Laura Papo “Bohoreta”. The Orthodox Anti-dogmatism of a Sephardic Feminist.

Contribute by: dr. Benedetto Ligorio Ph.D., Post-Doc Modern History, dep. of Philosophy in Villa Mirafiori, Sapienza University of Rome.

Member of: AIESEE Association Internationale d’Études du Sud-Est Européen.

Preserved in the Historical Archives of Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the writings of Laura Papo Bohereta constitute an important cultural heritage of late modern feminism, which saw in Ashkenazi and Sephardi European women the pioneers of a vast movement of emancipation and demand for the gender identity in the wake of socialist demands for workers’ rights. Among the many feminists of Jewish origin, the socialist revolutionary Fajga Chaimovna Rojblat, the social-democratic Aleksadra Domontoviča (known as Aleksandra Michaelova Kollantaj), the Spartacist Rosa Luxemburg, the social-democratic Anna Il’inčina Ul’Janova (also known as Anna Elizarova) and the socialist Anna Moiseevna Rozenštejn (mother of Italian socialism, known as Anna Kuliscioff).

Laura Papo, born in Sarajevo with the name of Luna Levi on March 15, 1891, did not belong to what is usually considered the great Jewish economic elite, but was part of a model of petty bourgeoisie with a good level of education, in the best European Jewish tradition . Her father, Juda Levi was in fact a Bosnian merchant, who moved to Istanbul in the early 1900s, where a Sephardi community with a fully European perspective flourished. Here Luna changed her name to a more European Laura and attended the school of the Alliance Israélite Française. On her return to Sarajevo, enriched by the cultural contribution of the French formation of a secular and positivistic spirit, she began a meticulous work of preserving the Sephardic intangible cultural heritage and the Balkan Ladin folklore, to which she associated a patient translation of some European masterpieces. With her, French literature experienced a new spring in Bosnia thanks to her translations of Jules Verne and Mme Emile de Girardin. She was a writer and playwright of rare refinement and prolificacy (in the Thirties Laura Papo produced 7 plays). Among her notes she collected folk tales and proverbs in Ladin, the ancient language of the Spanish, Portuguese and southern Italian Jews, who migrated to the Balkans following persecutions in the sixteenth century.

Together with her literary activity she was a great activist in support of women’s right to work and the emancipation from social conventions. The maturation of a political conscience, refined in the formation strongly influenced by French culture, by Pan-Slavism combined with marked socialist elements, as well as full of universalistic ideals, becomes evident with an article published in German in the “Bosnische Post” in 1916 entitled “Die Südslavische Frau in die Politik ”(South Slavic women in politics). In the same newspaper Laura published an article entitled “Die Spanolische Frau”. He returned to writing in 1924 with an article for the magazine “Jevrejski život” in response to a conservative short story by writer Avram Buki who argued that education and the presence of women in schools had a negative impact on personality development. of young people. Through a literary artifice, Buki feared that women eager to broaden their horizons and get educated would no longer show any interest in domestic life. In other words, education removed them from the role of housewives.

At the tip of a sharp pen Laura did not miss the opportunity to reaffirm the dignity of women and at the same time to reclaim the role of gender identity on confessional patriarchal prerogatives and published an article entitled “Madres” signing it with the pseudonym Bohoreta (taking up one of the characters books created by Buki). The literary controversy was impregnated with high and political values ​​and thus assumed important features of social demand. Papo demolished Buki’s conservative positions with regard to women one after the other and at the same time combined gender identity with ethnic identity, cleverly removing the instrument of traditional cultural claim from Buki.

Laura in fact decided to use Ladin, the Spanish Judeo language, in the Balkan variant. She was in fact firmly convinced that women had to be educated, that is, they had to use modernity to conquer greater social responsibilities. In 1931, convinced by a well-known Sephardic writer and intellectual from Sarajevo, Vito Kajon, head of the Society “la Benevolencia”, began to write an essay entitled “La mužer sefardi de Bosna” Bohoreta in his book described in detail customs, the fashion, traditional cuisine, the virtues and character peculiarities, sometimes angular, of Sephardi women, underlining the traditional values ​​that should be preserved and handed over to the younger generations. At the same time you have given support and encouraged women to turn modernity to their advantage by revolutionizing the way of conceiving the family ego and pushing them to a leading role in civil society. In her works, the social and pedagogical goal is to educate women through examples of common situations. By combining courage and strength, to satisfy family needs and at the same time acquire leading roles, escaping the yoke of patriarchal traditionalism. Laura Papo’s goal was to demonstrate that every woman can be a mother and at the same time work without any remorse, being a mother and responsible person in social life meant for the Sephardic writer to fully fulfill the peculiar role of cultural pluralism typical of Sephardicism, always characterized by a strong element of openness to the surrounding society and at the same time pride for its own cultural specificity.

Laura Papo experienced all the complexity and tragedy of the first half of the twentieth century: after the Great War, she faced the adversities of life alone, her husband Daniel came to a psychiatric hospital, supported her two young children Leon and Kokija in the midst of Great Crisis and helped the sisters in their economic activities. The Second World War and the persecution of the Jews by the Ustaša and the Nazi-Fascists had tragic consequences for her. Her two children died at the hands of Ustaša allies of the fascists and the Nazis while they were deported to the Jasenovac concentration camp. Laura did not survive the trauma, she passed away in 1942.

In her articles and in her literary works, she encouraged women to find their own way in the arts, to study, read, write and not give up on developing their own personality. The rights of women and their right to work for Laura Papo should not depend on the starting social and cultural background. Bohereta hoped that women should have to achieve economic self-sufficiency (in this sense by capitalizing and universalizing their personal experience) and finally nurturing within themselves a strong desire for permanent intellectual growth.


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