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Jay's Past is Calling for his Return


Just about 8 years ago, after just over 40 years of living in blissful ignorance, I discovered, through the oddest of circumstances, that I am descended, on my mother’s side, from Spanish/Portuguese Jews.


My mother’s maiden name is Dorta, which is a very uncommon surname. There are literally only about 20,000 Dorta’s alive today, the majority of whom live in Tenerife, the Canary Islands (where my mother’s grandfather was from), with a few here and there spread throughout the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Louisiana, England and the Netherlands, and unless you move to the Canary Islands, it is unlikely that you will ever meet another Dorta in your life.


The first record of a Dorta I could find was a Meir Dorta, signatory to the Jewish Ordinances of Tudela, Spain in 1363. There was also a record of a Jewish Dorta living in Madeira, Portugal, in 1492, as a sugarcane farmer. I also found a reference to a group of Dorta’s, who historians note were the last Jewish printers in Portugal and printed the astronomical tables of Abraham Zacuto used by Columbus and Vasco da Gama, among others.


There was Garcia Dorta, who sailed for India in 1534 as Chief Physician aboard the fleet of his childhood friend, the future governor of Portuguese India.The year after Garcia Dorta died in 1568 his sister, CatarinaDorta, was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in Goa, and in 1580 his remains were exhumed and also burned.


I discovered that the ArquivoNacional Torre do Tombo in Portugal records at least 20 Dorta’s who were arrested by the Inquisition, most of whom were arrested for the crime of practicing Judaism.


Through simple searches in the internet, I found references to more and more Dorta’s, and each and every one of them was referred to as either a Jew or a New Christian, until

the 1700’s, by which time the Dorta’s seem to have assimilated.


I felt a connection to these people. They helped me understand myself better, and in an odd way, “the Blood Calls”. Their suffering from so long ago called out to me and I felt a need to do something for them.  I just didn’t know what I could do.


Then, about a year ago, I came across an article about a woman named Sonya Loya, and her amazing idea about a lawsuit on behalf of BneiAnusim against the Inquisition, and I was intrigued.  I began to look into the possibility of pursuing such a lawsuit, and through that I came to Israel for the first time (I have returned twice more in less than six months, once with my family) and was introduced to a whole group of new friends, in Israel and really throughout the world, with similar interests and stories to my own.  Their support and friendship has come to mean a great deal to me. 


The land of Israel, with its amazing diversity of people and geography, has come to mean a great deal to me.  I wholly expect to live there very soon, and quite frankly, can think of nothing else lately.  Israel is a special place and, although I have lived in many different places (throughout the U.S., and in Puerto Rico, Japan and Bolivia), oddly enough Israel is the first place that I feel truly at home, and with my people.  That is something that, despite all hardships, both actual and potential, one simply can’t ignore.