Branching Out From Sepharad
Traces Community History and Selected Rabbinic Dynasties
After 15 years of research, Sarina Roffé has completed Branching Out From Sepharad (New York: Sephardic Heritage Project, 2017). Dedicated to her grandparents, Joe and Frieda Missry, Roffé outlines the global journey of selected rabbinic families from Iberia to Syria to the Americas.
With the Foreword written by Dr. Walter Zenner A’H, Branching Out From Sepharad outlines the history of Jews in Spain, the 1492 Expulsion, the history of Jews in Syria, and follows them to the Americas. Biographies and genealogies of rabbinic families include the Kassins and Labatons, as neighbors in Vallodlid, and Hedayas, as well as genealogies of their related families (Attia, Dabah, Mizrahi). The book is footnoted and can be used as a source for research.
Roffé traces the Kassin family from 12th Century France to Spain to Aleppo to Jerusalem to the Americas. The father-to-son rabbinic dynasty spans several centuries, ending with Rabbi Shaul J. Kassin. At the same time, she interweaves the Labaton rabbinic dynasty, showing their genealogical relationship in Spain prior to the 1492 Expulsion. She shows the castles that the Labatons and Kassins they lived in while in Vallodolid.
Roffé uses DNA testing to dispute claims of an Irish family that they are descendants of Senor Shelomo Kassin, the first known member of the Kassin family tree. She indisputably proves that the Kassins and many other families in the Syrian Jewish community today had Converso ancestors. Many Jews became Conversos, converting to Catholicism, in order to remain in Spain after 1492, when Jews were expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Many Spanish families who arrived in Aleppo, had been Conversos in order to dissolve their businesses in Spain before leaving. They kept their Judaism secret and returned to open Judaism when they left.
Branching Out From Sepharad has a complete biography of Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin A’H, Chief Rabbi of the Brooklyn community for more than half a century, and includes many documents outlining his life work and accomplishments. Kassin’s life is divided into three areas – his early time in Jerusalem, his rabbinic accomplishments, and his family life. Genealogies are also provided along with primary source documents.
The book includes over 100 photos and as many documents and letters. In addition, chapters include research on the term Sephardic Jew, Genealogy in the Torah, and Sephardic Naming Practices. In the chapter on Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish Community, Roffé writes the 100-year history of the Brooklyn community, discussing the sociological impact of careers, philanthropy, traditions, and educational beliefs as they changed over a century.
According to Rabbi Sam Kassin, Dean of Shehebar Sephardic Center, “Written with journalistic ﬂare, Sarina Roffé conducted unbiased research and provides a historical overview of Sephardic Jews from Spain to Aleppo to the Americas. She traces the Kassin family back to 13th Century Iberia and provides historical context, genealogical information, and links the family with other rabbinic families (Labaton, Hedaya, and Attia) over many centuries. The families have now spread all over the world – branching out – into a global community. This work shows insight into the personal side of rabbinic families and humanizes them. Sarina Roffé has provided Sephardic Jewish communities, and the thousands of family descendants, with the foundation for their own family history.”
“Few communities may trace their origins more than two millenniums back,” said Liz Hamui Sutton, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. “Tradition and transformation of individuals and sociocultural conditions interact in the continuities and discontinuities of Syrian Jews descendant’s history all over the world. Sarina Roffe´s genealogical ﬁndings are a journey to the reconstruction of family ties and cultural ideals that travel from one milieu to another enriching the collective experience and rethinking future horizons for the new generations. The rabbinical heritage of Kassin, Hedaya and Labaton families is a symbol of the actual beliefs and values of the group, where concepts like honor, philanthropy, Torah scholars, fortune and family are tight to the ethics that understructure community life. Genealogies presented in this book are axes of kinship and cultural transmission, weaved in patrilineal networks to reafﬁrm the struggles of notable men and woman to maintain their legacy.”
A journalist, Roffé has published hundreds of articles in journals, newspapers and magazines. Her interest in her own family history moved her into the field of genealogy. To date, she has researched and written more than a dozen genealogies for Sephardic families.
She is president of the Sephardic Heritage Project (www.sephardicheritageproject.org), a nonprofit organization identifying Sephardic sources for use in genealogical research. The project has identified and produced numerous databases based on rabbinical records, including cemetery, marriage and brit milah records. The board of directors includes scholars in the field of genealogy who represent many countries.
Passionate about Sephardic history and the assimilation and acculturation of Jews in America, the Ottoman Empire, and other related subjects, Roffé is an internationally recognized expert in the history of Syrian Jews in America. A Distinguished Toastmaster, Roffé speaks regularly at international historical society and genealogical conferences all over the world. She has spoken at Hebrew University, Bar Ilan University, University of Lisbon, the Center for Jewish History and has been invited twice by the Syrian communities in Mexico City to lecture there. She chairs many committees and sits on several nonprofit boards, including the Board of Governors of JewishGen and the Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative.
Roffé’s first cookbook, Backyard Kitchen: Mediterranean Salads (NY: Sephardic Heritage Project, 2016) is a tribute to her grandmother, Esterina Cohen Salem, the first caterer in the Syrian Jewish community. Salem Caterers had its kitchen in the backyard garage of their Bensonhurst home.
She holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Maryland in College Park and an MA in Jewish Studies from Touro College. Ms. Roffé is a graduate of the Academy of Women Achievers, and the City of New York’s Leadership Institute.
Born to Syrian Jewish parents, and raised in the heart of Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community, Sarina is married to David Roffé, and has three children and several grandchildren.