Sephardic Memoir

Building a bridge between the past and the present….

For over two decades, I’ve been tracing my family’s twentieth-century travels from the Levant and Lithuania into southern Africa and beyond. The process of researching my roots has been incredibly fulfilling as well as challenging and emotional. I utilize a variety of research methods including recording oral histories, analyzing material culture, and archival excavation. My family’s own collection of memorabilia was the starting point of this journey, and I continue to draw upon these precious photographs and documents for writing inspiration.

My current project is entitled Galante’s Daughter: A Sephardic Family Journey. I began this project because I was intrigued by the story of my great-grandmother, Estrella Galante. She was a French teacher on the island of Rhodes and later immigrated to Africa to marry a Turkish businessman. I am interested in the series of decisions that faced Sephardic women of her generation and the communities that they helped to build. These voices are not reflected in typical Jewish histories, and my goal is to bring the lived experiences of women like Estrella into the foreground.

Black and white photo of Estrella Galante
Estrella Galante ca. 1930s

Writing about family history has required intensive language study– summers in New York studying Yiddish, Ladino classes in Seattle and in virtual spaces–in order to be able to access the different cultures my relatives inhabited. It is so meaningful to now be able to read their correspondence and documents in the original–and to write a little on my own in these languages! The research process has also required acceptance of the fact that there are some questions about the past that can never be answered, despite all the tools and technologies at our disposal.

At its heart, my Sephardic memoir project is a way to acquaint myself with the many fascinating people who lived before me, while also connecting to my experiences as a first-generation American raising a family in Seattle.

For more of my writing about family history, here are some of my previous publications:

Inheriting Family Heirlooms, and the Stories of Migration They Tell (Hadassah, March 2020)

‘I’d Like to Become a Bird: Ladino Letters Before Catastrophe (Tablet, Aug. 21, 2017)

My Sephardic Inheritance: A Spoonful of Salt, A Spoonful of Sugar (Tablet, Feb. 14, 2017)

Crossing the Bosphorus: My Great-Grandmother’s Sephardic Memoir (The Forward, Sep. 14, 2016)

Remembering Rhodes, Sephardic History, and the Sephardic Holocaust (UW Jewish Studies e-journal, Aug. 8, 2014)