cover image Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century

Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century

Sarah Abrevaya Stein. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-18542-8

UCLA professor Stein (Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce) delivers a fascinating history of the Levy family, Sephardic Jews with roots in the Ottoman city of Salonika (now Thessaloniki, Greece). Beginning with patriarch Sa’adi Besalel Ashkenazi a-Levi, a publisher who was excommunicated in 1874 for denouncing Salonika’s religious elite, and his 14 children, Stein draws from the Levys’ voluminous correspondence and records to trace four generations of family history across five continents. Along the way, she documents the pressures the Levys and other publishers and editors felt from Ottoman Empire censors and the influence of Alliance Israélite Universelle schools on Jewish families across the Levant, among other intriguing historical tidbits. A 1917 fire devastated Salonika’s Jewish quarter and dispersed many of Sa’adi’s descendants across Central and Western Europe, where “entire branches of the family tree” were destroyed in the Holocaust. Sa’adi’s great-grandson Vital, however, became a Nazi collaborator and “the only Jew tried in Europe as a war criminal.” Stein’s short chapters allow readers to get to know only a few members of the Levy family well, but her spirited account, which is greatly enhanced by its many photos, makes a fine contribution to the field of modern Jewish studies. (Nov.)