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Sephardic High Holy Days Music Reimagined

Artist brings together the Sephardic diaspora in new project

“Music has always been central to how Ladino is shared and learned,” explains Carla Berg. Her grandfather Youssef Eliahou Diwan, who was a cantor, knew the Sephardic tunes and Ladino songs but did not sing them in public when he moved to Brazil and served a largely Syrian community. Berg takes the opposite approach. Having grown up in Brazil, she now lives in the United States. A veteran educator, Berg uses music to amplify the many threads of her heritage. She is setting traditional Ladino songs and prayers to Brazilian sounds to bring Jews together from all over the world.

Her newest offering is a spiritual piece for the High Holy Days that brings together the Sephardic diaspora in all its complex musical and geographic glory.

It began with Hazzan Isaac Azose from Seattle sharing words to a selichot prayer, a prayer of repentance, said in the Sephardic rite on Yom Kippur. The words for the piyyut, as this type of prayer is also known, are those of Rabbi Reuven Eliyahu Yisrael (1856-1932), who was the rabbi of the Sephardi community in Romania.

Berg worked with musicians in Brazil and a children’s choir in Izmir, Estreyikas d’Estambol, layering their voices with her own. It was essential to Berg to have a choir conversant in Ladino so that the full power and pronunciation of the language could come through. The result is an offering highlighting the many sounds of the broad Sephardi diaspora and deepening our experience of the High Holy Day season.

This project, like the High Holy Days, is just a beginning. Berg is building a whole album of new and renewed Ladino holiday music. Updates and information can be found here.