Doyen of Sephardic culture: Who is Karen Gerson Şarhon?

Karen Gerson Şarhon is an internationally renowned figure in the field of Sephardic culture. Şarhon, who has undertaken many important projects as the general coordinator of the Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Culture Research Center, is also the editor of the world's only monthly, entirely Ladino newspaper, El Amaneser.

By William James Published on 2 Nisan 2024 : 14:07.
Doyen of Sephardic culture: Who is Karen Gerson Şarhon?

She is also a Jewish academic and the founder of Turkey's first Sephardic music group.

She is one of the founders and soloists of the band Los Pasharos Sefaradis, which is considered the most authentic representatives of Turkish-Sephardic music. Her efforts to introduce and record Sephardic culture, with its language, proverbs, sayings, songs, gastronomy, and pass it on to future generations are very valuable...

By the way, if you haven't visited yet, is the only shopping site in the world that has Ladino among its language options, again thanks to Şarhon. It is very enjoyable to see all the directions a site can contain in Ladino - such as “Mete al Sesto” (Add to Cart)…

Gerson was born on 25 May 1958 in Istanbul, Turkey to Suzi (Sultana) and Beni (Baruh) Gerson, who were Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors came to the Ottoman Empire after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Although her parents spoke Ladino at home, they had studied in the French schools of Istanbul and instead chose to speak to her in French, which caused her to initially not be fluent in her ancestral language. She first started learning Turkish in elementary school and continued her French studies through a private tutor following the third grade. The English language entered her life when she began going to the English High School for Girls in her hometown. Studying there for five years (including two preparatory years learning English), she then went to Robert College and in 1976 entered Boğaziçi University, majoring in English Philology and Linguistics.

He has a BA in English Language and Literature from Boğaziçi University, one of the most important universities in Turkey, a Master's degree in Social Psychology, and a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Reading University (England). She wrote both her Master's theses on the Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) language. She worked as a lecturer at Boğaziçi University School of Foreign Languages between 1984 and 2003; At the end of 2003, she founded the Sephardic Culture Research Center, which aims to preserve, archive and document Sephardic culture, of which she is currently the general coordinator.

Karen Şarhon, who is also the editor of El Amaneser, the world's only monthly, entirely Judeo-Spanish newspaper, is also one of the founders, soloists and presenters of the band Los Pasharos Sefaradis, which is considered the most authentic representatives of Turkish-Sephardic music. The group has 8 albums released.

Şarhon describes the establishment of Los Pasharos Sefaradis as follows:

We founded Los Pasharos Sefaradis, Turkey's first Sephardic music group, in 1978, together with my friends of 35 years, İzzet Bana, Yavuz Hubeş and Selim Hubeş. Our aim is to conduct research on Judeo-Spanish folk songs and to revitalize the Turkish-Sephardic culture with new compositions and to keep this culture alive.

Today, the number of songs in our archive exceeds 400, with the songs we have collected from those who know them for 35 years. Most of the people from whom we learned these songs are no longer with us today. We take care to sing this music that we heard from our grandmothers, just like our grandmothers. We gave more than 300 concerts in Turkey and abroad with the band Los Pasharos Sefaradis.

We have released 6 albums consisting of Judeo-Spanish folk songs. Since 2001, we realized that there was a lack of publications about religious music performed in synagogues and we conducted a study on this subject.