Professor Jane Mushabac
» Spring 2011
Writer, historian and playwright Jane Mushabac performed and discussed her Sephardic short story “Pasha: Ruminations of David Aroughetti” on April 11, 2011, in New York City College of Technology’s Atrium Amphitheater.
Dr. Mushabac (English), the College’s 2011 Scholar on Campus, specializes in American literature, New York City history and Judeo-Spanish Ottoman-American culture. She wrote “Pasha” under the pen name Shalach Manot (which refers to the gifts of food given on the holiday of Purim to friends and family). It’s about a Turkish Jew in the deteriorating Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s who talks tough like a pasha, but it’s ironic because he has neither status nor money.
Dr. Mushabac wrote the story in Judeo-Spanish – Ladino – and translated it into English for publication in the Jewish journal Midstream. Ladino is the language spoken by Spanish Jews for well over 500 years, since their 1492 expulsion from Spain and migration to the Ottoman Empire. “The language includes many Turkish and Hebrew words,” she explained. In July 2011, Sephardic Horizons, founded last year, will publish the original Ladino version of “Pasha.”
“Pasha,” she said, “is a Turkish word – it means a high-ranking official and represents a kind of machismo. My fiction based in this culture in Turkey and the U.S. provides a way of exploring gender, identity and survival. ‘Pasha’ is a Spanish story, also a Turkish story, a Jewish story, an immigrant story and an American story – but mostly it is a story about manhood.”
After a brief introduction to place the story in the context of Turkish-Jewish culture, Dr. Mushabac, who teaches literature and writing at the College, performed it rather than simply reading it. “Just as I encourage my creative writing students to get into the roles they read, I like to experience the fun of performance art,” she said.
This unusual work exemplifies Dr. Mushabac’s multidisciplinary approach. She was inspired to delve into her Sephardic culture, she said, because, “It was my life. From the songs my father taught me, from studying Spanish in high school, from my mother saying, ‘Let’s do a Sephardic cookbook,’ I was in the culture. I wanted to communicate what was distinctive.”
Dr. Mushabac’s work in print includes the critically acclaimed Melville's Humor: A Critical Study (Archon, 1981) and (with Angela Wigan) A Short and Remarkable History of New York City (Fordham University Press, 1999, Fifth printing, 2008), selected as one of the “Best of the Best” university press books in 2000 by the American Association of University Presses.
She has also published essays in periodicals and scholarly journals, including “Notes on Teaching Moby-Dick,” in the Modern Language Association’s Approaches to Teaching Melville’s Moby-Dick(1985). Her writing has been translated into German, Russian and Bulgarian. “Pasha” and “New Jersey” (a story that was published in Chautauqua in May 2010) will soon be available in French.
As a historian, Dr. Mushabac appeared in the television documentary, “Diamond at the Rock: 75 Years of Radio City Music Hall,”which premiered on NBC-TV, and also created a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)-funded podcast audio tour, “Civil War Stories,” on Walt Whitman and the Civil War. As an NEH Faculty Fellow at City Tech, she participated in the faculty development initiative “Retentions and Transfigurations: The Evolution and Social Histories of Five New York City Neighborhoods.”
As a creative artist, Dr. Mushabac has written a radio play, Mazal Bueno: A Portrait in Song of the Spanish Jews, which was broadcast on NPR and is available as a CD on Western Wind Records. Her monologue “Joya Gormezano” is performed by Tovah Feldshuh in her one-woman show Tovah: Out of Her Mind! and has beenseen by audiences in many cities here and abroad, including at Lincoln Center.
Dr. Mushabac was selected as a 2007–2008 Andrew W. Mellon Fellow for fiction at The CUNY Graduate School’s Center for the Humanities for work on her novel, The Hundred Year Old Man, an episode of which is set in Brooklyn. She also has been awarded fellowships from the American Association of University Women and Harvard University as well as three PSC-CUNY grants for her fiction and essays about Judeo-Spanish characters and culture.
Recently, her article, “Is ‘Sephardic’ a Name Brand?” was published in Conversations, the journal of The Institute of Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and has stirred discussion on the topic of Sephardic Jewry in the U.S.
A Manhattan native, Dr. Mushabac is a longtime Upper West Side resident and the co-founder and board member of the 1,000-strong Safe Haven West Side Basketball League for children. She received a BA magna cum laude with distinction in all subjects from Cornell University, an MA from Harvard and a PhD from The CUNY Graduate Center, all in English.