In a move that continues to cement the historic relationship between Spain and the Iberian Jews, a member of the Seattle Sephardic community received a public service award from the University of Washington for his commitment to preserving Ladino culture and heritage.
On Friday, June 14, the 2013 Luis Fernando Esteban Public Service Award was presented to Seattle native Al Maimon, a descendant of both the Turkish and Rhodes Jewish communities, at a graduation celebration for 80-plus graduates of the University of Washington’s Spanish and Portuguese Studies department at the Center for Urban Horticulture.
Officials presented Maimon with letters of commendation from statewide and international sources, after which Maimon gave the graduation address using a mixture of Spanish, Ladino and English.
Recalling all the solemnity of official proclamations — but laced with some informal Northwest humor — department chair Anthony Geist was joined on the dais by Luis Fernando Esteban, honorary consul of Spain in Seattle and the program’s namesake; Washington State Representative Marcie Maxwell (D-41) representing Gov. Jay Inslee; Dr. Ricardo Sanchez from Lt. Gov. Brad Owen’s office; and Rabbi Simon Benzaquen, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Sephardic Bikur Holim, bearing congratulations from the rabbi of the Israeli Knesset, Alex Hochman. A letter of commendation from Miguel de Lucas Gonzales, director of the Spanish government agency Casa Sefarad in Madrid, also attended.
“One person can make a difference,” Maimon said, lauding Esteban’s role in “so many ambitious and substantial educational, cultural and industrial projects here and in Spain.”
The award is presented in the name of Esteban for contributions to the region, in particular to its Hispanic community and the Spanish and Portuguese Studies department. In 2008 Esteban received the Washingtonian of the Year from Lt. Gov. Owen for his work on over 200 significant educational, cultural and commercial projects involving Spain and the state, according to the lieutenant governor’s office.
Maimon taught his audience a few phrases in Ladino, the amalgam of medieval Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and other languages, to show how it differs from modern-day Spanish.
Maimon, who retired from Boeing in 1999, is a longtime community volunteer: He is currently board president of the Samis Foundation, sits on the UW’s Sephardic Studies committee, and volunteers in his congregation, Sephardic Bikur Holim. He also sits on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and noted that his terms on the UW’s Stroum Jewish Studies Program advisory board and the Seattle Association for the Jewish Disabled Foundation are expiring. He is also transitioning from interim director of the Va’ad HaRabanim of Greater Seattle.
“I have a modest, informal ‘distribution list’ for matters of Sephardic/ Ladino interest and I do poke my nose in a lot of different places…to make connections across organizations and/or community divides,” Maimon said.
He has collaborated with the Spanish and Turkish consuls and communities, the UW’s library archives, and its Turkish, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese and music departments.
Through his award, Maimon hopes “to help achieve even greater accomplishments of academic scholarship and communal progress in understanding and realizing the dignity and true strength of diversity” in Seattle and around the world, he said.
Geist, of the Spanish and Portuguese Studies department, plans to further the department’s connection with Sephardic communities, specifically Seattle’s, one of the largest in the U.S.
“It’s been my dream for years to establish links with the Seattle Sephardic community,” Geist said. “We have many historical, linguistic and cultural points of intersection that go back to the Middle Ages and the period of convivencia [coexistence] when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in peace for many centuries.”