On April 24, 2014, English Department Professor Jane Mushabac will be reading her fiction at Brooklyn College’s “Symposium on Yiddish and Ladino: Jewish Languages Used by Women and Other Jews.” The event, a part of the Annual Frances Haidt Lecture Series, is co-sponsored by The Wolfe Institute for the Humanities, the Departments of Judaic Studies, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies, Modern Languages and Literatures, English, Sociology, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Office of the President, and the Carol Zicklin Visiting Chair in the Honors Academy.
Zelda Newman, of Lehman College, will speak on “Hasidic Yiddish”; Ayala Fader, author of a Princeton University Press book on Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jews, will speak on “Bobover Hasidic Girls’ Bi-lingualism”; and Jane Mushabac will perform a short story that has been published in both her original Ladino and English, “A Turkish Jew’s Tale: ‘Pasha.’”
Professor Mushabac’s reading is supported by a 2013-2014 Diversity Projects Development Fund grant, and is the sixth in a series of eight readings she is doing at CUNY campuses this semester as part of her project, “Spanish, Mizrahi, and Black Jews: Diversity and the Jews.”
Previous readings have been at Baruch College; a Bronx Community College CLIP course; a Queensborough Community College program of The Liberal Arts Academy, ASAP, and the Creative Writing Club; and two City Tech writing courses. In May she’ll perform at a City College theatre course and do a Ladino-English bilingual reading for a conference at the CUNY Graduate Center.
As part of the project she is also doing oral history interviews of Jews from a variety of backgrounds, including from Tunisia, Morocco, African-American Harlem, Bulgaria, Iraq, Iran, Greece, Libya and Turkey.
Professor Mushabac explains that “Ethnic or racial groups are often viewed as monolithic. People forget that a group with a particular label is actually highly diverse – Asians may be Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai or Japanese, for instance, or Hispanics Mexican, Argentinian, Dominican or Filipino. Jews are not always white nor do they always have names like Goldstein or Bloomberg. Individuals named Rodrigue, Aghassi, Aroughetti, Sulieman, Gourgey, Papo and Abravaya are also Jews.”
Why suggest a multi-ethnic awareness through Jewish diversity? Mushabac notes that although in the past Jews were a large majority at City College, today Jews are mostly a small minority throughout CUNY. Perhaps for that reason, she says, “reading fiction about Spanish, Mizrahi and black Jews opens students to fresh experience they haven’t encountered before.” Also, it broadens awareness of the way ethnicity across lines and through historic diasporas encourages new thinking about sexuality, identity, gender patterns and musical culture.
She says that “Students of diverse backgrounds see their own family histories in a larger historical context and model the power of such discovery for their own writing.” After one reading, a student from Ivory Coast approached her. “I have to tell you that what you described in your story of Turkish Jews is exactly the way things are in Ivory Coast.”
The Hispanic elements of her fiction, including the Judeo-Spanish language known as Ladino, make this project particularly attractive to Hispanic-Serving Institutions, such as City Tech and Bronx Community College. For Hispanic students, the story of the Spanish Jews, who kept speaking Spanish in Turkey and elsewhere for 500 years after their expulsion from Spain, opens new doors for listeners to understand their own families.
Ultimately, Professor Mushabac says, her goal is for CUNY students “to feel the value of breaking free of more familiar cultural boundaries and experiencing the rich journeys of identity” at the heart of her work.
Professor Mushabac’s writing has been published and produced widely and garnered many awards, from Mellon and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships to a Leapfrog Press award for her novella, The Hundred Year Old Man. As 2011 Scholar on Campus at City Tech, she read her fiction at a public lecture; and she’s done readings and Q & A sessions for Spanish classes of mostly Latino/a students as well as for literature and writing classes with students from all over the world. Her readings in California, Massachusetts and New York have included audiences of Rand Corporation Ph.D’s, of Spanish and French graduate students at California State University at Long Beach, of Colgate University Muslim and Jewish undergraduates, and Tufts University Phi Beta Kappa inductees.
Professor Mushabac’s writing has been translated into Turkish, Bulgarian, German and Russian. She says her story, “Pasha: Ruminations of David Aroughetti” is a Turkish story, an American story, an immigrant story, a Jewish story, but essentially a story about manhood and womanhood, ideals and expectations.