Rediscovering Lost Sephardic Liturgical Music in Early America
Historians estimate that close to three million Jews immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1924. Today the majority of American Jews are descended from the immigrants of that period and are, by heritage, Ashkanazi Jews.
Until the mid 19th century, however, most of the Jews in America were Sephardic. The first Jews arrived in North America from Recife, Brazil after fleeing the new Portuguese rulers and their Inquisition. Early American Jews were mostly Dutch and English subjects and the first American synagogues and Jewish institutions adhered almost exclusively to Sephardic customs and liturgy.
This history has been researched extensively by the Lowell Milken Archives which tracks American Jewish history through its music. The project has collected a vast amount of material which follows the maturation of American Jewry from its early years in Colonial America to its present situation as a multi-ethnic community with a rich variety of traditions, customs and styles of worship.
The Sephardic component of America's Jewish past is presented in several volumes including Jewish Voices in the New World: The Song of Prayer in Colonial and 19th-Century America. The collection reviews a wide selection of Sephardic melodies, compositions and tunes which were brought to America by Sephardic Jewish immigrants. Some of this music continues to be chanted and sung in Sheariath Yisrael and Touro synagogues in New York and Jeshuat Yisrael in Rhode Island -- early Sephardic synagogues which continue to adhere to their original Sephardic liturgy and customs.
The Sephardic music section at the Milken Archives presents information in an engaging and vibrant fashion which allows visitors to expand their understanding of the ways in which early American Jewish music influenced the immigrants' integration into American life.
The Archive was created by the Jewish philanthropist Lowell Milken with the goal of preserving the history of American Jewish Music. It features oral histories, historical memorabilia, photographs and interviews with knowledgeable historians which lend context and depth to the material contained in the Volume and other data about American Sephardic Jewry which is available at the archives