Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), by prominent historian of the Sephardic community, Sarah Abrevaya Stein, tells the riveting story of a large family descended from Sa’adi Besalel Ashkenazi a-Levi, a prominent resident of Salonica (now Thesaloniki, Greece) when it was part of the Ottoman Empire.
At that time, Jews, primarily Sephardim who were expelled from Spain and Portugal, constituted approximately 50 percent of the population of the great port city. They participated in every level of economic, social, and cultural life there – as dockworkers, tobacco and factory workers, teachers, shopkeepers, prosperous merchants, and high officials. Sa’adi’s family was part of the city’s cultural elite. He was an important journalist and printer, founding a newspaper that chronicled Jewish life.
Dr. Stein, the Sady and Ludwig Kahn director of the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and professor of history, who also holds the Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies at UCLA, meticulously traces the family’s physical and psychological journeys throughout the 20th century via letters, diaries, and other documents saved by various family members throughout the world. She also located and interviewed the few surviving family members.