A gifted student, teacher, and comedienne, Leni LaMarche has shared her love of Sephardic culture with Seattle’s Sephardic community for over sixty years. Born in Seattle to immigrants from the island of Rhodes, Greece, Leni has lived most of her life in Seattle. She has one daughter from a first marriage, and after several challenging years as a single mother during the early 1940s, Leni remarried and had three sons. While raising her family, Leni engaged in a variety of paid and volunteer work. Leni also writes a column entitled Bavajadas de Benadam [people’s foolish little words] for her synagogue’s newsletter. Leni is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Sephardic history, language, and customs, and laces her wisdom and stories with delightful humor.
“Well, my name was Luna, after my grandma Luna, but it was anglicized to Lenore when I started school. So I asked the rabbi, ‘Can you give me a Hebrew name because how can you get a Hebrew name with a Spanish name, Luna.’ The rabbi gave me Levana, which is the ‘light.’ So my name is Bavajadas De Benadam because I write an article for the synagogue, and Levana, Leni, and Luna. My husband only called me Bunny. I had a lot of names.”
“As a child, I asked my grandfather, who was a very holy, very godly man, about stepping on an ant. I remember him telling me, ‘No hija, no mates las ermigas porke tienen alma.’ And that meant, do not step on those ants because they have a soul. So I’d see one and push it over here and I wouldn’t step on it. And then I’d go to Hebrew school, and I’d be eating bread my mother gave me, and when I didn’t want to eat any more I didn’t want to throw the bread away because ‘La pan is very holy.’ The bread is very holy. So I’d see a fence, and I’d put in on there and go, ‘Dear God, this bread is for the birds.’ And I’m off the hook.”
“My mother was very positive. Everybody liked her. I picked up the good things from her and the things I didn’t like, like the ojo, the evil eye, I didn’t believe in. In my mother’s last years she lived at the Kline Galland Home. Living there, she learned her English. Boy did she ever improve, because there were not really not too many Sephardics to talk with. We gave her a 100th birthday there. ‘Me? No, no, no,’ she said. ‘I’m not 100.’ She told us she was four years younger than she was. I said, ‘You know, my mother comio, comio, she ate four years. I feel bad that my mother took so many years away from her life.’ And her friend said, ‘Well, you know, a lot of people did that when they emigrated because they didn’t want to pay full fare.’ With nine children, you had to be careful, you know. Every dollar counted.”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.