A national academy for the Judeo-Spanish language Ladino — still spoken by some descendants of Jews expelled from Spain 500 years ago — will be established in Israel, following a unanimous decision at an international conference for the Spanish language in Madrid recognizing Ladino as a unique cultural treasure preserved outside of Spain.

Prof. Shmuel Refael, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Naime and Yehoshua Salti Institute for Ladino Studies and an international authority on Ladino, has been an outspoken advocate of this initiative.

“My dream has come to fruition. This is an unprecedented, historic step,” said Refael, who last year received an official appointment from the Royal Spanish Academy in Madrid to serve as an international mediator for the establishment of the future academy in Israel.

Refael helped draft a declaration submitted to the president of the Royal Academy in Madrid requesting approval for the establishment of the Ladino Academy in Israel. He read the declaration in Spanish and in Hebrew at the conference.

“It was important for me to read the statement in Hebrew, as well, because Hebrew is Israel’s national language, and many of its components have been immersed in Ladino for hundreds of years,” said Refael.

The Israeli Academy of Judeo-Spanish Language will join 23 similar academies spread over four continents linked to the headquarters in Madrid. A site for the academy is now being sought, but Refael said he is “hopeful that by the fall of 2019 Israel will be included in the international club of Spanish national academies.”

The National Academy of the Judeo-Spanish Language (Ladino) will operate as a branch of the National Authority for Ladino Culture.