La America - לה אמיריקה
About this newspaper
La Amérika (America), "A National, Literary, Political and Commercial Weekly ", first appeared on the 11th of November 1910. Its founder was Moshe Gadol (1874-1971) – a Sephardic businessman who had been born in the Bulgarian town of Ruse (Rustchuk) and educated in AIU (Alliance Israélite Universelle) institutions in his native land. While in Bulgaria, Gadol, who was fluent in eleven languages, led business activities and was active in the local Zionist movement. He came to New York to visit his mother who had immigrated to the US in May 1910. Witnessing the wretched living conditions of his fellow Sephardic compatriots and seeing their isolation from the local American populace as well as from the rest of the American Jewish communal sphere, he decided to remain in the city for good.
After immigrating to New York, Gadol founded the weekly La águila (the eagle) of which only three issues (now lost) were published. Shortly after this initial failure Gadol started publishing La Amérika. Throughout the magazine's 15 years of existence it released 706 issues – all of which have been preserved. Initially each issue consisted of four pages only but as of July 1st, 1913 the average issue consisted of between six and eight pages. As of 1910 circulation was quite small. Only some 70 copies per issue were circulated. However by 1912 the circulation had grown to over 500 copies per issue and in 1915 it soared to about 1,000. In keeping with common consumption practice in the Sephardic diaspora at that time, each copy was read by at least 5 people. On the basis of this estimation, in 1915 La Amérika was read by a substantial number of the Sephardim of New York.
The majority of the essays in the weekly were dedicated to the immigrants' daily life, their problems, their achievements and their encounters with the surrounding society. Other essays discussed the social and political situation in the immigrants' native countries –in Anatolia and the Balkans- as well as with Jewish communities in other countries. Zionism and the issue of Palestine were also dealt with. In addition, La Amérika provided a platform for commentaries on art, poetry, theater and literature. In keeping with the traditions of Ladino Journalism, it also published serialized literary oeuvres.
The magazine's main goal was to provide a homely ambiance and a voice to the Sephardim in the US and to enhance and facilitate their positive portrayal and ethnic pride. This entailed fighting for their social and political aspirations, alleviating immigration laws, expanding the scope of employment, improving the standard of living and more. La Amérika offered the Sephardic immigrants consultation and aid services relating to the process of naturalization in their new country and published many 'self-help' articles targeting the average immigrant. Thus, for example, in 1911 Gadol published a translation of the American Immigration Laws into Ladino, in order to help the immigrants bring their families too to the US. The magazine also provided practical information on mundane matters such as the locations of hospitals, drugstores and public bath houses as well as on fares of various means of transportation.
Alongside the writing of commentaries and essays, Gadol and his staff were themselves accessible to the public for consultation on a variety of concerns. In the course of the magazine's first two years of existence, its office became a sort of "hot line" for the Sephardic community. In addition, by the end of 1911, Gadol volunteered to act as the first secretary of "The Oriental Bureau" of HIAS – the "Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society". It was due to the efforts of Gadol and others that the relatively established HIAS agency, agreed to open an office specifically designated to help the Sephardic immigrants.
The burden on Gadol's shoulders turn out to be too heavy for him to bear and eventually he was compelled to leave his position at HIAS. Moshe Gadol thought that the Sephardic public should unite in order to further its interests. For this purpose he strived to establish one centralized organization that would draw together all of the US Sephardic Jews, including the old and wealthy "Shearith Israel Congregation". Gadol promoted the age-old notion of Sephardic ethnic pride as a means to preserve communal unity in the present. On one occasion he noted: "we should show the Portuguese Jews and the Ashkenazi ones that we, the Sephardim, are descendants of the great Spanish Jews and are capable of a unified activity". His aspiration to coalesce all the Sephardim did not materialize, but rather embroiled him in conflicts with various wheeler-dealers and caused a great deal of frustration.
In addition, the weekly La Amérika aspired to bring the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities closer together. Therefore, in its first years of circulation the magazine contained a section that posted words in English Ladino and Yiddish side by side, mainly for the benefit of the Sephardic immigrants. In order to ease the Sephardic immigrants' integration within the American society, Gadol published glittering biographies of important personalities in American history. The magazine also published essays in Yiddish since Gadol held the opinion that the Sephardim ought to know this language in order to improve their relations with the Yiddish speakers that constituted the majority of the American Jewry.
La Amérika took stands on a variety of social issues. Thus, for example in January 1914 and on other occasions, Gadol campaigned against card games and gambling activities that took place in coffee shops and restaurants owned by immigrants from the Balkans. A considerable number of Sephardim gambled in these places and lost all their money. In order to alert its readers of scams, the magazine also alerted its readers of swindling events that stung Sephardim. It criticized the hostility between the Sephardim and the Italian immigrants that resided nearby, whose gangs employed violence against the Sephardim, including firebombing. Another topic that Gadol advocated in his magazine – both in his own pieces and in the contributions of other, specifically female writers – was women's rights. In fact he even signed one of his many commentaries with the epithet "the suffragist" (in the Ladino feminine from).
The economic slow-down following World War I, the decline in Sephardic-Jews immigration (up to its near cessation in 1924) as well as the tough competition with other Sephardic newspapers made it difficult for Gadol to sustain his magazine. He made every effort to continue his life endeavor but on July 3rd, 1925 "La Amérika" ceased to appear.
Gadol's journalistic aspirations did not end after he closed La Amérika. In 1939 he was reported to have planned publishing another periodical but this plan never materialized. Two years later, at the age of 67, this important journalist and foreperson that had been active during times of distress for the Sephardic immigration to the USA, passed away.
Aviva Ben-Ur summed up his broad activity with the following words: Gadol produced the first enduring Judeo-Spanish newspaper in the United States and in the Western Hemisphere, an irreplaceable source for the immigrant experience of Sephardic Oriental Jews.
Dr. Tamir Karkason
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