New Works at Jewish Women’s Theatre Explore Lingering Impact of Spanish Inquisition on Today’s Sephardic Jews

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A report from Broadway World.

Although the Spanish Inquisition took place over 700 years ago, the repercussions remain and are the subject of a new salon-style play produced by Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT), opening Saturday, March 18 and running for two weeks at locations throughout the Southland.

Every primary school student learns that Columbus discovered America in 1492, in a venture financed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. What these children usually do not learn, is that the revered Spanish monarchs were escalating actions begun 100 years earlier to rid the Iberian Peninsula of the Jews that lived there. They offered them a gruesome choice– convert to Christianity, leave their homeland, or face execution.

“History tells us that about 100,000 Jews chose exile and settled in Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean countries or one of the Spanish colonies in the New World,” explains Ronda Spinak, JWT’s artistic director who helped select the stories that comprise the salon-style performances. “Sephardic Jews had no choice but to spread throughout the diaspora, where so much of their original culture, customs and even personality traits remain vibrant in their lives today.”

Forty generations later, the stories in Exile: Kisses on Both Cheeks, tell of the losses that still haunt and inhabit today’s Sephardim. They are written by a group of prestigious Sephardic authors: Moroccan-Jewish novelist Ruth Knatfo Setton; André Acimen, Egyptian-born writer and Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; Cuban-American anthropologist ad writer Ruth Behar; David Suissa, Moroccan Jew, president of the Jewish Journal and founder of OLAM magazine; Rahel Musleah, a seventh generation Jew from Calcutta, India who is a journalist and lecturer, and award-winning author Herbert Hadad, who tells about his Syrian ancestors and his devotion to both Jewish and Arab cultures.

JWT’s unique salon-style theatre uses professional actors to bring these authors’ stories to life in ten different locations in the LA area. Audiences will learn about the nomadic history of Sephardic Jews who were told they could “die as Jews or live as Muslims,” and hear songs and poetry that describe exile and yearning. They will learn why an Egyptian Jewish family decided to have a seder on the first night of Passover, even though they were being banished from Alexandria the following day. And they will laugh at stories of “intermarriage,” a term which relatives use to describe what happens when a Sephardic Jewess falls in love with an Ashkenazi man.

Exile: Kisses on Both Cheeks will premiere at 8 pm on March 18 at JWT’s home theatre, The Braid. Dates, times and locations of the salon performances are available at www.jewishwomenstheatre.org. Tickets to the plays are $40, which includes a dessert reception and Q & A, and are available on Brown Paper Tickets. For more information, call: (310) 315-1400. JWT at the Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave. #102, Santa Monica, CA 90404.

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