Madrid-based contemporary Sephardic music band Ofir is set to launch Ofir, the Journey: From Sepharad to Monastir. Their new project is dedicated to bringing updated Sephardic music through the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, in a similar travel as the one the Sephardic Jews made when they were expelled from Spain. The Sephardim traveled to the eastern tip of Europe: Bitola, in Macedonia, the historic city of Monastir, where one of the most important Sephardic communities settled in exile from Sepharad. They kept the Ladino language and their music alive until the extermination in 1943.
Along the route, Ofir will spread the message of tolerance, respect and coexistence of the mythical Spain of the Three Cultures, bringing again the Ladino language and Sephardic music to the streets of historic Monastir.
Up to now, the project has received the support of Centro Sefarad-Israel (Spanish public institution dedicated to Jewish culture), the Embassy of Macedonia in Madrid and the philanthropic institution Sephardic Stories.
From the heart of Sepharad, as the Spanish Jews did in the late fifteenth century, the band Ofir will travel to the eastern tip of Europe, carrying their legacy of popular music and the language used by Jews who were born and raised in the Iberian Peninsula, a legacy that we now know and enjoy thanks to the love of the exiles for their own roots, which kept it alive since then.
Ofir’s trip will not be forced or sad. It will carry a message of beauty and tolerance, a symbol of the best spirit of that mythical Spain of the Three Cultures, to one of the places where that legacy, lost in Spain, was kept alive for centuries afterwards. They’ll carry up to date Sephardic music, as it might have sounded now performed by a group of musicians from Bitola, if those fateful events of 1943 had not taken place. The Judeo-Spanish language will be again on the streets of the historic Monastir.
This trip will take place with 6 or 7 stops on the way there and the same on the way back. The band will play in all those places where they will spend the night. The specific schedule will depend on whether the booking of the group arises in other areas near the road that are of interest for symbolic reasons or where there is a local interest about the project.
Monastir (renamed Bitola after World War I)
Currently, Bitola is an important administrative, cultural, educational and commercial city. And, for centuries, it was the land of adoption of a community of Sephardic Jews, who kept alive the language and customs of their Spanish ancestors.
These Sephardic people always called their city Monastir, although it changed its name to Bitola after the First World War. The heirs of those families, who were expelled from Spain in the late 15th century, still maintained their language, ladino or Judeo-Spanish, in their daily life.
The 11th of March of 1943 was the beginning of the end of the Sephardic Jewish community of Monastir, the biggest in Macedonia and one of the most prosperous in Europe. That Thursday, Monastir’s 3,276 Jews from Monastir were deported to Treblinka. This was the outcome of several extreme measures previously adopted by the Bulgarian authorities that controlled the area, in alliance with the Nazi government.
On the 4th of October of 1941, Jews were required to transfer, within three months, the ownership of any business to someone not Jewish. In addition, later that year, all Jews were forced to live in the western suburbs, which became the ghetto, where the Jewish population became much easier to control.
In July of the following year, the pro-Nazi Bulgarian government established a new tax for the Jews: they had to pay 20% of the value of their belongings. The properties of those who could not pay were sold at auction. “Life changed and there were no more
gatherings, parties, weddings or joy” is the description by Zamila Kolonomos about the time of the Bulgarian occupation for the Jews.
On the morning of the 11th of March of 1943 the Bulgarian government at the time agreed to the deportation of Jews who were not Bulgarian citizens. At night, the soldiers surrounded the city to avoid any possible escape. Between 5 and 6 in the morning, they knocked on all the doors of Jewish houses, giving them one hour to leave their home. They were all led to the train station, from where they were sent to Skopje to gather with other Jews of Macedonia.
After that night, Ladino was not heard any more in the streets of Monastir. Subsequently, after several days in extreme conditions of overcrowding and violence in Monopol detention center in Skopje, the survivors were sent by train to the Treblinka extermination camp.
Ofir presents the Sephardic repertoire, an immemorial legacy of Spanish culture, in an absolutely unprecedented, advanced and stunning way.
Ofir is composed by the nucleus of October Equus, an avant-jazz-rock cult band in Europe, featuring guitarist and composer Ángel Ontalva, accompanied by Amanda Pazos Cosse on electric bass, Víctor Rodríguez on keyboards and Fran Mangas on sax, with half Gypsy vocalist Josefina Gomez, who brings flamenco and a solid vocal technique to the mix, and Toni Mangas, the former drummer of “Nuevo flamenco” band El Bicho.
• www.ofirelviaje.com (English, Spanish and Macedonian languages)
• www.sponsume.com/project/ofir-journey-sepharadmonastir, Crowdfunding website to collect the donations