News and Updates

  • What’s in a Name? For One, My Family’s Jewish Roots!

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    I thought after 44 years of living as a Jew that I knew all there was to know about my name. But was I in for a surprise! The story was not over. As I write in History Revealed: Discovering My Jewish Roots, I recently discovered, through even more Divine orchestrations, that my family has a Judeo-Spanish heritage.

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  • Rare Cache of Ladino Documents Tells History of Los Angeles Sephardic Jews

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    Last year UCLA launched a Jewish history with an ambitious goal — to be “one of the world’s largest collections of  Sephardi Jewish life.” Now, the UCLA Sephardic Archives has made its first major acquisition, obtaining what it says is “one of the most significants collections ever assembled” telling the history of Sephardi Jews in Los Angeles.

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  • 500 years after being wiped out, Sicilian Jewish life is reborn

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    This Jewish reality came to an end on January 12, 1493, with the Edict of Expulsion by the monarchs of Spain, who had control over southern Italy. Many Jews left and many pretended to convert to Christianity while maintaining a Jewish life in secret. Generation after generation, certain traditions did not fade away, although their meaning was often lost. 500 years later, many Sicilians have started to figure out the origin of the apparently bizarre customs of their families and are interested in learning more.

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  • The Spanish Inquisition and the Spread of Conversos in the Americas

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    Genealogists around the world have been conducting extensive research on this matter, establishing strong DNA ties between these remote Crypto-Jews and the Sephardic gene (many have even been associated with the Kohanim gene). Over the generations, most of these converso populations have forgotten their Jewish roots, mainly continuing to practice these select Jewish traditions out of habit. However, thanks to recent scholarly inquiries, some of these groups are beginning to reunite with their ancestral heritage, with many Spanish-speaking Romanic Catholics citing their Jewish traditions and Sephardic blood as motivation to reestablish their Judaism.

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  • After almost four centuries of oppression and fear, Gustavo returns to the Jewish People.

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    375 years ago, Gustavo Ramirez-Calderon’s ancestors were judged by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions for Judaizing (holding on to Jewish traditions in secret). However, after painstaking work joining the almost untraceable dots, Gustavo found his unbroken maternal line and returned to the Jewish People in a ceremony presided over by Rabbis Balter of Beersheva, Israel, Feiguin (Gustavo’s teacher) and Kraselnik from Panama.

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  • The last words of Isaac de Castro Tartas

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    They say that the cry of Isaac caused an enormous impression on all those who had come to witness the public execution. Even the cruel executioners felt remorse for having taken the life of such a young brave man. The Gentiles who witnessed the execution, for weeks did not talk about anything else. What’s more, the words of Isaac, the Shema Israel, had now become the symbol of freedom of conscience in Lisbon. And it inspired many converts to re-embrace their Jewish faith. Moreover, for several years the Gentiles repeated the words of the Shema …  the Inquisition had to impose a severe punishment for anyone heard saying the Shema Israel, the last words of Isaac de Castro Tartas זצוק”ל .

     

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  • Latinos along border discover Sephardic Jewish heritage

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    The Spanish spoken along the border these days may be slightly different from the Spanish you'd find in Mexico City or in Dallas-Fort Worth. And there would be a reason for that: its Ladino influence. That's the language spoken by Sephardic Jews who left Spain after 1492, the year they were officially expelled by the Catholic kings there.

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  • 242 years ago, the first Jew was elected to public office in the New World

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    Long before 30-somethings Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump had the ear of President-elect Donald Trump, a 27-year-old became the first Jew to ever hold elected office in what would become the United States. Francis Salvador, who became a member of the South Carolina Provincial Congress on Jan. 11 in 1775, wouldn’t fit the typical profile of an American Jew today. Far from being a New Yorker or South Floridian with roots in Eastern Europe, Salvador was the scion of wealthy British Sephardic Jewish landowners.

     

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  • ‘Narratives from the Sephardic Atlantic’: Crypto-Jews and Inquisition at center of Teaneck professor’s new book

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    In a way, the new book by Dr. Ronnie Perelis of Teaneck already has been a major museum exhibition.  His book, “Narratives from the Sephardic Atlantic: Blood and Faith,” looks at three first-person accounts of life in the 15th and 16th centuries. It tells the stories of the spiritual drama of descendants of Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity and later persecuted by the Inquisition as those Jews came into contact with the world-expanding discovery of the New World and burgeoning transatlantic trade that soon followed.

     

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  • What Is Hidden Is Never Lost: Rapa-Dreidels, Portugal, And The Anousim

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    Rather than rendering judgment and condemnation, we praise their determination in clinging to any remnant of our faith and identity; recognizing their survival as a testament to their strength and determination. So many of these brave souls wanted to hold on to their Jewish heritage, even in secret. They wanted to live but not to forget.

     

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  • Lost diary of tortured Mexican ‘converso’ features in early-American Jewish exhibit

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    Long a familiar name to scholars, Luis de Carvajal kept a meticulously written diary, penned under the pseudonym Joseph Lumbroso. While there were some transcriptions, the original diary disappeared in 1939 from the National Archives of Mexico. Earlier this year, though, a keen-eyed collector spotted the de Carvajal diary at auction and helped orchestrate its return. Now, for the first time in more than 75 years, the newly recovered memoir — measuring only four inches by three inches — along with other de Carvajal religious manuscripts, are on view as part of “The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World,” a stunning and eye-opening exhibit that runs through February 26, 2017, at the New-York Historical Society.

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  • Oldest Panamanian synagogue celebrates its 140th anniversary

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    Congregation Kol Shearith Israel – the oldest synagogue in Panama - celebrated its 140th anniversary earlier in the year with an overflow crowd of members, friends and well-wishers from around the world. Dignitaries in attendance included Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, Israel’s Ambassador to Panama Gil Artzyeli, as well as dignitaries and members of various religious groups in Panama. Kol Shearith (Hebrew for “Voice of the Remnant of Israel”) was founded in 1876 by the descendants of Spanish-Portuguese (Sephardi) Jews who originally fled the Inquisition. The Congregation has played an important role in the creation of numerous organizations and institutions of great value in Panama, such as the Fire Department, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Technological University of Panama.

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  • How the Sephardim may have brought sufganiyot to Holland and became a national dish

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    Jonah said this gives credence to theories that oliebollen in their current form were brought to the Netherlands by Portuguese Sephardim who came here from the 15th century onward to escape religious persecution in the Iberian peninsula. Another indication: Dutch oliebol is often made with raisins, an ingredient that does not feature heavily in Dutch cuisine but was commonly used by Portuguese Jews. Many non-Jews in the Netherlands believe oliebollen are originally a Sephardic or Portuguese dish — a history they regard as common knowledge, even though it has never been proven.

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  • Spain’s Jewish ‘ghost towns’ seek a boost from living Jews

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    Part of Spain’s struggling Red de Juderias, a network of some 20 cities with Jewish quarters or major heritage sites, Ribadavia typifies both the potential for opening such culturally rich locales to wider audiences and the challenges that have obstructed plans to do so since the Red’s creation two decades ago.

     

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  • Rabbi says that DNA testing could reveal millions of people with lost Jewish roots

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    DNA testing graphically illustrates how mankind is one large interconnected family. Rabbi Amsalem understands this universal reality to have repercussions for the Jewish role in bringing the Redemption.

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  • Gracia Serrano Fenn: A Story of Return

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    One's journey of discovery of identity has many colors and types, but the inward soul will always cry out for truth. Such is my story of Return to the ancestral past of my Jewish identity.

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  • The Divine Mission of Conversos

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    Whether or not Conversos were actually sincere converts to Christianity or in fact crypto Jews appears to have not been a consideration in the attitude of Don Isaac Abravanel regarding their eschatological role. While rabbinic responsa relate the halakhic decisions that were given in relation to a whole host of issues including the obligation of Conversos to levirate marriage, their eligibility to serve as witnesses, the kosher status of food handled by them, etc., the works of Abravanel provide a review of how Conversos could be perceived as part of the Divine plan and how they may have seen themselves theologically. Whatever view is taken regarding the ultimate rationale behind the Conversos’ conversion to Christianity, their importance to Abravanel was anything but insignificant. Regarding this, Ram Ben Shalom boldly notes: “Abravanel assigns the conversos a central role in the Redemption.”

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  • Remnants of Jamaica’s Jews hold a heritage full of firsts

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    “Jews were among the first families that came to Jamaica,” Rabbi Henriques says. “They came here with various voyages. They worked on the ships. They were kicked out of Spain and Portugal, so they had to find somewhere else to go.”

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  • Tú Sos Muestro Dio: You Are Our God – Reclaiming a Sephardic Identity in Guayaquil, Ecuador

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    A small but extraordinary Jewish cultural renaissance is taking place in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The port city of Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest urban area. Among its over two million inhabitants, there is a small but growing congregation of Jews who attend services at Templo Bet Jadesh (Beth Chadesh Temple). Most of the attendees who have affiliated with the synagogue are not the sons and daughters of Jewish Ecuadorians, but rather are new converts to Judaism. Yet many of them do not feel themselves to be newly converted. Instead, they see themselves as returning to their own religious tradition, lost hundreds of years ago when the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in the eventful year of 1492.

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  • This Thanksgiving try some Jewish 'ham', a staple of Sephardi Jews under the Inquisition

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    Searching for a new twist on the traditional Thanksgiving buffet? Look no further than the Spanish Inquisition. A new online publication, The Converso Cookbook, offers unique dishes based on the recipes of 14th- and 15th-century Jews who were persecuted by Spanish authorities. One of these recipes, Jewish Ham—or cecina de ansarón or ansarón cecinado—is a perfect Thanksgiving alternative. The “ham” is actually salt-cured duck or goose; when sliced, the final product looks rather similar to salted pork.

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  • Jews in Mexico, a struggle for survival

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    The survival of Judaism in Mexico is a tale of tenacity and tolerance. The story begins in Spain with the "Conversos", Jews who had converted to Christianity, always under duress.

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  • Cordoba Spain - The beginning of Sephardic Jewry

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    Sephardic Jewry began in Cordoba. Cordoba was the seat of the Spanish Caliphate. It therefore was a major centre of Jewish life in early Muslim Andalusia, and it remained so until the Almohads arrived and drove them out in 1148. While Jewish life returned to Andalusia during the Christian era, it is the early period that captures the memory of Sephardic origins. The foundation story of Sephardic Jewry (“The Four Captives”) centres around Cordoba, as told in the 12th century by Abraham ibn Daud in his Sefer ha-Qabbalah.

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  • Rachel Souza Lima - From Brazil to Beer Sheva

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    Rachel grew up in Lucélia (San Pablo), Brazil in a family of Bnei Anousim – descendants of Jews who were forced into hiding or compelled to convert to Catholicism 500 years ago. Many escaped Europe for the new world on the ships of the great explorers. But the Inquisition followed and these Jews, like their brethren back in the old country, went underground.

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  • 8 Little-Known Facts about Jewish Pirates

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    Some Jews turned to piracy as a way to fight against Spain and Portugal, the hosts of the brutal Inquisition.

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  • 6,000 visit Sephardi Jewish exhibition held in Spanish Catholic museum

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    More than 6,000 people visited an exhibition about Sephardi Jews that was featured in a Catholic museum in southern Spain over the past few months. The exhibition, “Sephardi Portraits: From the Past to the Present,” is the work of Malaga-born artist Daniel Quintero, who is himself Sephardi.

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  • Crypto Jews in Mexico during Spanish Colonial Era

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    New Christians arrived in the American colonies despite the official Spanish policy that interdicted settlement of people who either could not prove their limpieza de sangre (“purity of blood”) or had been previously prosecuted by the Spanish or Portuguese Inquisition. A large number of New Christians in Mexico originated from Portugal; their influence was so widely felt that sometimes “Portuguese” became synonymous with New Christian, in other words, Jewish.

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  • Retracing Old Footsteps

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    Descendents of anousim are emerging in greater numbers than ever before. Hungry to find out about their lost heritage, to reconnect to a religion that feels mysteriously like home or to revert wholeheartedly to Jewish identity and practice, they are reaching out to guides like Milgrom and to a handful of rabbis in the United States and abroad.

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  • A Jewish Exodus to a New Nation

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    IF such events can be said to have an upside, the Inquisition had one for Spanish and Portuguese Jews: It propelled them to the Americas, where they largely found the tolerance and opportunities denied them in Europe. The story of the havens Jews established in the New World is the focus of an exhibition opening on Friday at the New-York Historical Society. With rare manuscripts, Bibles, prayer books, paintings, maps and ritual objects, “The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World,” chronicles how Jews, expelled from Spain and Portugal after being driven out in earlier centuries from England and France, established thriving communities in New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Newport and, even earlier, on Caribbean islands and in South America.

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  • The “old Jews” of Mexico come out after 500 years

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    When I started studying Mexican history, I was surprised at how many of the early colonial leaders were “conversos”… Spanish Jews (or their children) who had to convert or leave Spain after Isabel’s conquest of Granada in January 1492.  A good chunk of northern Mexico, including what’s now Texas and New Mexico were settled by Tlaxcalan and Converso pioneers (the New Mexico “Spanish” are nearly all of Jewish ancestry, according to recent DNA studies).

     

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  • Renaissance of Jamaicans returning to their Jewish roots

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    Lindo, who serves as president of the Pride of Israel Synagogue benefit society, said that while the number of Jews on the island has decreased, in part because of intermarriage, he’s noticed an interesting phenomenon developing in recent years. “A lot of native people have discovered their roots and are coming back to Judaism,” he said.

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  • Descendants of forced converts of the Inquisition are rediscovering Judaism.

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    Many other people, living in South American countries or in Spain, have similar stories to tell of grandparents who revealed to them, on their deathbeds, that they were descended from forcibly converted Jews. Some of these people even perform mitzvot, without knowing what their actions signify.

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  • High Holidays with the Inquisition

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    In an inspired decision in 1497, Don Aguilar made an announcement that on Sept. 5 he would present a new composition in celebration of the Peoples of Spain in Barcelona. The date happened to be the First of Tishrei 5258 – the night of Rosh Hashanah. During the concert, in a solo passage, a musician rose with an unusual musical instrument: a ram’s horn. He then “performed” by blowing tekiah, shevarim, teruah as each note of High Holiday services resonated throughout the concert hall. While most in the audience found the music somewhat avant-garde, the sound of the instrument was greatly appreciated for its clarity. But for the Marranos in the audience, storming the heavens with the shofar gave them the chance of performing a mitzvah they had not fulfilled for ages.

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  • Building a Sukka Under the Nose of the Inquisition

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    Throughout our long history, Jews have overcome all sorts of obstacles to observe the mitzvah of sukkah. But perhaps one of the most striking instances of the Jewish people’s love for this mitzvah – and determination to fulfill it at all costs – is the sukkah that was built in Mexico City in the year 1603 by a crypto-Jew named Sebastian Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been arrested by the Inquisition for committing the crime of Judaizing – practicing Judaism in secret – and was sitting in jail. With Sukkot fast approaching, he decided to do the impossible: Build a sukkah. In prison. Under the eyes of his jailers, agents of the Spanish Inquisition.

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  • Kol Nidre and the Bnei Anusim

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    As we approach Kol Nidre, the Jewish prayer recited in the synagogue preceding the evening service on Yom Kippur, it is important to think about those for whom Kol Nidre was a lifeline to their almost lost Judaism. I am, of course, referring to the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, otherwise known as the Bnei Anusim (lit., descendants of the forced).

     

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  • Portugal witnessing Jewish renaissance

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    Every Friday at the start of the Jewish Sabbath Porto’s imposing synagogue positively buzzes with the sound of chatter — not just in Portuguese but also in English, French and Spanish. It’s in this unexpectedly animated atmosphere that the Jewish community in northern Portugal, wiped out in the 15th century, is currently undergoing a rebirth, welcoming Jews who feel threatened in Europe and elsewhere — some coming from as far as India.

     

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  • The Sephardi Rosh Hashana Seder - Yehi Ratzones

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    One of the rich and unique traditions of our Sephardic families is a Rosh Hashanah Seder. It is a short service we conduct around our tables with the Rosh Hashanah evening meal, with some families doing it on both nights. Including the traditional blessings done at the holiday meal table (Kiddush, Washing of the Hands, HaMotzi), blessings are also said over symbolic foods, expressing our hopes and wishes for the year ahead. Most of the foods used are those whose names in Hebrew sound similar to one of the wishes expressed, so there is some fun associated with this!

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  • How the Sephardi exiles came home to lay the groundwork for the return to Zion

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    Just as New York has its Grandees, Jerusalem has its aristocratic Samech-Tetim;* those affluent Sephardic families who trace their origin to Spain. This sector of the population of the capital city is hardly known, rarely heard from, but centrally important. Originally, after the Spanish expulsion of 1492, there was a Sephardi aristocracy in Safed, but it disappeared as Safeds stature dwindled. Economic deterioration, earthquakes, epidemics, and Arab riots were all factors leading to the population moving towards Jerusalem.

     

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  • How Sephardic Jews and Anousim helped shape the U.S.

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    American Jewish history goes back centuries. Here are some lesser-known facts about Jewish individuals and communities in Early America.

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  • Celebrating a Sephardic Past in Sicily

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    More than 300 men and women who identify as descendants of Jews whose families were forced during the Spanish Inquisition gathered in the Sicilian capital of Palermno on Sunday to celebrate their shared bond of Jewish history.

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  • Portuguese city unveils 16th-century Torah used by crypto-Jews

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    A small city in northeast Portugal unveiled for the first time a 400-year-old Torah scroll that a local contractor had found 10 years ago at a demolition site and kept wrapped up in linen. The ancient scroll, written on parchment, was put on display in Covilha City Hall on Friday, Portugal’s Diario de Noticias reported. Measuring 98 feet in length and 2 feet in width, the Torah scroll is believed to have been used in secret during the Portuguese Inquisition by crypto-Jews.

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  • World Jewish Congress co-sponsors Latino-Jewish relations confab in Miami

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    The World Jewish Congress co-sponsored a conference on Latino-Jewish relations in Miami this week, highlighting the history of the Jews in Spain and ongoing relations between American Latino and Jewish organizations. A portion of the conference was also dedicated to the phenomenon of “conversos” or “anousim,” terms referring to the 15th century Jews of Spain and Portugal, who converted to Catholicism under duress and threat of death. Many hid their Jewish practices for untold numbers of years, and others fled to other countries in Europe, North Africa, and other distant locations. In recent years, there has been a rise in “B’nei Anusim” or descendants of these conversos, seeking their roots and family history.

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  • President of “Reconectar” says he receives emails from people around the world who discover Jewish ancestry

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    There are tens of millions of people reaching out or knocking on the door of the Jewish world – and most Jews are not aware of this phenomenon,” Ashley Perry, president of Reconectar recently saidReconectar (reconnect in Spanish and Portuguese) is an organization which reconnects the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews compelled to become Roman Catholic more than 500 years ago – known as bnai anusim in Hebrew or conversos in Spanish – with the Jewish people today. Perry estimated that there are more than 100 million descendants of these Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and that tens of millions today want to reconnect and learn about their Jewish roots.

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  • Rekindling a Spanish Jewish Experience

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    It is difficult to imagine a rebirth of Jewish life in Spain, but who knows what opportunities might lie ahead? As to the past, Don Isaac Abravanel, statesman, philosopher, Bible commentator, and financier, who was born in Lisbon in 1437, fled to Toledo in 1483, fleeing again from Spain days after the Expulsion Edict of 1492, later wrote “From the rising of the sun to its setting, from north to south, there never was such a chosen people (as the Jews of Spain) in beauty and pleasantness, and afterwards, there will never be another such people. God was with them, the children of Judea and Jerusalem, many and strong… a quiet and trusting people, a people filled with the blessing of God with no end to its treasure.”

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  • The little-known history of the Jews of Mexico

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    When Hernan Cortés first conquered Mexico for Spain in 1521, he did so with a number of secret Jews amongst his men. Judaism was banned at the time in Spain, and soon many secret Spanish Jews departed for “Nueve Espana” in the New World to try and live a more Jewish life. In fact, Spain’s first Viceroy in Mexico, Antonio de Mendoza, possessed a Jewish surname, and historians suggest he was possibly one of the secret Jews who moved to the new territory.

     
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  • Latina star with Jewish roots, Gina Rodriguez: Latinos should learn from Jews in breaking Hollywood barriers

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    Gina Rodriguez, a trailblazer for Latinos in the entertainment industry, said she looks to Jewish actors for inspiration. “One thing that I love about Jewish culture is that anthill effect. Every ant brings food to the anthill and everybody eats,” Rodriguez told Latina Magazine when asked about how Hispanics help each other in Hollywood.

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  • Rabbi Dr. David de Sola Pool: Sephardic Visionary and Activist

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    Along with the traditions relating to synagogue and prayer, Dr. Pool embodied the congregation’s tradition of communal involvement and social justice activism. The congregation was proud of its history of service to America (Shearith Israel’s members fought in the American Revolution!), and its commitment to the wellbeing of the Jewish community and society at large. Dr. Pool’s universalism was very much in keeping with the Spanish and Portuguese traditions of his forebears.

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  • Launching the Converso Genealogy Project: Tracking the Diaspora of the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Communities

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    This multi-tiered project will gather information that has been accumulating for centuries in multiple sources and in various countries throughout the world. The amount of data is staggering, but bringing it all together into one genealogical database will create a new scholarly tool of inestimable value. For Jewish historiography, the project will open up new horizons that have been closed until now. In addition, individuals seeking their Iberian Jewish roots also will find this database invaluable and well suited to their needs.

     

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  • The Converso Project Announced at the IAJGS International Jewish Genealogical Conference

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    The creation of an ambitious comprehensive genealogical database – The Converso Project – was announced at the IAJGS conference in Seattle. Data will cover the diaspora and descendants of those Jews who were converted to Christianity more than 500 years ago in Spain and Portugal through the late 18th century. The goal is dual: For academics, it is to make a significant contribution to New Christian studies. For family historians and genealogists, it is to assist individuals seeking to explore their ancestry.
     
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  • When the Spanish Inquisition expanded to the New World

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    In an unprecedented combination of the Old World and the New, a Santa Fe museum exhibition is telling the story of the Sephardim, with a focus on the conversos — Jews who formally converted to Christianity and their descendants — who escaped to the Spanish colonies of Mexico and New Mexico. Sephardim left for Portugal, Amsterdam, the Ottoman Empire and North Africa. (Portugal expelled its Jews in 1497.) But as the 15th century ended, Sephardim also considered the New World that Columbus had reached across the Atlantic.

     

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  • With help from the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities Spain is standing up to haters of Israel

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    Over the past year, pro-Israel activists have obtained 24 rulings, legal opinions and injunctions against BDS in Spain, according to ACOM, a nonprofit based in Madrid. Thanks to litigation by its volunteer team, including several lawyers, BDS motions have been repealed, defeated or suspended this year in a dozen Spanish municipalities. “The BDS movement in Spain is established and works systematically,” said ACOM’s president, Angel Mas. “But for the first time, they are encountering a response that is as systematic.” Last month in Campezo, a town 210 miles north of Madrid, an ACOM ultimatum forced the City Council to scrap a resolution passed in June in support of BDS. ACOM threatened to sue based on precedents set this year in Spanish tribunals ruling that BDS is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

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  • The little known Sephardi history of the West Indies

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    The Virgin islands is a favorite tourist spot for Caribbean cruises. For Jewish tourists, there is an extra added attraction in the historic synagogues, cemeteries and active Jewish communities. The former Danish West Indies sold to the United States in 1917 has had a fascinating and little known Jewish presence to the point that in the 1830s some visitors coined the expression that the islands should properly be called “The Jewish West Indies.”

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  • Kosher Food Booms in Panama City

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    As it turns out, Panama City has recently become something of a destination for Jewish residents and travelers. And where there are Jews, there is kosher food. In Panama City’s case that means nearly 20 restaurants—many of them opened in the last decade. Panama City’s Jewish history stretches back centuries to when conversos and crypto-Jews settled there following the Spanish Inquisition. After Panama declared its independence from Spain in 1821 and the Panama Railroad was built in 1855, a small wave of Jewish immigrants—many from other parts of the Caribbean and South America—arrived seeking economic opportunity.

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  • Basque Country – Following The Converso Escape Route

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    This journey was a transformative experience for me. I always find that through visiting a place of historic relevance that I come to better understand the events that transpired there. In this instance though, I also came to appreciate the disorienting effects that come from a reluctant move. A person in such a circumstance is forced to leave a place that is their home and that they may deeply love. Furthermore, they must also try to find a new place to live, likely in a place with a new language and culture, and where the local population may not even want them there. Such a relocation must be a terrible and traumatising ordeal. My heart goes out to all people forced to flee from persecution.

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  • Mystery surrounds mistake-filled 300-year-old prayer book found in UK

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    A British academic has discovered a rare, handwritten translation of a siddur, or prayer book, in a collection in a Manchester library — and clues in the volume point to a little-known presence of Jews in 17th-century England. Dr. Aron Sterk’s special interest is in the history of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, emigrants from Amsterdam who formed the earliest Sephardi congregations in England after Oliver Cromwell readmitted Jews in 1656. But some academics believe there is evidence that before 1655 there was an established Jewish community in London — Spanish-speaking merchants who traded publicly but kept their religion private.

     

     

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  • Presenting the case for the presence of Crypto-Jews in the oldest U.S. European city during colonial times

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    As scholars of the Crypto-Jewish world, those who study Jews who went into hiding during the Spanish Inquisition and beyond, gathered for their twenty-sixth annual conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, president of the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society presented the case for the presence of Crypto-Jews in the oldest U.S. European city during colonial times.

     

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  • How To Recognize a Secret Spanish Jew by His Accent

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    The survival into our own times ofmarrano memories and traditions in Spain has been well documented, but it sends chills down one’s spine to realize that as late as the mid-19th century there was still a living marrano society recognizable, if only to a man who had met Spanish-descended Jews in other places, by its speech.

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  • In Andalusia, on the Trail of Inherited Memories

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    History is a part of daily life in the old quarter, where Inquisition trials were staged and neighbors spied on neighbors, dutifully reporting heretics — Christian converts who were secretly practicing Judaism. The former Jewish quarter, where white houses plunge down a steep, silvery lane, is still standing, though unmarked by any street sign. I wanted to understand why my family guarded secret identities for generations with such inexplicable fear and caution. When my aunt died a few years ago, she left instructions barring a priest from presiding over her funeral; my grandmother did the same.

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  • The Secret History of the Jews of Malta

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    I would venture that at least 30% of Malta’s 450,000 citizens are of Jewish descent. In the 13th century, there were 72 families on Malta, 25 of them were Jewish. To this day, Jewish family names such as Ellul, Zamit and Azzopardi dominate the island. Scholars call these forcibly converted Jews “Conversos,” “Maranos” or, in Hebrew, “Anusim.” But Jewish history on Malta did not start with them.

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  • That Time Jews Smuggled Chocolate to France — and a Recipe for Basque Chocolate Cake

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    I had to remind myself that this meant Bayonne, in southwest France, and not Bayonne, New Jersey. Then, I re-read the passage because in all of my years of Jewish studies, seminary and teaching about Jews and Judaism, I had never known of any connection between Jews and chocolate. And, it was, after all just my high school French. I would not have been surprised that Jews like chocolate. However, this was telling me that Sephardi Jews, exiled from Spain, brought chocolate making to France.

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  • An amazing story of a family which kept the keys to their home when they fled Portugal in the 16th Century

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    The most memorable moment of our visit came as a surprise, and left me speechless. Tapadejo told us that just in May 2015 he gave a tour of the town to an elderly woman from Netanya, Israel, named Esther Cohen. She told him that her family lived in Castelo de Vide before escaping to Constantinople in the early sixteenth century. They likely left in 1507 when the ports were finally opened to New Christians wishing to emigrate, following the massacre of three thousand New Christians in Lisbon in 1506. Upon her visit she showed him two keys. She told him that they were the keys to her ancestor’s former home in Castelo de Vide, held in her family’s possession for over 500 years! To our shock he then unwrapped the keys in front of us. Our group emitted a unified gasp as we witnessed tangible evidence of the ‘key story’ so often told of the Jews of the Expulsion. Our reaction provoked a strong emotional response in the elderly Tapajedo, who has worked so hard to uncover the town’s Jewish past. In front of us he began to cry. The keys are to be placed on display in the synagogue museum.

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  • Spanish and Portuguese Ladino Prayer Books in the Bodleian

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    Jewish liturgy is a rather neglected area of study, and even more so the translations of the liturgy. However prayer books can tell us much about the spiritual and devotional life of a community. Not only the prayers themselves and the various ways in which they are presented on the page, but the very bindings say much about how such devotional literature was used in daily life. The successive editions of the ‘Ladino’ translation of the Prayer Books (Siddur and Mahzor) used by the Western Spanish and Portuguese Jews from the mid 16th to late 18th century are particularly well represented in the Bodleian collections.

     

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  • A life in the footsteps of music

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    Born and raised in Gibraltar, a British colony on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, life for Yitzhak Attias was an idyllic combination of pride in being Jewish and positive relations with the world at large. At age 16, Yitzhak's love for music drew him away from his studies, and eventually to an Israeli kibbutz. He followed his music to meet his wife Tamar, a flutist. Yitzhak, a percussionist and singer, writes and performs music that blends Latin, Flamenco and Mediterranean music, with an infusion of Jewish themes. He incorporates birdsong and the sound of the sea, bringing him back from the Dead Sea to Gibraltar of his childhood. He music is soothing, almost therapeutic; it speaks of spiritual yearning and it touches the soul.

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  • Did you know the first Jews in America were Anousim fleeing the Inquisition?

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    The majority of today's American Jewish community is Ashkenazi but in Colonial times Sephardim made up the majority of the Jewish population. Historically, Sephardim are associated with Jews who lived on the Iberian Peninsula. The story of these Jews' immigration to North America and their success in adapting their rich culture to their new home is a fascinating aspect of American Jewish history.

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  • Daniel Mendoza, Professor of Pugilism: How a Sephardic Jew in 18th-Century Britain Became One of the World’s First Sports Stars

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    Before Mendoza, boxers generally stood still and merely swapped punches. Mendoza’s style consisted of more than simply battering opponents into submission; his “scientific style” included much defensive movement. He developed an entirely new style of boxing, incorporating defensive strategies, such as what he called “side-stepping”, moving around, ducking, blocking, and, all in all, avoiding punches. At the time, this was revolutionary, and Mendoza was able to overcome much heavier opponents as a result of this new style. Though he stood only 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) and weighed only 160 pounds (73 kg), Mendoza was England’s sixteenth Heavyweight Champion from 1792 to 1795, and is the only middleweight to ever win the Heavyweight Championship of the World. In 1789 he opened his own boxing academy and published the book The Art of Boxing on modern “scientific” style boxing which every subsequent boxer learned from.

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  • The Ethics of Our Fathers in the Sephardic Tradition

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    These popular Ladino sayings come from an ancient collection of Jewish teachings known as Pirke Avot, one of the most popular rabbinic compositions of all time that gained a special place in Sephardic tradition. Based on sections of the Mishna, the first major compilation of Jewish oral tradition, Pirke Avot includes mottos of the leading rabbis of antiquity that emphasize profound yet concise ideas about God and humanity, good and evil, reward and punishment, love and hate, law and anarchy. The accessible language and universal themes of these ethical maxims have resonated with Jews across the generations and resulted in their inclusion in standard prayer books and their translation into many languages—including more than fifty separate editions in Ladino alone!

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  • ‘Google of the Bible’ Goes Live

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    Scroll down” is taking on a new meaning: The first comprehensive Internet edition of the Bible has gone online to meet the demands of a world gone digital. On Tuesday, Herzog College in Gush Etzion, launched hatanakh.com — the “Google of the Bible,” as it is calling the project with the permission of the Google Corporation. The online Bible is the fruit of five years of work by a team of 10 researchers who wanted to make not only the Bible itself, but also biblical commentary, scholarly articles, and religious lessons accessible through a user-friendly website. 

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  • Spanish village formerly named ‘Kill Jews’ ‘twins’ with Israeli town

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    The ancient Spanish town of Castrillo Matajudios (“Camp Kill Jews”) that changed its name last year to Castrillo Mota de Judios (“Jews’ Hill Camp”) has twinned with the northern Israeli town of Kfar Vradim (Village of the Roses). A delegation from Castrillo Mota de Judios arrived in Israel on Sunday for a ceremony designating the two as twin towns to promote cultural, touristic and commercial ties.

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  • The Forgotten Jewish Pirates of Jamaica

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    Once, Semitic swashbucklers battled for control of the Caribbean island. Today, some tour operators and cultural historians are calling attention to the country's little-known Jewish heritage.

     

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  • Florida official has bar mitzvah in Israel

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    Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera had a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, after recently identifying publicly as Jewish. Lopez-Cantera, 42, was in Israel in April with the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association and told the Florida Sun-Sentinel that the bar mitzvah “definitely wasn’t planned” and that the opportunity “presented itself” for him to participate in the Jewish rite of adulthood.

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  • How I Discovered My Jewish Roots

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    After 500 years of hiding, and even totally forgetting we were Jews, our family of Pellicer, forced to convert at swordpoint, had come home, back to our true heritage. No one told me I was descended from Jews. There were no strange traditions that were passed down in my family. The power of the soul itself—a spark of the Divine—brought me back to my people.

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  • Finding my wild Sephardi voice

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    The songs of Latino-Ladino hold strong resonances for him. "My mother used to sing us this music when we were children. And when my father went to synagogue he would always sing in this high countertenor voice with all these microtones, and I was thinking, 'Wow, what's going on here?' When I was introduced to baroque studies, I realised that we are of Libyan descent, which is not far from Italy, so the theorbo and the oud are not that alien to each other. We like to do appoggiaturas in baroque singing and they have many similarities to the microtones that my mum used to whisper in my ear."

     

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  • London's Belmont Synagogue visits Belmonte Portugal

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    On most weekday mornings, the synagogue in Belmonte Portugal stands alert but empty. The small Bnei Anousim community in town just can’t take the time off from work to make up a minyan, Shavei Israel’semissary to Portugal, Rabbi Elisha Salas laments. But last week, the morning shacharit services were overflowing as a group of 35 visitors from London swung through Belmonte on a trip through Jewish Portugal and “brought back the brachot,” as Rabbi Salas said.

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  • The Crypto-Jews: An Ancient Heritage Comes Alive Again

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    The conversos, or converts, who fled the Inquisition in Spain came into the New World, often with new names and forged papers because of the decree of Ferdinand and Isabella that no Jew could live in any Spanish territory. They came and settled into new lands that had only had native Indian populations, but shortly after the earliest arrivals the Inquisition followed them into the New World, setting up Holy Courts at Lima, Peru, in Cartagena, Columbia and the most active one in Mexico City in Nueva Espana. Now, with the Inquisition on their heels once again, the conversos began to move again. Some found ways to remain in lands of South America, Central America and Mexico, but others once again moved to where they hoped to be safe. They have been traced to every area of the North American continent where Spaniards had adventured. One party of Sephardim fleeing from Recife, Brazil after it became a Portuguese posession and landed on the Dutch- owned island of Manhattan.

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  • Spanish archaeologists identify rare pottery portrait of a Jew

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    Archaeologists in Spain identified a rare depiction of a Jewish man on a piece of pottery from the 13th century. The fragment was unearthed in Teruel, 140 miles east of Madrid, in 2004 but cataloged only in 2011 and identified this year by the archaeologist Antonio Hernandez Pardos, who wrote about in this month’s edition of the Sefarad periodical on the history of Sephardic Jews, the Spanish news agency EFE reported earlier this week.

     

     

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  • The History of Spanish and Portuguese Jews

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    Spanish and Portuguese Jews are a distinctive sub-group of Sephardim who have their main ethnic origins within the crypto-Jewish communities of the Iberian peninsula and who shaped communities mainly in Western Europe and the Americas from the late 16th century on. Spanish and Portuguese Jews have a distinctive ritual based on that of pre-expulsion Spain, but influenced by the Spanish-Moroccan rite on the one side and the Italian rite on the other.

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  • Exhibit illustrates scourge of the Spanish Inquisition

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    The documents of this history will be shown for the first time in the exhibition, “Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, The Inquisition, and New World Identities,” opening May 22 at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe, through Dec. 31. More than 175 items document Jewish heritage and persecution, including both centuries-old objects, books, documents, paintings and modern day photographs, from museums and private collections in Spain, Mexico and the US. Bringing the story to life are essays and stories told by an international group of seven scholars and historians, including former New Mexico State Historian Stanley M. Hordes, and Fran Levine, the museum’s former director, now president of the Missouri History Museum at St. Louis, who five years ago began the hunt across two continents for these hidden Jewish relics and documents.

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  • An Israeli Independence Day Menu

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    The great chefs of our time are often measured by their originality and unabashed breaking of culinary rules. They're expected to exhibit bravery in their kitchens, combining ingredients one would never imagine seeing on the same plate. But what if the world's great cuisines were measured by the same standards? Israeli cuisine would, without a doubt, stand out. Along with diverse culture, language and customs, the Jews gathered in Israel coming from more than 70 nations bringing their traditional food recipes as well. And so, as the cultures started merging into a new Israeli identity, the flavors started merging as well. In a typical Israeli meal one could find a schnitzel that originated in Austria, couscous that originated in Morocco, and pickles that originated in Poland. Literally a melting pot of aromas and flavors! Tradition meets innovation and curiosity while all along showcasing Israel's incredibly fresh produce.

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  • The next stage of Zionism

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    A Zionism that sought to unravel history, repeal the dispersion and ingather the exiles should also encompass those whose ancestors were cruelly ripped from the Jewish body but now seek a return and a reconnection. Meaning that Zionism is a communal effort and like the Latin formula nemo resideo (leave no man behind), it is not fulfilled unless we offer its vision also to those we lost or were disconnected from during the 2,000 years of exile.

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  • Bosnian Sephardic Jews - Few But Influential

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    Sephardic Jews, although never accounting for such large numbers in the land as the Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, were viewed as the “fourth Bosnian nation” because of their role in building up Sarajevo and their prominence in trade. A late-medieval Catalan Jewish Haggadah, or Passover ritual book, was found in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of the 19th century, and became known as theSarajevo Haggadah. It is now a symbol for all Bosnians of mutual respect and a common life in the country. Sephardic voices continue to be heard in Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing an important alternative to a clogged system, obstructed progress, and hopelessness.

     

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  • Sephardi Jews during the Holocaust

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    The Nazi Holocaust that devastated European Jewry and virtually destroyed its centuries-old culture also wiped out the great European population centers of Sephardi (or Judeo-Spanish) Jewry and led to the almost complete demise of its unique language and traditions. Sephardi Jewish communities from France and the Netherlands in the northwest to Yugoslavia and Greece in the southeast almost disappeared.

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  • What is the secret of Jews' success?

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    The fact that there is such a large number of successful Jews in different and even seemingly conflicting fields, like science and culture, led Shatner to the conclusion that success does only depend on hereditary intelligence, and he began searching for skills in the Jewish culture which are shared by all generations, continents and areas of success.

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  • The "Golden Age" in Spain: How "golden" was it?

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    While some of the arguments of Dr. Fernandez-Morera seem over-stretched and even polemical, the overall impact of his research and his book must make one stop to think more carefully about the “Andalusian Paradise” and convivencia. Are scholars and politicians perpetuating this myth because it serves a useful purpose, because they—and we—want to believe it? How nice it would be to know that there was a time and place when Muslims, Christians and Jews worked side by side in mutual respect and kindness. How nice to think that it is possible for Islamic rule to be tolerant and benevolent.

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  • Mimouna: A North African Jewish Celebration

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    Mimouna is the post-Passover celebration of friendship, brotherhood, and unity that is observed in many North African Jewish communities. It is a 24-hour celebration which begins immediately with the conclusion of Passover. It is viewed by many as the formal return to chametz (leavened bread) after such foods were forbidden over the course of the holiday. The theme is good fortune, fertility, wealth and prosperity. To this effect, gold and jewelry often decorate the table, and sometimes they even decorate the food as well.

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  • A Sephardic Passover Meat Pie

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    We keep our traditions alive from generation to generation by telling the stories, sharing the traditions, and making the foods! Food connect us — generation to generation. The smells, tastes and textures remind us of holidays past, of family members missed. Food helps us keep the tradition alive! At Passover, one of the staples of our Seder meal is a Megina, sometimes referred to as “mina”, or a “meat quajado.” Quajado (pronounced kwah-shah-doh) is a Sephardic dish that traces back to Spain which is usually made with vegetables and eggs.

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  • The Pesach Lisbon Massacre of 1506

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    The 1506 Lisbon massacre was a massacre of forcibly-converted Jews that took place in Lisbon Portugal in the spring of 1506. Because the victims were Anousim, Marranos or Conversos (converted Jews) and were not Jewish by religion, it  was somewhat unique among incidents of  anti-Semitic violence. Anousim often died at the hands of theInquisition. Mob violence against them was less frequent. It is also known as the Easter Massacre.

     

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  • Hag Pesah Sameah - Happy Passover to all of our friends around the world

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    Wishing all our friends around the world a Hag Pesah Sameah to you and your loved ones. May the spirit of unity around the Seder be galvanized towards reconnecting our people.

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  • From the archives: Cairo Jewish community recognized Anousim in 1927

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    During the 1920's when the Anousim who wished to gain recognition of their return to the traditions of their ancestors, the Cairo Jewish community, one of the most established and educated in the world, recognized their plight and accepted them as Jews. Here is a press clipping from a Brazilian newspaper from 8th June 1927, which reads: "Cairo - It took place among the local Jewish community (of Cairo) an agreement in favor of the Portuguese New Christians (Anousim), which asked to return to the Jewish religion."

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  • Jewish pirates of the Caribbean

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    Some Jamaican Jews turned to a more adventurous – and dangerous – life at sea. Captaining ships bearing names like the Queen Esther, the Prophet Samuel, and the Shield of Abraham, Jewish sailors began roaming the Caribbean in search of riches, sometimes obtained under questionable circumstances. These Jews most frequently attacked Spanish and Portuguese ships – payback for the property confiscations and torture of their brethren perpetrated by the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

     

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  • How the Anusim Kept Pesach

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    Without a doubt, the holiday that was practiced the most by the Anusim was Pesach. One of those who studied the customs of the Converso community of the descendants of the Anusim of Belmonte, writes, “They clean the house and freshly plaster the walls and have new utensils. Others have special utensils that they keep from year to year. They also prepare special wine and flour for matzah baking. They did not, however, conduct a seder on the first night. Apparently this was because of the inherent fear that the Inquisition knew when Pesach fell and would catch them. These communities had the custom to have the seder on the third night of Pesach. All of this is obviously the response to the persecution of the Inquisition, which looked for Jews conducting the seder on the first two nights. On the third day of Pesach they had a custom to bake the “holy bread.”

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  • The Latin flavors of Passover

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    Originally influenced by Spanish and Portuguese cuisines and ultimately by the foods from the Muslim countries in which Sephardic Jews settled, the flavors of the Sephardic kitchen create a tantalizing symphony for the palate and the dishes created for Passover are no exception. Along with the heavy use of fruits, nuts, exotic spices and lamb in the cuisine, Sephardic culinary tradition has developed brilliant recipes to help Jews celebrate Passover, also known as Pesaj in Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish romance language spoken among Sephardic Jews.

     

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  • Twenty-five crypto-Jews were burned at the stake in Ancona, Italy on this date in 1556

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    Twenty-five crypto-Jews were burned at the stake in Ancona, Italy on this date in 1556. In response, Gracia (Hannah) Mendes Nasi, one of the wealthiest women in Europe and herself a Portuguese Marrano who had bribed the Pope to delay the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal, organized a merchant boycott of the Port of Ancona, which brought ruin to the town.

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  • Flamenco’s Deep Jewish Roots

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    Although not everybody finds Jewish overtones in the rhythmic dancing, the moaning style of songs, and the lush, sophisticated guitar playing, esteem many music experts, many believe that flamenco is closely connected to Sephardic schul music with its eastern influences and hidden tendancy of melancoly.

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  • Little-Known Zionist Series by Salvador Dalí Goes On Display

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    A series of biblical and Zionist-themed paintings by Salvador Dalí has gone on private display in the heart of New York City in an effort to showcase through art the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, the collection’s owner said. Art dealer Hillel Philip, who owns one of 250 sets of prints of Dalí’s little-known “Aliyah, the Rebirth of Israel” series, said “You have all of Jewish history, all the dreams of the Jews for 2,000 years, in these paintings.”

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  • Oldest Haggada ever found goes on display in Jerusalem

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    Remnants of one of the oldest surviving Passover Haggadahs in the world, which was discovered in the trove of archived Jewish texts known as the Cairo Genizah, are currently on display as part of an exhibit at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. The Haggadah, hand-scribed on parchment, dates from the 12th century C.E.

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  • Reaffirming my choice of Judaism, one year later

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    While I was vaguely aware of some Jewish ancestry on both sides of my family, it wasn’t until I was twelve or thirteen (which, interestingly again, could have been the age of my bat mitzvah), when I made the connection that my last name could be traced back to the Levites, who assisted the Kohanim in the ancient Temple. Later, I would also come to find that my mother’s paternal lineage as a Kassin had over five centuries of Torah scholars, rabbis, and Kabbalists. A proud heritage that, despite my religious beliefs at the time, made me realize I was, indeed, a Jew…a disconnected Jew.

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  • Amsterdam and the Anousim Exodus

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    The history of the Jewish community in Amsterdam in the 17th century is the amazing story of a great reclamation project to save Jews and Judaism. The descendants of Jews forced to convert to Catholicism in 1497—known as “conversos”—found a home to return to Judaism in the Dutch city.

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  • Forgotten Jews of Southern Italy

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    “It’s safe to say that no less than 15 percent of Calabrians and Sicilians have Jewish ancestry — many thousands of people — so where are all of them?” he asked. Although there isn’t the fear of persecution there once was, Catholic church and local government officials tend to downplay or ignore the region’s Jewish history. “There are several churches that were originally synagogues, and almost every large town and city has a street named “La Giudecca,” “Degli Ebrei,” or “Del Ghetto,” where the Jews used to live, but you’ll never see that mentioned in the official history,” he said.

     

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  • A Hidden Jew's hagaddah

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    Over the years, the Passover hagaddah has become more than just a book used during Seder night; it has become something of a Jewish symbol. One hagaddah which starkly testifies to this status was published in 1928 in the city of Porto in Portugal, under the name "Haggadah Shel Pessah Le'Anusim (The Hagaddah of the forcibly-converted Jews)." The Haggadah was published by one Arthur Carlos De Barros Basto, known by his Hebrew name: Avraham Israel Ben-Rosh (1887-1961).

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  • In the shadow of the Inquisition

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    When the Inquisition expanded to South America to look for Judaizers – people who kept their rituals and traditions in secret after forced conversions, also known as conversos – most were from the Iberian Coast – Spain and Portugal – as well as North Africa and the Middle East, and known as Sephardim. In 1570, an Inquisition office was opened with the purpose of persecution in Lima, Peru. In 1571, the Grand Palace of the Inquisition launched its tribunal in Mexico City. In 1610 Cartegena, Colombia initiated an office of the Inquisition to look for others who were not faithful to the Church.

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  • The Sephardic history of Barbados

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    With its white sandy beaches, blue skies, and year-long warm weather, it’s difficult to imagine that the island of Barbados was once home to a thriving Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community. Top hats and morning suits seem at odds with the surrounding environment, and yet, the physical remnants of this Jewish community make it clear that Jews once found a way to not only live on this island, but for a time to even thrive there. The original community was at its height of activity in the eighteenth century when there were perhaps as many as a thousand Jews living there. It was during the boom years of the sugar industry. However, with the industry’s decline in the nineteenth century, the community slowly moved away.

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  • Brazil honors Jewish historian for her Inquisition and Anousim research

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    Jewish historian Anita Novinsky, 94, was nominated for the “Woman Science Pioneers” award by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development for her longtime academic and field research about Inquisition. Recognized as Brazil’s most prominent specialist in Brazilian and Portuguese Marranos, or hidden Jews who practiced Judaism secretly at home and pretended to be fervently Catholic while out in public, Novinsky became one of 70 Brazilians to receive the honor so far.

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  • March 31st: Possibly the Darkest Date in Jewish History

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    We call on the Jewish world to use this date as a springboard to help us correct an historic wrong and help Anousim who wish it, to reconnect with Israel and the Jewish world. Signing-up to our system will allow Jews to help both online and offline. On March 31st 1492 it was decided that our people should be forcibly separated and disconnected, let this March 31st, 524 years later, be the beginning of the time when we reconnect our people and mitigate the effects of one of the darkest dates of Jewish history.

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  • Reconectar Brings Numerous Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews Back to their Roots

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    Ashley Perry (Perez) is president of Reconectar (Spanish and Portuguese for “reconnect”), a project aimed at facilitating the reconnecting of descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities with the Jewish people.  He is also director-general of the official Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Communities.

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  • First hand account of the Expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492

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    In the spring of 1492, shortly after the Moors were driven out of Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain expelled all the Jews from their lands and thus, by a stroke of the pen, put an end to the largest and most distinguished Jewish settlement in Europe. The expulsion of this intelligent, cultured, and industrious class was prompted only in part by the greed of the king and the intensified nationalism of the people who had just brought the crusade against the Muslim Moors to a glorious close. The real motive was the religious zeal of the Church, the Queen, and the masses. The official reason given for driving out the Jews was that they encouraged the Marranos to persist in their Jewishness and thus would not allow them to become good Christians.

     

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  • Sephardic Hispanic Heritage: 13 Facts About ‘Latino Jews’

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    Sephardic Jews, also known as Spanish Jews or Latino Jews, are descendants of people who practiced the Jewish religion in Iberia (now Spain and Portugal) and North Africa. Here are some quick facts about Sephardic Jews and their descendents, who form an important part of the Latino community in the Americas.

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  • Brazilian Anusim write their own Hagadah

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    The descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews have authored their own Passover Hagadah with concurrent texts in Hebrew and Portuguese aimed at their fellow Bnai Anusim. A Hagadá de Pêssach do Sertão, as it has been dubbed, was produced in association with the Recife Sephardic Association, and follows the Portuguese-Amsterdam rite, including many songs in the Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino and illustrations in traditional Brazilian styles.

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  • The impact of Converso Jews on the genomes of modern Latin Americans

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    Modern day Latin America resulted from the encounter of Europeans with the indigenous peoples of the Americas in 1492, followed by waves of migration from Europe and Africa. As a result, the genomic structure of present day Latin Americans was determined both by the genetic structure of the founding populations and the numbers of migrants from these different populations. Here, we analyzed DNA collected from two well-established communities in Colorado (33 unrelated individuals) and Ecuador (20 unrelated individuals) with a measurable prevalence of the BRCA1 c.185delAG and the GHR c.E180 mutations, respectively, using Affymetrix Genome-wide Human SNP 6.0 arrays to identify their ancestry. These mutations are thought to have been brought to these communities by Sephardic Jewish progenitors.

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  • Identified as the Enemy, or, Why There Are So Few Jews in Portugal

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    At present, only a few hundred Jews live in Portugal, with small communities in Lisbon, Porto and a little town in the northeast mountains, Belmonte. In the 15th Century, however, tens of thousands of Jews made their homes there, and they constituted a significant minority in even the most isolated cities and towns. What happened to them?

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  • Jewish mom perpetuates Ladino with kid-friendly music

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    Sarah Aroeste is one of those people who seem utterly fascinating. She’s a mom and Ladino musician who recently released her fourth album “Ora de Despertar,” or “Time to Wake Up.” In her music, she explores her connection between her Sephardic roots in Greece and her passion for Ladino musical traditions.

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  • Removing our masks

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    In our lifetimes we are seeing open miracles with more and more people taking off their 'masks' and being proud and free of their true identity. Every day, people are discovering the secret of their Jewish heritage and ancestry and are openly seeking ways to reconnect with the people they were cruelly ripped from over the previous centuries. This is the miracle of the 21st Century that is both 'open' and 'hidden', and this is the paradox of our movement. May this Purim be the beginning of more 'masks' being removed and the movement to reconnect our people move forward to the next stage.

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  • Secret Celebration: How Spanish Jews Kept Purim Under the Inquisition

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    Some Anusim transformed Queen Esther into “Saint Esther,” as a means of disguising their Jewish faith from the Inquisition. Anusim frequently offered all of their prayers to her. Thus, even though the Anusim lost much of their Jewish heritage over the centuries when the Inquisition was in place, they never forgot Queen Esther or the words in the Megillah which proclaim, “These days of Purim will never leave the Jews, nor will their remembrance ever be lost to their descendants.”

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  • Ester La Heroína de Los Ahusim

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    Aunque la alegre fiesta de Purim se olvidó por completo, el  llamado Ayuno de Ester (observado, generalmente en la víspera de la fiesta) atrajo su atención en grado notable; y la importancia que alcanzó finalmente rivalizó con la del mismo Día de la Expiación. Es fácil hallar la razón de ello como  nos, explica Cecil Roth: ¿No fue  acaso  Ester, que "no dijo su raza ni su nacimiento", y que, sin embargo, permaneció fiel a la religión de sus padres en un ambiente extraño, casi idéntico al de los anusim?

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  • David's return: A Success Story

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    David is a trail blazer; he always fought with the ones to follow in his mind.  He hopes that his journey will ease that of others, that other people , his family too, will follow in his path and build up the courage to reclaim their true identity.  As David said it, Judaism is a full time religion, and Jews who live in the diaspora must make compromises.

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  • La sinagoga de Gerona : núcleo de la comunidad

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    Este ámbito del museo se adentra en el espacio sagrado de la sinagoga, lugar donde la comunidad estudia, ora, se reúne y celebra las festividades. Los visitantes pueden observar elementos rituales y de culto, así como también hallazgos arqueológicos y documentos (originales y reproducciones) que hacen referencia a las sinagogas de Girona.

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  • The Jewish pirates that punished their former tormentors

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    Revenge was sweet. In the centuries following the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions of the Holy Roman Empire, there were Jews that took to the high seas to punish with vengeance those that had betrayed them and their families.

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  • How did Conversos cook?

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    Spanish and Jewish Studies Professor Ana Gómez-Bravo shares favorite recipes for dishes eaten by the Sephardic community of 15th-century Spain. Learn how to make these dishes yourself and delve into the history behind the food in The Converso Cookbook.

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  • When Irish eyes smiled on the country’s ‘secret Jews’

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    Communities and families of secret Jews have lived throughout the world, in North and South America, in Asia, in Africa and in Europe—even in remote parts of Spain and Portugal. Their descendents—some aware of their Jewish ancestry, others not—can be found in virtually every corner of the earth including, it seems, the Emerald Isle.

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  • The Jewish World May Actually be 5-10 Million People Bigger

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    According to various genetic/DNA studies conducted over the past decade, 20% of men in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) have Jewish genetic ancestry. In Brazil, estimates are that 5-10 million people are descendants of so-called Bnei Anousim - descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity. This phenomenon spans the world, potentially reaching millions more.

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  • Alia dreams of Aliyah

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    Making a full-circle 'return' to 'reconnect' to the root of Torah, ancestrally-speaking over several generations of practicing Catholics, Christians and Muslims in my paternal and maternal lineages, in the lifetime of my family and I to Judaism, is truly a miracle within itself and one of which I'm so grateful to The Creator for.  Today, I can say, with so much joy in my heart, that the meaning of my legal first name (given to me by my deceased biological father) has carried me in my life journey to ascend (Alia-Aliyah) spiritually, Biblically speaking, and G-d willing one day, physically, as dual citizens (new olim) to the State of Israel.

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  • The reunion

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    What would happen, I wondered, to those who in time came to understand their lost identities? What if all they wanted was a little information, and to enjoy the romance of belonging to the Jewish people? What about those who did decide to convert? Would the road be smooth or would the intransigence of institutions and bigoted members of our tribe leave them with a bitter taste? Who was going to help them without making demands? Who would reach out to them gently, without insisting on radical changes in their lifestyles in order to have the longing of their Jewish souls recognized? Who would be their champion and help them return formally if they so desired, or just help them learn about their ancestry and history, how to celebrate a Shabbat or just say a prayer, or learn the alef bet?

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  • Jay's Past is Calling for his Return

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    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.

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  • Shared Roots: The Jewish and Portuguese people

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    We hope that as more Portuguese people reconnect with their Jewish ancestry, and Jews reconnect with their Portuguese ancestry, this will serve to bolster and strengthen ties between our peoples.

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  • The Rich Intellectual and Cultural Legacy of the Sephardic Jews of Spain

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    After the Jewish people were exiled from Israel in 70CE, their journey took them all over the world, including Spain. The Sephardic Jews of Muslim Spain, otherwise known as Al Andalus, experienced a golden age from the second half of the eighth century until the end of the eleventh century. This golden age produced some of the greatest Jewish philosophers, writers, poets, scientists, and doctors. Additionally, during that period of time, Jews thrived in the political sphere, reaching to the heights of power in the Spanish Muslim courts during an era when Jews living under Christian rule were being systematically persecuted. The contributions to world civilization produced by the Jews of Al Andalus were so significant that they influence us to this date.

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  • First Spanish-born rabbi since 1492 expulsion set on reversing history

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    Haim Casas, 34, had no inkling as a young boy in Cordoba, Spain, that he would one day become a rabbi — especially since his family was Catholic. However, after he started taking an interest in Judaism and Jewish history in his teens, he recognized signs that the pull he felt to the religion might not be purely arbitrary. As he was growing up, his maternal grandfather would take him every Sunday to visit the old Jewish quarter of the city, and to look at the famous statue of Maimonides there.

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  • Knesset Caucus Aims to ‘Reconnect’ with Descendants of Sephardi Jews

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    Ashley Perry, President of Reconectar, and other like-minded individuals and politicians launched a new Knesset caucus Tuesday that aims to reconnect these potential friends of Israel to the state their ancestors prayed for. The Knesset event, which saw some 300 participants, including several MKs and the Spanish and Argentine ambassadors, was “something very symbolic and historic,” Perry told The Times of Israel this week. The subsequent conference, which took place in Jerusalem’s Ben Tzvi Institute, was chaired by Yisrael Beytenu MK Robert Ilatov, who cited the significance and potential global reach of this new initiative through the sheer numerical force of the descendants, which “stand in the tens of millions around the world,” said Ilatov.

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  • Latinos Coming Home to Israel

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    The younger generation of Latinos in the U.S., and in Latin America, will see Israel beyond the news and conflict. In fact, the more they learn about Israel, Jewish history and culture, the more they will begin to see the similarities with their own, and even learn of the great overlap in our histories. We should encourage greater awareness among Latinos and Hispanics about Jews, and Jews about Latinos and Hispanics, because for many, this isn’t so much of a visit as a homecoming.

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  • Sonya's Dreams of Return Become Reality

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    My whole life, I felt that there was something missing.  When I was five, my brother and I were playing with my cousins at my maternal grandmothers house.  My grandmother that I light candles with, the one who covered her head three times a day to pray facing the east, whom taught all of her daughters how to check eggs for blood, and never to pass the dirt collected while sweeping the floors over the door post.  She was the grandmother whom had a virgin Mary water font in the door post of her house, and collected “holy water every holy Saturday.”

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  • Catalina's Faith and Persistence Helped Her return

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    "As long as deep in the heart beats a Jewish soul ..." (From Israel’s National Anthem ‘HaTikva’ – The Hope). I will never forget that phrase because that's exactly what I felt for 25 years, before I dared to accept that Judaism was and would be part of my life, and continue this ancient legacy.

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  • Could Jennifer Lopez be Jewish?

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    While the idea that Jennifer Lopez might be Jewish, or to put it more accurately, have Jewish ancestry, may be news to many, including the singer herself, this possibility is not as unlikely as it seems. Jennifer Lopez was born in New York, to Puerto Rican parents named Guadalupe Rodriguez and David Lopez. The first thing that strikes anyone familiar with Sephardic history is that both Rodriguez and Lopez are two of the most well known names for the descendants of forcibly-converted Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

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  • Tikvah's Journey Home

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    In my heart, in my soul, I honestly believe and know that I am Jewish, there are no words to describe this...but I know that those on a similar journey can relate to this fully. The first promise I made to HaShem upon my decision was that I wanted to become the best Jew there is! May HaShem bless Reconectar, the leaders and those who are working so hard in order to recognize and acknowledge the Bnei Anusim’s long journey back home! Thank you for your time in reading this, and please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance.

     

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  • President Rivlin: Reconnecting brethren lost in Spanish Inquisition is ‘vital’ task

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    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin praised activists who are working to reconnect the descendants of Sephardic Jews with the Jewish people. Rivlin said this in a letter he sent last month to Reconectar, a nonprofit that last week launched a its website in English, Spanish and Portuguese in the hope of reaching out to non-Jews descended from Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity during the 15th and 16th centuries in Portugal and Spain, during the Inquisition– the name for religious persecution of Jews. “It is vital to locate and reconnect with those who remain our brothers and sisters,” Rivlin wrote to Reconectar, adding: “I would like to congratulate you on your important effort to reconnect with the anousim,” a Hebrew word that means “the forced ones.”

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  • Return of the Anousim is Fulfilling Jewish Prophecy

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    The books of Zephaniah and Obadiah are found in the collection of 12 Prophets in the Bible. Notably concise – Obadiah is one chapter while Zephaniah is three truncated chapters – they are easily overlooked. Nonetheless, included in them are direct references to the Messianic import of the return of Crypto-Jews, also known as Bnei Anousim, to the Jewish fold.

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  • Against All Odds, Andrea Returned

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    My name is Andrea Cohen i live in Israel now after experiencing a huge miracle 5 years ago, that I'd really love to share with you. I've returned to Judaism to my family's complete surprise after 500+ years of secrecy. My family is from Sicily and believed we were faithful typical Sicilian Catholic Americans, I was born and raised in New York like a typical Sicilian American girl despite my unhealthy obsession with the holocaust, and reading the Bible on Saturday morning as a little girl.

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  • Los Latinos Que Vuelven a Casa a Israel

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    A través de estos y muchos más proyectos, la generación más joven de latinos en los Estados Unidos y en América Latina, verá a Israel más allá de la noticia y el conflicto. De hecho, mientras más aprenden acerca de Israel, la historia y la cultura judía, más se van a empezar a ver las similitudes con su propia, e incluso aprender de la gran superposición en nuestras historias. Para aquellos que buscan una mayor reconexión, Reconectar estará allí para ayudar y ofrecer soluciones.

     

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  • A Hidden Jewish “Archive” in the Azores

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    It’s too soon to know just how much the fragile, sometimes worm-eaten, occasionally mildewed material we found in this cache can tell us, but even at this early stage, the contours of the community have begun to emerge. Communal documents and commercial letters we examined confirm that this was a mercantile community dominated by a few wealthy families. It was quite traditional: the materials include many well-used Jewish sacred books, as well as phylacteries, prayer shawls, mezuzah scrolls, and other religious items. It was a distinctly North African community: the boxes contain documents signed by rabbis in the ornate Magrebi style, and members of the community had names like Bensaude, Zagorey, Bozaglo, Azulay, Zafrany, and Biton.

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  • A Knesset Conference on Reconnecting with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews

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    Every generation looks back at history, especially one so fraught and turbulent as ours, and tries to ascertain what might have been if something had gone another way or the actors involved had behaved differently. We may not have an opportunity to change history, but we can undo some of its devastating consequences. A shared history, roots and ancestry requires that our two communities, the Bnei Anusim and the Jewish world as a whole, reconnect to partly undo the horrors of a bygone era. The Jewish people has shown by the unprecedented redemption of our ancestral homeland that we are undaunted by history and its consequences. I hope some of that unchecked pioneering spirit will help us in this venture..

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  • Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean and Other Jews in Central and Southern America

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    Not every Jewish community can lay claim to a tombstone etched with a skull and crossbones as part of its cultural heritage. The one in Jamaica does. Among its most infamous early members is one Moses Cohen Henriques, a Dutch pirate of Sephardic origin who played a major role in looting the fleet of Spanish galleons in the 1600s.

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  • Ladino – Language of the Sephardic Jews

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    Ladino, also sometimes known as Judeo-Spanish, Sephardic, Crypto-Jewish, Judezmo, Hakitia, or Spanyol, had its origins in 1492, when Jews were expelled from Spain. Over the centuries, the Spanish of the late 15th century as spoken by those Jews underwent changes as it was influenced by the various languages of the countries to which the Sephardic Jews emigrated.

    Ladino meets the criteria of a distinct language, and is not merely a dialect of Spanish.

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  • Sephardic Traditions at the Passover Seder

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    The word "Sephardi" comes from the word, "Sefarad" which is the Hebrew word for Spain. Those of us whose background is Sephardic trace our roots to the Jews of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco and other parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Within the group known as Sephardic, are Jews whose history is that of the anousim. "Anousim" is the Hebrew word for "the forced ones," and Sephardic Jews who are also anousim are Jews whose roots include having been forced into Christian practice – called "marranos," -- or those who took their Jewish practices into hiding – "crypto Jews." Interestingly, the word "marranos" is not a Spanish word but a Portuguese one. It comes from the Ladino (the language of the Sephardi that is a mix of Spanish and Hebrew) and although it means "swine" in Spanish, the word "marranos" in Portuguese often means "coerced one," and comes from the Hebrew word "anous" which has the same meaning.

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  • Success and Sadness: The History of the Jews of Portugal

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    The history of Portugese Jewry is like that of many other places, where success and sadness go hand in hand. Walking along Lisbon’s streets, remnants remain of Portugal’s rich Jewish life. Sparks of Portugal’s past can be found in the remote mountain villages, where the some of the last remaining Marrano communities can still be found practicing Jewish rituals behind closed doors, fear of persecutions still looming. Today, the Jewish community of Portugal numbers approximately 600 people.

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  • The Crypto-Jews of Brazil are Discovering Their Birthright

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    In the middle of the night, as the non-Jews slept, David de Andrada and his grandfather would sneak out to the sidewalk in front of their home. By the light of a small bonfire, the grandfather would read to his young grandson from a large book. De Andrada thus learned about Abraham and the twelve tribes who were enslaved in Egypt. When de Andrada would ask his grandfather about the book, he was told that “it’s a book with stories of ancient people.” De Andrada was raised in a village in northern Brazil, where life revolved around the church. No one dared mentioned the word “Jew” out loud. In fact, de Andrada says that he had never even heard of the Jews until he was 19 years old. Even he was fooled by his family’s efforts at disguising their origins.

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  • The Crypto-Jewish Cuisine of Mexico

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    While dining at a Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque, I was shocked to eat something that reminded me of my mom's East Coast Jewish cooking. I had taken a chance on a bowl of meatball soup called albóndigas. It turned out to be a bowl of mildly aromatic broth with chunks of carrot, celery, zucchini and one large beef meatball. My first bite of that meatball, the albóndiga, was spongy, and its mellow, satisfying flavor reminded me unmistakably of Mom's matzo balls. Of course matzo balls don't contain meat. But part of their magic is a springy, fleshy quality.

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  • Taking a Bite of Converso History Through Tacos

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    Since 2005, Texas-born conceptual artist and former Heeb photo editor, Peter Svarzbein has been interviewing and photographing Latino families in the American Southwest who are returning to Judaism — believing their ancestors were Conversos, forced converts to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. Svarzbein, 33, was looking for a way for more people to feast their eyes on these portraits of Crypto Jews and to chew on the historic circumstances that connect Latinos and Jewish traditions. That’s when he came up with the idea for a food truck — a kosher taco truck, to be exact.

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  • Judaism is a Fundamental Human Right

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    Although the Marranos were economically successful and were even able to enjoy relative political freedom, they were socially ostracized in Spain, and were persecuted by the Inquisition. They were "The Other Within," belonging and not belonging at the same time. Some of the Jews rejected them as traitors and deserters, and most of the Christians perceived them still as Jews, claiming that their blood was impure. Yovel argues in his book that this situation, this social isolation, and personal, religious and social tension of living between two religions, created among many Conversos a split identity, a duality, a split in consciousness, which evoked restlessness, social unrest and religious rebellion.

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  • How To Recognize a Secret Spanish Jew by His Marrano Accent

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    What was it about the man’s tone and use or articulation of bueno — “good,” “fine” or “all right” — that revealed him so quickly to be a marrano? Borrow doesn’t say. But he was an apparently honest reporter with a first-rate ear for language, and something — probably, as he implies, a resemblance to Judeo-Spanish speech he had heard elsewhere in his travels, in North Africa, the Balkans or Turkey — rang a familiar bell. Could he perhaps have had marrano blood himself? It doesn’t seem at all likely. Yet it is strange that, after being asked “Are you then one of us?” he skips to another scene as if eager to change the subject.

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  • The Spanish Inquisition and Me

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    The day of my conversion to Judaism was the ultimate cosmic link between my past, my present and my future. Although it was 12 years ago, I remember it as if it happened a few hours ago. I can still feel the acceleration in my heart, the knot of tears trapped in my throat, along with the nervous breathing from the overwhelming commitment I was undertaking. I can still hear the words "kosher, kosher, kosher" echoing in my mind and the warm waters of the mikvah embracing my body, transforming me into a new being.

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  • Anousim Are Welcome

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    The return of the b’nei anusim must be accomplished in an open and non-judgmental manner, with no pressure to neither choose any particular path nor make any large commitment. A sense of safety and easy access to resources are necessary to repair this broken link. Opening the gates and arms of the Jewish people to welcome back so many potential allies and community members is especially critical now, at a time when the Jewish population is stagnant or shrinking, and anti-Semitism is on the rise in many places around the globe. Both in Europe and Latin America, a larger and more visible Jewish community will serve as a bulwark against forces threatening the survival of the Jewish people.

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  • Sephardic Jews in the Caribbean Islands

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    Throughout the Caribbean we find evidences of Jewish presence and Jewish contributions to the region. Sephardic Jews helped build nations and islands that were discovered by Christopher Columbus and other people with Jewish backgrounds. My last book “El Caribe, Siempre el Caribe” could have another name: “The Sephardic Jews, Always the Sephardic Jews”. I praise God for the lives and work of our Sephardic ancestors. Some of my ancestors were Sephardim. And I am proud of that. 

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  • Jewish Agency Chairman Sharansky: Israel Must Ease Conversion for Crypto-Jews

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    Israel must ease the conversion and immigration process, particularly for the descendants of conversos, those forced to convert to Catholicism in medieval Spain, the chairman of the Jewish Agency said. “Spain is making an effort to return the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492,” Natan Sharansky said at an Ashdod Conference on Aliyah and Absorption, referring to a new bill in Spain to give Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors were exiled in 1492, dual citizenship privileges. “It is important to note that, according to estimates, there are millions of descendants of conversos, including hundreds of thousands who are exploring ways of returning to their Jewish roots. The State of Israel must ease the way for their return,” he said.

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  • Sephardic Vogue

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    The bigger story is the rapid growth of Jewish life in Spain, once home to one of the world’s largest and most accomplished Jewish communities but which has had only a modest Jewish presence since the expulsion in the 15th and 16th centuries. Nowhere is the growth felt more strongly than in Madrid, home to Spain’s largest Jewish community of some 12,000 members, where six of the capital’s seven synagogues have opened in the last decade. Bet Januka is one of six Reform communities founded across the country since 2007. Locals say the process is being driven by a number of factors, including a supportive government and the arrival of thousands of Argentine Jews who were driven to Spain by the financial crisis of the 2000s and earlier by the Dirty War, the reign of political terror in the 1970s. Prior to their arrival, the Jewish community was constituted overwhelmingly by a small group of Orthodox Jews of Moroccan descent.

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  • Under the Nose of the Inquisition

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    Throughout our long history, Jews have overcome all sorts of obstacles to observe the mitzvah of sukkah. But perhaps one of the most striking instances of the Jewish people’s love for this mitzvah – and determination to fulfill it at all costs – is the sukkah that was built in Mexico City in the year 1603 by a crypto-Jew named Sebastian Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been arrested by the Inquisition for committing the crime of Judaizing – practicing Judaism in secret – and was sitting in jail. With Sukkot fast approaching, he decided to do the impossible: Build a sukkah. In prison. Under the eyes of his jailers, agents of the Spanish Inquisition. There was only one question: How on earth was he going to do it?

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  • Growing Number Of Latin Americans Returning to Judaism

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    The phenomenon of Latin Americans converting to Judaism has exploded over the past few years – but one small Jewish synagogue is making it its mission to seek congregants in Latin America.  Some of those who convert are descendants of Jewish ancestors who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. Known as Conversos, Crypto Jews, Anusim, Marranos, or secret Jews, they became Catholic in public but continued their forbidden Jewish practices in private. 

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  • When Irish Eyes Smiled on the Country’s ‘Secret Jews’

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    Communities and families of secret Jews have lived throughout the world, in North and South America, in Asia, in Africa and in Europe—even in remote parts of Spain and Portugal. Their descendents—some aware of their Jewish ancestry, others not—can be found in virtually every corner of the earth including, it seems, the Emerald Isle. That was the surprising revelation that emerged recently at an international conference, “The Secret Jews of Ireland”, held at Netanya Academic College. The conference, jointly sponsored by the International Institute for Secret Jews (Anusim) Studies and Casa Shalom Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies, enthralled a large audience with a state-of-the-art overview of this fascinating but little known subject.

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  • Coming Out of Hiding to Reclaim Your Roots

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    MATURE student Shulamit Hudson was born Constanza Parra into a family of hidden Jews in a small town in Colombia, South America. Happy to have at last found her spiritual home in Prestwich, Manchester, the mother-of-four has spoken about the hidden Jewish practices which both sides of her family had kept for generations. Her own spiritual journey back to her Jewish roots had detours in China and Cheltenham. "I was born in a small town where there was no Jewish community," Shulamit said. "I come from an anusim (hidden Jewish) background." Her maternal great-great-grandmother converted to Catholicism in the late 19th century when the Catholic Church held political sway over the newly-emerging Colombian republic. Shulamit said: "She became almost antisemitic, talking about how problematic it was to be Jewish and how difficult were the rules. "Her daughter, my great-grandmother, felt very embarrassed that her mother had taken that approach."

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  • Rabbi Helps Hispanics Connect with Secret Jewish Roots

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    Two days after Rabbi Stephen Leon moved to El Paso from New Jersey in 1986, he received an urgent phone call from a Roman Catholic man wanting to speak with him about a family mystery. “He told me that his entire family were religious Catholics living in Juarez, but he remembers ever since he was a little boy, 3 or 4 years old, his grandmother would take him into a room on Friday night, light two candles, and say a prayer in a language he didn’t understand.” Years after his grandmother died, the man asked a priest what the tradition actually meant. The priest suggested he contact a rabbi. The man told Rabbi Leon about his grandmother’s ritual and was surprised when Leon told him the tradition was of Hebrew origin.

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  • Secret Celebration: How Spanish Jews Kept Purim Under the Inquisition

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    For the Anusim of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, Purim was not a festive day full of children making noise and adults consuming alcohol. If these Jews celebrated in this manner, they would be discovered by the Inquisition. Instead, the Anusim, whose very existence was always in peril, would fast for three days, just as Queen Esther fasted for three days when the Jews of Persia were threatened with annihilation. As a result, the Inquisition used the Fast of Esther as an indicator of Jews engaging in forbidden religious activity.

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  • Revealed: Lost Jews of Calabria

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    As in Spain 500 years ago, southern Italy’s thriving Jewish community was almost completely destroyed by forced mass conversions and emigration. Although many people lost track of their Jewish past over time, Jewish traditions and customs were passed on to new generations who were often not aware where they had come from. Now these traditions are helping with the identification of scores of ‘Anusim’ — Italian Marranos — and allowing some to be brought back to Judaism. Many Anusim learning about their roots under the guidance of US-born Reform Rabbi Barbara Aiello at Ner Tamid del Sud, the shul she founded in Serrastretta, Calabria — her ancestral home — a few years ago. Rabbi Aiello said that when she first started asking local people if they had Jewish roots, she was met with denial.

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  • 'Lost tribe' of Mallorca Jews Welcomed Back to the Faith 600 Years Later

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    Almost six centuries after most of them converted to Christianity, a rabbinical court has declared that descendants of a "lost tribe" from the Spanish island of Mallorca can once more be considered Jews. A decision by the ultra-orthodox rabbi Nissim Karelitz recognises that the Chuetas of Mallorca, who were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition and remained a distinct group within Mallorcan society until the 1970s, had the right to call themselves Jews. Today's Chuetas are descendants of Jews who are considered to have been forcibly converted in the early 15th century, decades before Spain formally expelled its Jews in 1492.

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  • The Converso’s Dilemma

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    Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day – perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear – you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago. For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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  • Colombian Evangelical Christians Convert to Judaism, Embracing Hidden Past

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    They were committed evangelicals, devoted to Jesus Christ. But what some here called a spark, an inescapable pull of their ancestors, led them in a different direction, to Judaism. There were the grandparents who wouldn’t eat pork, the fragments of a Jewish tongue from medieval Spain that spiced up the language, and puzzling family rituals such as the lighting of candles on Friday nights. So, after a spiritual journey that began a decade ago, dozens of families that had once belonged to a fire-and-brimstone church became Jews, converting with the help of rabbis from Miami and Jerusalem.

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  • Vincenzo’s Victory – An Anusim Bar Mitzvah in Palermo, Sicily

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    The surnames of Vincenzo’s ancestors appear on ancient Inquisition documents that describe the arrest, torture and murder of Sicilian Jews. Many of these were families that were forced to accept Christian baptism but refused to abandon their Jewish practices. When these secret Jews were found to be “Judaizing,” they were thrown into jail, tortured and often burned alive in public spectacles called “autodafe`.” Reclaiming their Judaism has been difficult for many secret Jews, called “bnai anusim,” or “children of the forced ones,” so it was with great joy and pride that Vincenzo Uziel Li Calzi, a Sicilian “ben anusim” made Jewish history by becoming the third Jew to have a public Bar Mitzvah ceremony on the island of Sicily in 500 years since Inquisition times.

     
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  • Anusim, from the Iberian Peninsula to Sicily and Calabria

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    Anusim, “forced ones” is the correct term which describes a group of Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the 1492 Inquisition. The issue was particularly important for many of them because they were not only forced to convert to Christianity, but moreover forced to abandon their Jewish Nation status. The greatest damage would have been how to keep Judaism without being any longer part of the Jewish Nation. We recognize true Anusim from this particular detail, and for their efforts to keep traditions even in the Diaspora. Some of the Anusim had the inner knowledge to believe that auto da fe’ would not stop, their father’s wise heritage had printed in their minds that prosecutions would not come to an end therefore a secure way to live as a Jew, was actually to remain Anusim, and only through strong faith they had continued to believe time will come to reopen the door again to free them to a safe Jewish life.

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  • New El Paso Center Opens Door to Mysterious Past for Crypto-Jews

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    Rabbi Stephen Leon has developed a deep interest in the history of the crypto-Jews in El Paso, his home for 28 years. "I've been involved with the issues of crypto-Jews ever since I came to El Paso. It started that first week I was here and I met someone from Juárez who came to me because his grandmother had been lighting candles on Friday nights but he didn't know why," Leon said. "That conversation started my interest in the subject, which over the years became a passion." Leon will open the Anusim Center in August at the site of the former Holocaust Museum, 401 Wallenberg. The center will be part museum, part study center, and a place for descendants to consider a return to Judaism.

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  • Welcoming Anusim Back Into The Family

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    In a remarkable turn of events, people today - primarily in South American countries and in the Southwest United States - are discovering they are the descendants of Jewish families who lived in the Iberian Peninsula 500 years ago. Stop a moment and consider how you would react if one morning, on your way to minyan, you somehow received information that you really were not Jewish at all, but that your ancestors had hidden from you the fact that your were descended from crypto Jews who assumed the identity of Jews only to save their lives. And now, living in a free society, you have the opportunity to return to the religion and traditions of your ancestors who had no real interest in becoming Jews those hundred of years ago but did so only to survive. That is exactly the situation faced by anusim.

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  • Documenting the Lives of Converso Jews

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    For ten years, veteran documentary filmmaker Joseph Lovett has been working on a project close to his heart, Children of the Inquisition, which tells the stories of descendants of Jews who fled Spain and Portugal in 1492—some of whom remained practicing Jews, others who are only now discovering their lineage. “It’s something that I always found fascinating,” said Lovett, who grew up Jewish in Providence, Rhode Island. His rabbi had gone to Madrid in 1958 and when he asked about Jews and Judaism, no one would talk to him. “The shadow of the Inquisition still reigned.” Many years later, visiting Spain during the commemoration of Columbus’s quincentennial, Lovett noticed that “there suddenly was so much interest in the Jewish diaspora and the expulsion,” he said. “I realized this story has never been told.”

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  • The Desperate Plight of the Bnei Anusim

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    There are two routes to being recognized as Jewish, either conversion or acceptance by the Rabbinate as being Jewish according to Halacha, in other words someone who has a documented line of descent from Jewish mothers and who wishes to live according to Jewish precepts. This couple has some limited documentation and hopes to be accepted. A main hurdle is that presently there is NO approved orthodox conversion process anywhere in Latin America. Also many Bnei Anusim do not want to go through a long drawn out and oppressive conversion process even if there were such processes available. It is because they consider themselves already Jewish now living a Torah-based Jewish lifestyle, having completely left aside the Christian label and wish to be accepted as brothers back into the Jewish community.

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  • The Inquisition: Full Circle

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    Queen Isabella of Spain must be turning over in her grave. Five centuries after the Spanish despot sought to erase all vestiges of Jewish life on the Iberian Peninsula, a growing number of her victims' descendants are now emerging from the shadows, seeking to reclaim their long-lost heritage. One such person is Nuria Guasch Vidal, whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Catholicism in Spain. At great personal risk, her forefathers secretly preserved their cherished, yet hidden, Jewish identity, handing it down from one generation to the next, clandestinely defying the Spanish Inquisition and its henchmen. As a child growing up outside Barcelona, Nuria never did quite understand why her family did not celebrate Christmas or go to church like their neighbors, or why every Friday evening they would set an elaborate table for dinner and proceed to dip the bread in salt before the meal.

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  • Queen Esther: Patron Saint of Crypto-Jews

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    When the Spanish Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella established the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, many Jews converted to Catholicism outwardly. Inwardly, they kept practicing Judaism in secret, becoming anusim, conversos, or crypto-Jews. Queen Esther was an inspiration to the anusim in that she modeled a way for them to remember and retain their true, hidden Jewish identity while integrating into the society around them. The conversos implemented a strategy to be able to continue practicing Jewish customs while hiding their observance by inserting a Jewish tradition into a Catholic practice or “syncretism” — the mixing of rituals from different religions.

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  • Undoing the Inquisition

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    The forced conversion of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula during and after the Reconquista, the Spanish Inquisition and the subsequent expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal remain one of the most traumatic and devastating events in the long and turbulent history of the Jewish People.

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  • A Question of Identity Leads Home to Israel

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    Fabian Spagnoli doesn’t know why the man in the small shop in Spain said it. Spagnoli had gone in to buy a new blanket for his bed. Instead, the man looked at him and told him straight out, “You are a Jew.” Spagnoli and the shopkeeper got to talking and the two became fast friends. The shopkeeper, who was Jewish, began teaching Spagnoli things about Judaism; about synagogue and prayer. “Life is a mystery,” Spagnoli says. “It’s a balance between our personal wills and what G-d wants. Clearly, it was written that this man had to tell me this. It’s something that’s not logical. It’s beyond materialism.”

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  • Latinos, Jews Need to Work Together

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    As the Latino population continues to increase in the United States (54 million, 17 percent of population, and estimated by 2060 to reach nearly 129 million, 31 percent of population) and Latinos gain more political clout, the Jewish community is working to build alliances between the two communities on issues such as immigration reform and relations with Israel. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is taking the lead in strengthening Latino-Jewish ties through its Washington, D.C.-based Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs.

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  • Study: 20% of Spanish, Portuguese Men are of Jewish Lineage

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    One out of every five Spanish and Portuguese men is of Jewish descent, a new genetic study reveals. The research, which was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics last Thursday, analyzed the Y chromosome in 1,140 males from the Iberian Peninsula and Balearic Islands, and found a "high mean proportion of ancestry from North African (10.6%) and Sephardic Jewish (19.8%) sources." These findings are indicative of the wide scope of massive religious conversions in the region towards the end of the 15th century and the expulsion of Spain's Jews.

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  • Reclaiming a Jewish Hero from the Spanish Inquisition

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    Luis de Carvajal, the younger, was not a typical Jewish hero. He did not establish a rabbinic dynasty; in fact, he has no known direct descendants. No one alive today knew him or was moved to take action by the eloquence of his words. In fact, outside some circles of scholarship, few even know such a person ever existed. And yet, his life and his legacy are the very stuff of the American Jewish experience.

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  • The Restoration Of Jewish Cemeteries In Jamaica

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    Over the last nine years, seventy-seven-year-old Ainsley Henriques, community leader and Jewish Jamaican genealogist, has been working with Rachel Frankel, coordinator of volunteers from the Caribbean Volunteer Expedition (a non-profit organization that recruits people from the United States to work on historic conservation projects) to catalogue Jamaica’s thirteen remaining Jewish cemeteries in an effort to preserve the island’s rich Jewish history.

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