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An Interview with Sarah Aroeste

Posted by Kar-Ben Team on 3/13/2020
Not only is Sarah Aroeste the author of Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom, Kar-Ben's newest board book about Shabbat in Ladino culture, she is also a prolific Ladino singer! We sat down with Sarah and asked her some questions about her Sephardic roots, the music she writes, her inspiration and vision for Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom.

Your family roots come from Sephardic roots, how has that influenced your creative works?
Entirely! As a musician and writer specializing in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), everything I write is inspired by my Sephardic roots. Not only by virtue of the Ladino language I use, but also by the Sephardic imagery I draw upon from my relatives and the stories they’e passed down to me that I incorporate into my songs. When my ancestors were kicked out of Spain, they went East towards the Balkans, towards the Ottoman Empire where they were welcomed. My grandfather was born in what is now Macedonia, and I’m so lucky that I got to know him throughout my childhood to witness the pride he had in his Sephardic heritage. At this point I can’t separate my ancestry from my creative output!

Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book?
I first wrote a song, Buen Shabat, which appears on my 2017 bilingual holiday album, Together/Endjuntos, and then I realized it would work well as a board book! The Sephardic experience (especially Ladino) is little known, and so I wanted to use a universal theme like Shabbat to give families a window in. I included easy words in Ladino to be a fun introduction for families.

Where your inspiration for the song came from? What parts of Ladino culture did you pull from to create the song?
For the original song, I wanted it to be an upbeat danceable melody so that families could feel the energy and fun of Shabbat. We set it to a merengue beat to achieve that- but also to show commonalities between Latino and Jewish cultures. Music, food, family, and peace - the main themes of the song- are all shared values!

What is it like to be a Ladino singer? How it is different from the mainstream songs and art seen today?
My theory is that good music is good music, no matter the language. But the fact that I Infuse my songs with so much Sephardic imagery and historical memory - going back hundreds of years—  hopefully gives them an extra layer of meaning and joy.
 
What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
Ladino! Ladino is such a beautiful, important part of Jewish culture. Most Jewish families in America tend to think of Hebrew or Yiddish when talking about Jewish languages. I’ve found in the nearly 20 years of doing this work that too few have even heard of Ladino! I want families to be excited to learn something new when they open this book.

Could you speak a little more on the importance of Ladino culture as part of the Jewish Culture?
I like to say that Sephardic culture is Jewish culture. You can’t separate the two. We are not some exotic other; rather, we are all part of the same whole that makes up Jewish culture. And you can’t truly understand Jewish culture without knowing something about Sephardic life! Before the Holocaust, the most major Jewish event that changed the demography of the Jewish people was the Spanish Inquisition. We don’t talk about it anymore, but it still has major implications and impact for hundreds of thousands of Sephardim around the globe. Up until WWII Ladino was the dominant Jewish language spoken throughout the Mediterranean basin! We might be small in numbers now, but we’re great in cultural importance…

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
I hope kids and parents will know that Jewish life is not just about Hebrew or Yiddish, or matzoh balls and hava nagila (although I love all of those things!) There are so many expressions of Jewish culture and history out there, of which Ladino is a big - and fun - part. Obviously in a board book you can only accomplish so much, but I just hope it serves as an engaging entry-point and introduction to a part of Jewish life that some might be unfamiliar with. 

What are some aspects of Ladino culture that you wish to highlight, besides the language?
In the book we included some Sephardic imagery such as hamsas hanging on the wall, a Turkish lamp, a Turkish tea set, henna-inspired patterns on the curtains, and fish on the Shabbat table, for examples. I hope that all of these images pique interest in families to learn more. These are just a small taste- there is so much more out there to explore!

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