by Reneta Sibel Yolak
Place: Israel, a very large concert hall in Jerusalem. The hall is packed. The date: 31 December 2008. First prize of Festiladino musical composition: Reneta Sibel Yolak. Lyrics “Primer Amor” – First Love – by Haim Vitali Sadacca. Applause. And “Primer Amor” is performed one more time.
My sister and I have been singing at the “Nes” choir directed by Izzet Bana. We learn songs in Hebrew, Spanish, and Ladino. When Izzet Bana told me about this competition, Festiladino, I decided to participate. I entered with three melodies. Two of the melodies were lively and animated, while “Primer Amor” was more romantic and alegro. Two of the songs were to words by Haim Vitali Sadacca, and one had my own lyrics. When I found out I was among the 10 finalists, I was excited and hopeful.
I was in Israel a week before Festiladino. Just as I was to get my tickets for the concert, I got the news of the death of my uncle Dr. Robert Mizrahi Tokatli and came back to Istanbul on the first available plane.
It was the week of Hanuka. Hanuka had always been a time for singing and dancing for me, but this Hanuka was a time for crying. I received the Festiladino results by e-mail. For me it was a source of great pride. I competed in the name of Turkey, and I won first price from among 60 songs from many countries. I had been invited to many Hanuka parties, but I had to return to Istanbul without attending any of them. My uncle Dr. Robert, who had been like a second father to me, had died. Having graduated from Robert College and the Istanbul University Faculty of Medicine, he had become an angel of healing and help for everyone. He never charged money for his services, so to make a living, he had to go into business. Whenever I was sick, he advised me by phone, or I went to his home for his diagnosis. Once, when I had pains, one doctor had told me I had appendicitis and needed to be operated on immediately; another said I had a hernia, but when my uncle examined me, he said I had an injured muscle from my sports activities, and that I need not to worry. I was so happy! Whenever I had a cold or the flu, he used to come with an armful of fruit, or with medicines, and made me well. All his friends, the entire family, all the neighbors, had found healing from this angel of goodness. “This is my niece”, he used to say with great pride as he introduced me to everyone. May he rest in the light of peace in paradise. That’s why, when I got the news of the first prize in Festiladino, I felt a stifled joy.
When I was a little girl, we always spoke Ladino at home. My aunt and my mother still speak together in Ladino. At college, my sister and I spoke Spanish (Ladino) together and I felt very special because no one else understood us.
It is said that when a baby is born, God sends him angels of goodness. I had learned about Festiladino from Izzet Bana. My sister and the crystal-voiced Izi Eli recorded the CDs to send to the competition. Izzet Bana himself is a musical genius and an internationally recognized talent.
Haim Vitali Sadacca is a world-renowned Ladino poet. When I met him I loved him. In his manner, his dress, and his speech, he was a true Istanbul gentleman. In addition, he is a very sentimental and romantic person. This you can see from his poem “First Love.”
Karen Gerson Sharhon eagerly answered my questions about a few Ladino words. My father is always proud of me, my mother and sister always support me. These are some of my angels of goodness. May I always have them, and more of them. I thank God for the blessing he bestowed upon me with this award.
When I was a teacher at the synagogues of Sisli (Shishli) and Ortaköy, I used to sing in the choir. I am a member of the Chorus of Bosphorus University. My sister, Izi Eli, and I sang the songs in the CD for the Festiladino. I thank my cousins, uncle and aunt, who listened to the songs and gave me their support. I also thank all those who congratulated me from all over the world via email, fax, or telephone. Israel TV filmed and aired the entire Festiladino program. I was approached by many newspapers and magazines for interviews. Representing my country and being successful is a very good feeling.
On this occasion, I wish everyone a good year, with peace, love, happiness, health, and the sprouting of all the seeds of goodness in our country and the world.
Festiladino 2008, by by Reneta Sibel Yolak, initially appeared in Shalom, 21 January, 2009. It was adapted and translated by Rachel Amado Bortnick. Used with permission.