proverbs and sayings, music was also an important part of the Ladino oral tradition. In order to illuminate it’s influence, Dr. Brodsky shared we all sang a wonderful rendition of Adio Kerida:

As the talk came to a close, we had the opportunity explore the written tradition and to decode a bit of Ladino. It was interesting to learn that most of the time, Ladino can be written in using three different methods: Rashi script, Square script or Solitro script (a cursive method of writing letters) (see below).

Rashi script, Square script and Solitro script

Rashi script, Square script and Solitro script


Following Dr. Brodsky’s talk, we hosted community workshop lead by Zachary Paul Levine, Curator at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. The JHSGW is currently in the process of planning their new regional Jewish museum (projected opening 2020) and its core exhibition. As part of that process, they are turning to the community for thoughts on which objects and themes should be included and explored more deeply. Before moving into an introduction to the institution and its vision for the future, Dr. Levine had us all go around and place post-its on images of our favorite objects displayed on posters around the room. After introducing the JHSGW, Dr. Levine told us the story behind each of the objects displayed. However, he presented them in thematic sets and it was up to the audience to determine if they felt that the object fit into its current category. Overall, the workshop got us thinking, talking, and sharing ideas for this new project.

This workshop was one of the first events in our series of community programs. We have several upcoming programs that showcase community collaborations and accomplishments. Later this month, February 23, 2015 – March 8, 2015, we’ll be hosting “The Girl’s Photography Project” exhibit sponsored by CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. in partnership with Wide Angle Media. In 2014, 15 African American and Orthodox Jewish girls ages 10-14 participated in a series of workshops that enabled them to learn about each other’s perspectives living in their northwest Baltimore City community. They learned to use a camera, take quality photos and most importantly, got to know one another while gaining an understanding of each other’s life experiences. The photos in this exhibit feature their viewpoints and are truly one of a kind. We invite everyone to join us for the reception on March 1at 1pm!

A Sneak Peek at "My Family Story" objects.

A Sneak Peek at “My Family Story” objects.

Later in March JMM celebrates Jewish family history with another special exhibit. Over the past few months, the JMM has worked with middle school students from Beth Tfiloh on an exciting and creative education program, My Family Story. In this inspiring program, students work with museum staff to investigate their family roots and discover deeper connections to larger issues of American Jewish history, community, Jewish identity and Israel. Their exploration culminates in an artistic expression that creatively represents their family’s history. We are greatly looking forward to showcasing all of the students’ work and invite you to join us for a reception on the evening of March 12th at 7pm.

Carolyn BevansA blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE. 

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  1. Bella says:

    Very interesting article! Do you know of any groups in Baltimore (City) that teach Ladino? I speak fluent Italian and Castellano, and I understand most of the spoken Ladino, I do need to learn it correctly, though!

    Please let me know!!
    Kol Tov!

    Bella T

    • Rachel says:

      Hi Bella!

      I’m checking with our program staff to see if they have any leads for you. Thanks for the comment!


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