Abraham Lavender

A native of South Carolina, where my ancestors have lived since the late 1700s, from Charleston on up into the “frontier,” I received my bachelor and master degrees in psychology from the University of South Carolina. While at USC, I was president of the Hillel (Jewish) Foundation, a member of Zeta Beta Tau social fraternity, a graduate of the AFROTC program, and graduated cum laude (top 7% of class). I also became involved in my first protest activity, opposing racial segregation, in the Civil Rights Movement, at USC. After graduation, during the Viet Nam War years, I served four years in the U.S. Air Force, going from second lieutenant to captain, living in Warrensburg, Missouri, and Izmir, Turkey. In Missouri, I was Personnel Casualty Officer, personally assisting survivors who had lost loved ones, mostly in Viet Nam, and in two cases having to tell a wife, child, sibling, or parent, that a husband, father, sibling, or son had been killed. In Turkey, which was very enjoyable, I learned much about living in, understanding, and respecting an Islamic culture, and also visiting many very historic sites. I also was active socially in the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish (Sephardic) community in Izmir, a community that had been invited by the Sultan to the Ottoman Empire after their ancestors had been exiled from Spain or Portugal. My military duties, among others, involved serving as base Education Officer, and teaching a social psychology course for the University of Maryland’s Overseas military program.

Ten days after completing my four years in the Air Force, I began work on my doctorate at the University of Maryland in College Park, suburban Washington, D.C. There, the internationalism, multiculturalism, political and cultural intensity, and political protests involving the Viet Nam war added an exciting segment to my life. In 1972 I received a Ph.D. in sociology, with a doctoral dissertation on generational changes in Jewish identity in the United States. I have continued my research in Judaic Studies since then, with a specialization in Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) Jews, and with a major interest in descendants of the secret Jews of Spain, Portugal, and Italy. I am the founding editor in chief of the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto-Jews, published annually by the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at FIU, with support from the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies, and the Martin Sosin Foundation in Los Angeles (see www.cryptojewsjournal.org).

Serving as editor of the journal comprises a major part of my academic work each year. But, my interest in ethnicity is very broad, including significant attention to Hispanics, Blacks, and others. My six books published so far (authored, edited, co-authored, or co-edited) include A Coat of Many Colors: Jewish Subcommunities in the United States (1977), Jewish Farmers of the Catskills: A Century of Survival (1995), Black Communities in Transition: Voices from South Florida (1996), French Huguenots: From Mediterranean Catholics to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (1990), and Ethnic Women and Feminist Values: Toward a New Value System (1986). In regional studies of South Florida, I have authored Miami Beach in1920: The Making of a Winter Resort (2002). My seventh book, Miami Beach’s Early Social Life: From Mangroves and Mosquitoes to Mansions and Millionaires, is in progress. In addition, two other publications on Miami Beach are a monograph entitled Jews, Hispanics, Blacks and Others in Miami Beach: An Ethnically Divided City or a Cosmopolitan Multiethnic City? (1992; the answer is cosmopolitan multiethnic city) and “A History of Jewish and Hispanic Interaction in Miami-Dade County, Florida,” published in Latinos and Jews: Old Luggage, New Itineraries (2002).

In addition to the books, my total scholarly publications so far include about 58 articles in refereed journals. While the majority of the articles are about ethnicity of diverse groups, other topics are also included, with articles ranging from “Societal Influences on Sexual Dysfunctions” to “Arabic-Islamic and Spanish-Mediterranean Influences on the Jewish Mind.” My publications also include 32 published research reports, 16 commentaries, 42 encyclopedia/reference book short articles (ranging from “UFO Evidence” to “Black Face: The History of a Racial Stereotype”), and 43 scholarly book reviews (ranging from “Jews in Libya” to “Jews in Places You Never Thought Of”). I give about 10 academic talks annually to local groups, especially on crypto-Jews, Jewish-Arab comparisons, and social, national, and religious DNA comparisons.

I am president of the Miami Beach Historical Association, president of the South Florida Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, president of the Men’s Club (collaborating with the Sisterhood) and on the Board of Directors of Temple Beth Tov Ahavat Shalom, and librarian of Hibiscus Lodge # 275. In past years I have been a board member of the local American Civil Liberties Union, President of the Huguenot Society, and program vice president of the Jewish Genealogical Society. In Miami Beach I served 4 years on the Miami Beach Housing Authority, including a year as vice-chair, served as chair of the Homeless Committee for 1 year, and served several years on the Safety Committee. Much of my civic involvement has been in Miami Beach where I have received one Key to the City one Distinguished Citizen Award, and four Certificates of Appreciation, mostly for helping advance the city’s history and for helping increase Hispanic representation in city government.

I am an avid genealogist, with a strong interest in DNA research. One recent unpublished article mixing genealogy and DNA is “Where in the World Are Benjamin Lavender’s Distant Cousins?”“¿ Donde Están en el Mundo los Primos Distantes de Benjamin Lavenda?” which I presented at my family reunion in 2010. (Benjamin Lavender was my great-great-great grandfather, from Shiloh, South Carolina). Most of hismy distant cousins are in western Europe, southern Europe, or Latin America. If we go back about 500 years, my highest matches, in order, are in northern Italy; Cologne, Germany; Central Portugal; and the United States. Of those cousins in the United States, 64% identify as European background, 16% identify as Hispanic, and 20% identify as African-American. Of the cousins in Latin America, 34% identify as European background, 63% identify as Mestizo (mixed European and Native American), and 3% identify as African. Another DNA test, looking at all of my ancestors, not only the paternal line, suggests that my closest DNA cousins are mostly in Spain, including, strongly, the chuetas (secret Jews) of the island of Mallorca.

I am also an avid reader. I read about 30 books annually, with some recent books including Spinoza and Other Heretics: The Marrano of Reason by Yirmiyahu Yovel, Miracles Happen: The Transformational Healing Power of Past-Life Memories by Brian Weiss and Amy E. Weiss, Keep Calm and Carry On by Mark A. Reinecke, Converso by Mario X. Martinez, DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Brian Sykes, Lost Knowledge of the Ancients: A Graham Hancock Reader by Glenn Kreisberg, Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood by Carlos Andres Gomez, Bible Code III by Michael Drosnin, and The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West? by Doug Saunders (the answer is no).

My major teaching areas are the Anthropology of Race and Ethnic Relations, and the Sociology of Sexuality. In addition, other courses I regularly teach are Social Deviancy and Sociology Through Film. Other courses I teach sometimes, partly depending on enrollments and departmental needs, include Political Sociology (undergraduate and graduate), World Jewish Communities (undergraduate and graduate), and the Sociology of Men. I also have taught African Diaspora (graduate), Seminar in Ethnicity (graduate), and Social Conflict (undergraduate).

My most recent academic article, co-authored with my student assistant Mohamed Aburadi, is “Crypto-Jews and Crypto-Muslims in Spain: Cultural, Economic, and Geographical Comparisons of Marranos and Moriscos.” My current research, in addition to completing my second book on Miami Beach history, is focused on the descendants of the secret Jews of Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Parvaneh Julian, my graduate assistant, and I are currently working on an article tentatively entitled “Baruch, Bento, and Benedicto Spinoza: The Multiple Identities of Children of the Marranos of Spain and Portugal.” My last community presentation was “Mozart, the Magic Flute, and the Freemasons: What the Magic Flute Says About All of This.” Parvaneh Julian and I are also beginning work on the concept of reincarnation, comparing the Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, and Jewish cultures.