Jacky Benmayor: The last speaker in Greece of a Jewish language close to extinction

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There is currently a renewed interest in preserving the Jewish cultural heritage of Thessaloniki and Jacky Benmayor plays a key role in fulfilling this need.

Benmayor is the last speaker in Greece of Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, a language derived from Old Spanish spoken by the Jews driven out of Catholic Spain in 1492.

Why? Because, as the curator of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki told Euronews, after the Holocaust and the annihilation of more than 90% of the total Jewish population, many Jewish people struggled to pass on Ladino, even for political reasons.

Headstones in Ladino. Photo: AP Photo / Nikolas Giakoumidis.

“Many survivors didn’t want to speak the language that had made them targeted. They believed that if extermination had happened once, it could happen again. As a matter of consequences, Jewish families claimed that they were first and foremost Greeks,” Evangelos Hekimoglu told the website.

Circumstances for Benmayor, however, were different. He was able to learn the language from his father, Leon, who was deported to Auschwitz at the age of 27.

“My father was the only member of his family to survive: he was not inclined to speak about his experience in the concentration camp, but he taught me Ladino, which was the first language spoken in my family,” Benmayor said.

This was a large Jewish population in Thessaloniki prior to the Holocaust.

Now, although retired and 75 years of age, Benmayor is determined to revive the sound of his mother tongue by teaching Ladino courses at the University of Thessaloniki.

Most of the students who attend Benmayor’s lessons are not Jews, but historians and archaeologists interested in reading the city’s historical sources, such as archives and tombstones.

There are hopes that this will in turn fuel a deeper interest in Ladino at universities across the world.

Source: euronews.

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