Page 172 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Elkin
164
At less exalted levels, over one hundred conferences in fifty cities
ranging from Aalborg to Villanova, Ankara to Thessaloniki, were
identified that applied a Jewish perspective to 1492. (See Appendix)
Due to their geographic spread, it is almost certain that other con­
ferences took place without attracting attention outside their im­
mediate venue. Themes ranged from the specific—“The Jews of
Catalonia in the 15th century,”—to the general—“The Sephardic
Journey over 500 Years.” Some conferences were held under aca­
demic auspices; others resulted from community initiatives. Quite
a few conferences combined both elements, as communities sought
out and supported the involvement of scholars.
The most frequent themes of conferences that adopted a Jewish
perspective on the quincentenary year were the Golden Age of the
Jews of Spain and Portugal and the post-expulsion fate of the
Sephardim, with emphasis on Turkish policy and resettlement of
the exiles in the Ottoman Empire. A third theme was the destruc­
tion of Old World Sephardic communities 450 years later during
the Second World War. Much attention was focused on the
present-day Jewish community of Turkey (an interest that was fos­
tered by the Turkish government) which, with its own diasporic
spinoff in Seattle, is the major Sephardic community to have sur­
vived the Holocaust. The multiple Sephardic diasporas located in
other countries also received attention, but the former Spanish and
Portuguese colonies in the Americas received the least.
Only a handful of quincentenary observances focused on the
Jewish experience in the New World. A series of five weekend con­
ferences on “Jews and the Encounter with the New World,” con­
ceived and directed by the present author, met this theme head on
and also provided a vantage point from which other events could
be surveyed. Held at the University ofMichigan under auspices of
the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, the project was funded by
the National Endowment for the Humanities, challenging the
popular perception that NEH avoided sponsoring controversial
quincentenary projects. Themes that were addressed during the
conferences included “Jews and Conversos in Medieval Spain,”
“Towards 1492: Spain in the Fifteenth Century,” “Jews and New