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Rabbi turns 500-year-old love songs into rap

Sam Leeds
Rabbi Simon Benzaquen in the library at Bikur Holim, a congregation in Seattle's Seward Park neighborhood.

This story originally aired on March 30, 2019

Ladino is the language of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition.

Now, 500 years later, it’s spoken in more than 30 countries – a language of the Diaspora. But, Ladino is mostly spoken by elders in the Sephardic community and it’s in danger of going extinct.  

One man is determined to save Ladino. His name is Rabbi Simon Benzaquen.

Born in Spanish Morocco, Benzaquen crossed an ocean and a continent to end up in Seattle, as the rabbi for Seward Park’s Bikur Holim.

He’s in his 70s and retired now. But he’s still an emeritus rabbi, and he hasn’t really stopped working.

These days he’s focused reviving Ladino and keeping the history of the people who speak it from being lost.

His plan to accomplish this involves 500-year-old love songs, deciphering a 15th century code and teaming up with two musicians from Northern Mexico, Alex Hernandez and Netzach Mendoza.