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Sephardic flavor will infuse Boulder Festival

Info desk at the 2011 Boulder Jewish Festival (David Fellows)This year’s Boulder Jewish Festival, Sunday, June 10, boasts a different flavor from what people have experienced at the last 17 festivals, according to the festival’s executive director Cheryl Fellows. “We’re going to have more of a Sephardic influence than in past years.”

That means Sephardic influenced music and food, including a Moroccan restaurant new to the food vendor line up.

“And we even have some non-profit booths highlighting Sephardic themes,” says Fellows.

Why the shift in focus? According to a 2007 population study, there is a sizeable number of Jewish households in the greater Denver-Boulder metro area that also identify as Hispanic. Couple that with an interest within the Boulder community in Sephardic Jewry, and Fellows says it was a good theme for this year.

Sephardic Jews are descendants of those who lived in the Iberian Peninsula — modern Spain and Portugal — prior to being expelled during the Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century. (The Hebrew word “Sefarad” roughly translates to “Spain.”) They dispersed to North Africa, Asia Minor, the Philippines, and other regions around the world, including the US Southwest.

In fact, Spanish Catholics living in the San Luis Valley and other parts of Colorado and New Mexico have learned they are of Jewish descent.

It all happened via genetic testing prompted by a couple of observations, followed up with medical research.

A study published in the US  Journal of Human Genetics found DNA evidence linking Sephardic Jewry to Spanish Americans from Colorado and New Mexico.

The study’s director, Dr. Harry Ostrer, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, along with his team, extrapolated that 1 to 5% of Spanish Americans, or Hispanics, can claim Jewish ancestry.

Dr. Ostrer’s study piggy-backed onto another study that discovered a mutation for breast cancer, usually associated with Ashkenazi Jews, was also commonplace in New Mexican Hispanics.

Researchers traced the genetic mutation back hundreds of years, long before there was a group called Sephardic Jews. The reason it was thought that the mutation occurred in only Ashkenazi Jews was simply that they were the ones whom doctors treated for the disease. When several Hispanic Catholics in the Southwest presented with the disease in our region, researchers did some digging and additional genetic testing, which led to genealogical discovery.

While Fellows doesn’t know how many Sephardim or Hispanics will join the throngs at this year’s festival, she estimates a crowd of 15,000 will shop at dozens of artists’ booths along Pearl Street and peruse the three-dozen non-profit booths lining the court house lawn.

They’ll also have the opportunity to sample traditional Ashkenazi (blintzes) and Sephardic (couscous) foods while listening to Spanish, Middle Eastern, and African influenced music throughout the afternoon.

“One of our headline performers is a local band called Sherefe that plays Ladino music,” says Fellows. Cowboy Hersh puts a Jewish spin on Latin guitar, and “Mama Doni is popular on YouTube and really a family performer who attracts the younger audience.”

Sheldon Sands, Bryan Zive, and Or Zimrah round out the musical offerings at this year’s festival.


Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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