Spain’s Crypto-Jews Seeking to Return

More than fifty descendants of Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews attended an intensive three-day seminar held in Madrid this past weekend by the Jerusalem-based Amishav organization, which reaches out and assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people. The participants, who hailed from over a dozen communities across the Iberian peninsula, were Bnei Anousim, whose ancestors were compelled to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition (historians have often referred to them by the disparaging term “Marranos”). “The turnout was great A it exceeded our expectations,” said Amishav Director Michael Freund. “We studied Jewish texts together, learned about the travails of their ancestors, and examined issues of identity and return currently faced by the Bnai Anousim.”

Among those addressing the group were Rabbi Moshe Ben-Dahan, the Chief Rabbi of Madrid, Mr. Jacobo Garcon, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, and Mr. Jackie Haddad, Spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Madrid. The seminar was entitled “The Meaning of Liberty: Individual and Collective Freedom in the Life of the Bnai Anousim”. Sessions were held at Madrid’s main synagogue, and included traditional Sabbath services as well as festive meals. “There is a real awakening taking place among the Bnei Anousim, who long to reconnect with the Jewish people and their heritage,” Freund said. “It was quite moving to look around the room and see these people, who have clung to their Jewish roots despite centuries of persecution, singing Sabbath hymns and discussing their desire to return to Judaism. We simply have to do more to help them.”

“I waited 500 years for this seminar,” said one participant from northern Portugal. “And now at last I feel that I have taken a first step on my way back home, to rejoin my people – the Jewish people.”

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