Meet America's Internet Champion of Ladino

Rachel Amado Bortnick's Push To Rescue Dying Language

Her Language: Rachel Amado Bortnick was the subject of the documentary ‘Trees Cry for Rain.’
Courtesy of Bonnie Burt
Her Language: Rachel Amado Bortnick was the subject of the documentary ‘Trees Cry for Rain.’

By Martin Rosenberg

Published January 27, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Each year, languages slip into oblivion. Some say Ladino, or Judaismo, is on that path.

But a community of Ladino speakers thrives online, and songs enlivened with Ladino lyrics are surging in popularity in Israel and Latin America.

Academic interest in the language is flowering on campuses from Boston to Los Angeles. At the heart of this Ladino buzz is Dallas resident Rachel Amado Bortnick, born in Izmir, Turkey, in 1938.

To support the dwindling ranks of Ladino speakers, in 1999 Bortnick established an online community on Yahoo, Ladinokomnita. On the site, Ladino speakers share reminiscences about the language and Sephardic traditions, exclusively in Ladino. She calls it “an online correspondence group.”

Initially, Bortnick’s online community was made up of five of her friends. It has since grown to 1,400 members in 40 countries, from Sweden to Australia to Brazil. “That’s the magic of the Internet,” she said.

The seeds of the effort were planted 55 years ago, when Bortnick traversed the world to attend a small college in St. Charles, Mo., to study chemistry on a full scholarship. That odyssey was the result of a friendship between the college’s dean and the principal of the school Bortnick attended in Izmir. Bortnick’s story was later recounted in the 1989 documentary “Trees Cry for Rain: A Sephardic Journey,” that has been shown in film festivals around the world.

“When I came to Missouri, I never met a Sephardic person,” Bortnick recalled. “Jews I met didn’t believe I could be Jewish, because I never spoke Yiddish and never ate gefilte fish.”

Over the decades, she has sought out and forged links with Ladino speakers wherever she could find them. Then the Internet helped multiply her outreach.

Some of the rapid growth of her web group was organic, as far-flung Ladino speakers found out about the virtual community through word of mouth — and as links flew over the Internet. A large part of it was the care Bortnick has given to the site: promoting it, telling others about it and spurring the online dialogue about Ladino sayings, language usage discussion, recipes and Sephardic rituals.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.