UCCS hosts conference on culture, history of Sephardic Jews

March 7, 2011

Heather Templeton
[email protected]

This week, UCCS is host to the Sephardic Memory and Movement Conference, a two-day testament to the history and cultural heritage of Jews who migrated from Spain due to social, political or economic pressures during the mid-twentieth century. Many Sephardic, or Spanish, Jews, settled in the Southwestern U.S., where their influence is felt strongly today.

Assistant Professor of History Dr. Roger Martinez, who will be speaking before the conference on March 10, said, “Prior to their expulsion from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews had tremendous cultural, religious, intellectual and political influence in the Iberian Peninsula.”

The conference will begin at 5:30 p.m. on March 10 in the Kraemer Family Library, opening with a reception and refreshments. It will continue until 9 p.m., concluding with a Sephardic Musical Concert at the Centennial Hall Auditorium. The concert will feature external musicians as well as members of the UCCS Department of Music.

On March 11 at 10 a.m., Dr. Martinez will commence the last day of the conference with a welcome, followed by a keynote address about the footprint of Sephardic Jews in New Mexico, as well as their history and lingering struggle for identity.

The conference boasts performances and lectures by Vanessa Paloma, Dr. Stanley Hordes, Dr. Seth Ward, Dr. Ofer Ben-Amots, Sonya Loya, Dr. Abe Minzer and Dr. Seth Kunin. Parking and accommodation information is available online at sephardicmemory.eventrbite.com.

The conference will focus on the history of the Sephardic Jews and the tribulations they overcame throughout history while simultaneously managing to maintain their cultural identity, faith and heritage.

In his book, “The Spanish Jewry,” Martinez provides a brief but thorough history of the Sephardic Jews, focusing on the ways in which Jews were often subjected to “violence and persecution by Christian and Muslim rulers.”

According to Martinez, one integral Sephardic Jew from the Middle Ages was a man named Moses Maimonides. Martinez wrote, “Maimonides lived during the end of the Sephardic Golden age, a period of intense cultural, intellectual, and artistic accomplishments for the Jewish people in Spain.” Maimonides serves for Martinez as an example of those Sephardic Jews who chose to not die in the name of their religion and nationality, instead migrating from Spain so that they could spread and practice their religion without worry.

Many Sephardic Jews immigrated to the U.S., and large numbers of them established homes in the Southwestern states. The conference will take special care to emphasize the enduring influence of the Sephardic Jews on these areas of the country; moreover, Martinez confirmed its significance to the students and all those who attend as he explained, “Spain’s religious and cultural history is especially important for our 21st century world because it speaks to fascinating ideas about personal and social identities.” He believes this conference will have an impact on those who attend because “it will allow all of us to reflect on our own personal challenges of finding our own identities in this world.”