Reviving Jewish Life in Southern Spain
A Jewish community in southern Spain is gearing up for a special seminar this weekend aimed at reaching out to the region’s large numbers of crypto-Jews – people whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Dozens of people are scheduled to attend the event, which will include traditional Sabbath prayers, festive meals, and lectures. Delivered by Spanish, Portuguese and Israeli rabbis, the lectures will be on topics such as “The Dynamics of the Oral Law” and “Renaissance and Recognition of Bnei Anousim [crypto-Jews].” The event is being organized together with the Jerusalem-based Amishav organization (“www.amishav.org.il”), which assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people.
Aharon Franco, a Jewish community leader in the event’s host city of Murcia, says that Murcia has a long and rich Jewish history. “Many local families observe Jewish customs, such as lighting candles on Friday evening,” he says, “although the origin of these practices is not always familiar to them. But political changes in Spain in the past few decades, along with the spread of Jewish culture, have caused many of them to begin to identify once again as descendants of Jews.” Franco estimates that at least 20% of Murcia’s population of 350,000 can trace their ancestry back to Jews. In recent years, the community has restored the ancient synagogue at in the nearby town of Lorca, which is now once again being used for prayers.
Amishav Director Michael Freund said that the initiative for the seminar had come from the Bnei Anousim themselves, who are looking for ways to reconnect with their heritage. “In the past year, we have held four seminars in Spain and Portugal, and Murcia will be our fifth,” he said. “There is a growing thirst for Jewish knowledge among the Bnei Anousim, and it is our obligation to reach out and help them.” Franco, himself a crypto-Jew who formally returned to Judaism last year, said that his journey of return began when he was young: “When I was 12 years old, I already felt Jewish, even before I learned that my grandfather was from a Spanish Jewish background and that my grandmother was from the Anousim. It was then that my quest and my struggle to find my place within my people began.” It wasn’t easy, he said, but “thankfully, organizations such as Amishav are opening the doors and enabling many of this nation’s lost sons to return home. This is not just an act of historical justice, but also a matter of great importance to Jewish continuity at a time when assimilation is destroying our communities.”