Abstracts of Presentations at Conference 2012

By Seth Ward

Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies
22nd Annual Conference
July 22-24, 2012
Hotel Albuquerque, Albuquerque, NM


Art Benveniste, Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, Growing up in a Sephardic Community and the History of Sephardic Jews in Los Angeles

This presentation is based on my talks about the history of Sephardic Jews in Los Angeles, and my experience of growing up in an all Sephardic community, and my culture shock when finding myself the only Jew in my AZA club and at Hillel who had no knowledge of Yiddish or other elements of the Ashkenazi tradition.

The proposed presentation includes anecdotes about the problems of a Ladino speaker in Spanish class or in talking to Spanish speakers, and material about the founding of the Sephardic community in L.A., mostly from a video interview with two of the original founders more than 30 years ago. Other historic documentation includes a video of a complete Passover Haggadah in Ladino, some of the older women singing and speaking in Ladino, photos of the founders and of the early synagogues, and scanned pages, written in Ladino, from first meeting of the board of the synagogue.

In my studies of Crypto-Judaism I have found examples of Ladino in their language and examples of foods and folk songs that certainly come from the Sephardic culture. While this paper does not deal directly with Crypto Jews, it addresses an aspect of the Sephardic experience and indirectly relates to the Crypto-Jewish experience, showing some parallels that Ladino and Sephardic culture have with the culture of Crypto-Jews and with the phenomenon of being an “outsider” in a predominantly Ashkenazi culture.

Genie Milgrom, Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami, Unlocking the Secrets of the Jewish Past of Fermoselle

My personal journey to uncover the Jewish Roots of my very Catholic family catapulted me back 15 generations to a tiny village on the Spanish-Portuguese Border named Fermoselle, where my family had lived for over 450 years. I was able to trace a direct maternal lineage back to 1545 and prove that the family was a Jewish Converso one. While that story in and of itself is fascinating given the strong feelings of identification with the Jewish people that I had as a Catholic child, the coming full circle to actually have the family identified as a Converso one via family evidence and Inquisition Records is nothing less than amazing. My subsequent forages into the village to unearth the vestiges of Jewish life there amidst total negation from the villagers have been challenging yet have yielded rich results. To date, I have been able to locate two synagogues and two mikvehs and the search is still ongoing.

Genie Milgrom is an International Business Woman whose travels have allowed her to pursue her own personal jouney. On the Board of The Jewish Genealogical Society in Miami and as President of Tarbut Fermoselle for Tarbut Sefarad in Spain, she is able to disseminate her findings to benefit the knowledge base of Crypto-Judaism.

M. Miriam Herrera, University of Texas Pan American, Poetry Reading

M. Miriam Herrera is the author of Kaddish for Columbus. Her poems have appeared in Albatross, Earth’s Daughters, New Millennium Writings, Blue Mesa Review, Nimrod, New Zoo Poetry Review, ArtLife, and other journals. She has taught writing and Chicano/Latino Literature at University of Illinois, University of New Mexico, and Russell Sage College in Troy, NY. She is a visiting writer at the University of Texas Pan American in South Texas. She is a descendant of Crypto-Jews from South Texas.

David Gitlitz, University of Rhode Island (Emeritus), Portuguish and Spaniolese? The Where of the Mexican Converso

David Gitlitz (BA Oberlin College; MA, PHD Harvard) has followed an academic career as Professor, Administrator (chair, dean, provost), and scholar at several public universities (Indiana, Nebraska, Binghamton (SUNY), and Rhode Island). Gitlitz has focused much of his work on Jewish-Catholic relations in Iberia around the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, requiring extended visits to Inquisition archives in Madrid and Mexico City. His Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews is an ethnographic overview of the religious customs of the Jews who converted to Catholicism and were persecuted by the Inquisition. Gitlitz’s most recent work (The Lost Minyan, 2010), based on records of the Spanish and Mexican Inquisitions and numerous other documentary sources, brings to life as historical fiction the adventures and travails of ten crypto-Jewish families in Spain and Mexico.

Gabe Galambos, Brookline MA, Imperio Chapels of the Azores: a Historically Convenient and Safe Outlet for Crypto-Jews

This presentation introduces the concept of Imperio chapels in Europe and explains their unique survival in the Azores; discusses their role in Holy Ghost Festas, analyzed the special benefits of Imperios in the life of Crypto-Jews; presents research on the Azorean island of Terceira; and reviews the history of Azoreans in southern New England. Time permitting it will include appropriate excerpts from a novel, The Nation by the River.

Gabe Galambos was born in Debrecen, Hungary in 1954 to Holocaust survivor parents. Escaping in the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, the family settled in Massachusetts where Gabe earned a degree from Brandeis University in Anthropology. Galambos joined the Israel Defense Forces, and later went to Sudan to assist in the clandestine rescue of fleeing Ethiopian Jews. Captured in southern Sudan and interned in a prison, he later escaped through the bush to Zaire, was returned to Sudanese custody, and spent time in prison and a Khartoum jail.

Joseph Sandoval, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, To Whom Do I Owe Allegiance? (A Quien le debo Lealtad?) Three Sandoval Generations; Three National Governments—Sociopolitical Events That Shaped Their World

National government authority in New Mexico, from 1589 to the present, accounts for three separate entities that affected the people of the region, in this case, the Northern New Mexico Sandoval family. The rapid change of governments, from 1821 to 1846, especially represented a concern for the Hispanic people of New Mexico, with sociopolitical concerns that impact recent perception of ethnic identity. This concept of questioning “who am I” persisted with my family, namely with ethnic questions/identity. This question was exasperated by people from beyond the Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado region whose knowledge of events that shaped Hispanic peoples of the region is nonexistent—this also held true with the local Hispanic population (or did it?).

To answer this question of “who am I,” events encountered by the Sandoval family of Northern New Mexico in the areas of Santa Cruz de la Canada, then Eastward with migrational patterns of expansion that included the area of Picuris, Mora, Tinaja, and Raton are detailed. With Sandoval family genealogical information secondary, historical events described within the paper show how sociopolitical events shaped their actions/reactions, and later shaped how people of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado define their perceived ethnic identity today.

Joe Sandoval was born in Raton, New Mexico and took up an interest in family history when an elementary school assignment dictated questioning grandparents of their ancestors. Previously in the military, Joe retired from the United States Air Force, a veteran after 26 years of service. Historical interest came from living in Germany, United Kingdom, and New Mexico. Joseph Sandoval is currently a graduate degree candidate at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, with areas of interest that include American Southwestern Spanish colonial era and European Medieval studies, with concentration on the Iberian Peninsula.

Jo Roybal Izay, Rio Rancho NM, Sephardic New Mexico

This presentation discusses the history and culture of the Sephardim in what is today New Mexico, from 1598 until World War II and later years. After the war was over, returning soldiers brought home stories of an Anglo world heretofore unknown to them. There were no village priests so the self-appointed rabbis and the penitentes kept religion alive.

Jo Izay has been writing for newspapers and periodicals for over forty years. She specializes in early religion in New Mexico, writing and lecturing at colleges and universities. In later years she has continued her works in the form of books: My El Mochito: Sephardim from Northern New Mexico, and Senor Gambling Rabbi. Presently she is writing a third book about Sephardic settlement in the New World in 1598.

Daniel Díaz Huerta, Albuquerque NM, Unveiling “La Cabala” in the Crypto-Judaism of New Mexico

La Cabala, a mystical tradition of Judaism, emerged in medieval Spain with the appearance of the poetic and mythological texts Sefer Ha-Bahir and Sefer Ha-Zohar in the late 12′” and 13′” centuries respectively. This mystical tradition is defined by its specific vocabulary and symbols that express God’s “energies and/or emanations” vis-a-vis mankind. The Spanish Cabalists promulgated the desire for an unmediated experience with Adonay through certain devotional practices such as prayer, fasting, meditation and study. Crypto-Judaism, per se, connotes a religious practice shrouded in a veil of secrecy for many reasons. Throughout the centuries the practice of La Cabala within Crypto-Judaism has been and is accompanied by greater levels of secrecy and confidentiality, which in turn, create many more difficulties for scholarship. Did La Cabala survive the Spanish Expulsion of 1492, as well as the journey to the New World and finally, “to the end of the earth,” that is, New Mexico? This paper/presentation is a work-in-progress that will reveal and confirm the transmittal of Cabalistic tradition and practice in the Crypto-Judaism of New Mexico. Through the analysis of texts, symbols and oral interviews, this paper will shed light and decode what may be considered the “inner sanctum” of the New Mexican Crypto-Jewish experience.

Daniel Díaz-Huerta is an educator, arbitration advocate, author, and lecturer. He earned a degree in business from New Mexico State University, B.A. Degree in Spanish as well as advanced graduate hours in Religious Studies from Arizona State University. Diaz-Huerta also earned the M.A. Degree in Spanish Literature, in Latin American Studies (with concentrations in philosophy and film) and in Portuguese from the University of New Mexico. He currently resides in Albuquerque, NM.

Sonya Loya, Ruidoso NM, Footsteps of a Converso’s Discoveries

In this presentation, Ms. Loya will present her recent findings on her personal quest to find her ancestral roots through travelogue. The highlights of her tour include the discovery of Loya rabbis in Marrakesh, Loya migration patterns from 1492 to mid-1500’s as they were forced to move from Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Turkey, Bulgaria, and an ancient synagogue south of the Sea of Galilee. She will also include information gleaned from the Anousim Conference in Israel in 2011, and discuss the group’s emotional experiences at the Temple Mount on the day before Tisha B’Av.

The experience of validating one’s instincts with historical findings is important to Ms. Loya and other Crypto-Jews. The culmination of Ms. Loya’s trip was her Jewish wedding ceremony in the Sephardic Education Center in the old city of Jerusalem. The ceremony symbolizes her work to promote world-wide Jewish unity despite political and religious barriers towards the returning Anousim.

Abraham D. Lavender, Florida International University, Languages Spoken by Sephardim and Crypto-Jews following the Exile from Spain

The Sephardim who left Spain and settled in areas where they could continue open practice of their Judaism frequently took their Spanish with them, with many adopting Ladino in various locations. In general, they also adopted the native language of the country in which they settled, with the usage of Ladino varying widely depending on the location. The knowledge of Hebrew also varied, largely depending on the national and/or local settings in which the exiles lived. Those who moved to Arab-speaking regions frequently moved towards Arabic, at least over time. What about the Crypto-Jews, unable to openly speak Hebrew or Ladino? This presentation compares the languages used by various parts of the Sephardic diaspora after leaving Spain.

Samuel Temkin, Rutgers University (Emeritus), The Crypto-Jewish Roots of Gaspar Castaño de Sosa

As is well-known, Gaspar Castaño de Sosa was the leader of the first attempt to colonize the Spanish province of Nuevo México. His colonizing group, consisting of more than 160 individuals, had been called “forajidos (outlaws) without religion” by the Spanish viceroys, a statement that seems to endorse the view that the group included many Crypto-Jews. According to a 17th century book, Castaño was Portuguese. Some modern historians believe that he was of Jewish descent, although the evidence presented so far is circumstantial. This work considers Castaño’s origins on the premise that if his ancestros were crypto-Jews, some of them may have been tried by the Portuguese inquisition. Indeed, many summaries of the Inquisition processos in the Portuguese archives show that a Castaño family lived in central Portugal before he went to New Spain. Close examination of the processos themselves indicate that Gaspar Castaño de Sosa was a member of that family, even though his name does not appear in them. It is therefore concluded that Castaño was the descendent of Crypto-Jews who had moved into Portugal soon after their expulsion from Spain. Although it is unlikely that he practiced Judaism, it is likely that some members of his group did.

Dr. Temkin is Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. He is the author of several books in Physical Acoustics and of Luis de Carvajal—The Origins of Nuevo Reino de León. At present Dr. Temkin is writing a biography of Gaspar Castaño de Sosa.

Abraham Gross, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Os Retornados of Brazil: From Individualism to Collectivity?

The discovery of individual Jewish origins in Brazil, especially in the Northeast, has been an ongoing process over the past 2-3 decades. While being a part of a wide phenomenon, characterizing almost the entire Western hemisphere, the Brazilian scene has its own characteristics. Recently, a new stage has been taking shape: attempts at forming communities in major cities, sometimes alongside existing Jewish communities.

This paper will survey this development, detailing the factors and forces at work, as well as the various challenges, external and internal, faced by the leaders of the local groups. The discussion will touch upon religious, psychological, and social issues related to the dynamics of the situation.

Daniel Elias and Maurice Sedacca, Elias Ladino Ensemble

Since 1976, The Elias Ladino Ensemble has performed the songs of the Sephardic Jews in venues all over the world. The Ensemble was founded by Joe Elias, who learned many of these songs at his mother’s knee. He spent a life time collecting, teaching and performing these songs.

Many of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in the Inquisition relocated to the Ottoman Empire. There they lived in insular communities, practicing their religion and speaking the Spanish language that they brought out of Spain. Over the next 450 years this language evolved into the language we call Ladino, a distinct dialect spoken only by Sephardic Jews. Today Ladino is on the verge of extinction. World War II saw the annihilation of the Spanish Jews in the Balkans; a way of life and a culture were given a death sentence. Joe Elias was one of the few people who kept the heart beating.

Because we learned these songs from within the Sephardic Community we understand the connection that they had to everyday life. There are songs of love and lust, drinking and disappointment, songs sung at weddings and songs for circumcisions. There was a Ladino soundtrack for every aspect of life. Many of the songs date back to ancient Spain, while some reveal melodies and rhythms of the Balkan and Middle Eastern communities where we lived in exile. In our hands, the music remains as vibrant as the community once was.

The Elias Ladino Ensemble has performed in festivals and concerts in Spain, Turkey, Israel, Canada, and throughout North America.

Daniel Elias (musical director) is a founding member of the ensemble. The grandson of Rabbi David Elias Cassorla and the son of Joe Elias, he has been performing Ladino music since the age of 15. In 1991, he led the ensemble as it toured Spain at the invitation of the Spanish government in recognition of the 500th Anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews. The Ladino Ensemble provided music on the occasion of the rescission of the Edict of Expulsion. He attended Binghamton University where he studied Greek clarinet and won a concerto competition.

Maurice Sedacca (guitar and oud) is descendant of the Sedacca family of Chanakale, Turkey. He grew up surrounded by Ladino songs. His mother, Esther Sedacca, was a fine singer and his grandfather, Haim Azar, played the oud. Maurice is also a founding member of the ensemble. Inspired by Carlos Montoya and other Flamenco Greats, Maurice’s playing is influenced by jazz, gypsy, Middle Eastern and classical training.

Diana Bryer, Santa Cruz NM, Painting the People of Northern New Mexico

Connections, collaborations, conversations, and creativity! Diana Bryer’s art captures her soulful creative expression in depicting her authentic expression about the descendants of Crypto-Jews in New Mexico. Diana Bryer, accomplished artist recognized for her vibrant colors and borders, came to New Mexico in 1976 from Los Angeles. A descendant of Eastern European Jews, Diana was drawn to the Jewish ambiance of New Mexico. Moved by Crypto-Jews holding on to their religious beliefs when they faced death, prison, and ostracization from their communities, she was attracted to the Crypto-Jewish perseverance of keeping family traditions. From her home in Santa Cruz, New Mexico, she hones her artistic talents painting geography, nature, and people. Diana paints what she sees and feels in her heart. Diana is primarily self-taught, and she captures the spirit and traditions of the people of the Southwest. She often incorporates Jewish themes in her art and integrates topics of peace, love, hope, and respect for all living things on the earth. Her joy was illustrating three childen’s books, a childhood dream of hers. Her accomplished work as been shown in galleries and museums in New Mexico, California, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and Mexico. Diana Bryer has mastered her unique style of American Jewish Folk Art embracing Judaism and mirroring reflections of the lives of Crypto-Jews.

Anita Rodriguez, Taos NM, Painter’s-Eye-View of the Crypto-Jewish Experience

I was born and raised in Taos, and my earliest memories are of cultural complexity and diversity. It was a challenge for a child, trying to stay out of trouble, to distinguish among the many different cultural etiquettes. Navigating a pathway among the diverse religions, ceremonies, customs and traditions in Taos 70 years ago was like walking through a minefield of potential faux pas. Something that was considered dirty in one place might be clean in another, one had to remember to always do this here, and never do it there, this word, that gesture, all the nuances had to be memorized and put on automatic pilot.

Centuries of isolation had made us intensely xenophobic. It is difficult to exaggerate how strong this feeling was—it was as if anyone who was not Native or Hispanic and born in Taos was an extraterrestrial. We believed that if you traveled beyond Albuquerque you would fall into the void. This was only one of the things the two older cultures, the Native and Hispanic, had in common. We also shared the same architecture, food, herbal remedies, in short—a great deal of material culture. And we agreed upon a certain way of conducting oneself, composed of body language, social behavior, and ways to treat the old—things like that.

One of the most important of these was a general, underlying, pervasive secrecy. As children we were admonished to never ask anyone about their religious beliefs, ceremonies or objects that could conceivably have anything, to do with religion. As I grew older and began to study seriously, it was easy to understand this. Reserve is one of the most salient characteristics of the Mexican personality. The revolution of 1680, fought by the Pueblos, was fought for religious freedom, and part of that victory was the liberty to keep their religion secret. The Penitente sect was also secret. But this secrecy was so powerful, so omnipresent and insistent that even all these things together were not enough to account for it. I always thought it was reinforced by the geography–by the isolation of our villages, clustered around the few sources of water and tucked into the folds of the mountains.

Then I met Stanley Hordes and began reading about the crypto-Jews of New Mexico. And it was as if a light went on—“that’s IT! Of course!” And I was immediately sucked in. I was fascinated, and strangely moved. I began painting to explore the theme, and to create a narrative in the language of image and color that depicted what the innermost thoughts and secret lifestyle of hidden Jews must have been like. I used the traditional folk art form of the nicho – a kind of box with doors on it, to represent a double life I would paint the public, necessarily Catholic life on the outside, and inside, behind the doors–the hidden, secret life. This ended up being an ongoing series I call “The Crypto-Jew Paintings.”

Rachel Amado Bortnick, Dallas TX, Anusim in Ladino literature

Anusim, or Conversos, and their descendants continued to join Sephardic settlements in the Ottoman Empire, where they were able to live openly as Jews. Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) literature, oral (kuentos, proverbs, poems, songs) and written, includes many references to and descriptions of encounters with these Jews who had formerly lived as Christians. I will relate a few of these references or descriptions, concentrating on the two most recent historical novels in Judeo-Spanish, En Torno de la Torre Blanca, by Enrique Saporta y Beja (1985) about the Sepharadim of Salonica, and La Megila de Saray, by Eliezer Papo (1999) about the Sepharadim of Sarajevo. In the process, I will also comment on the peculiarities of Ladino as opposed to Spanish, and some of the reasons for these.

Rachel Amado Bortnick, born and raised in Izmir, Turkey, is a retired teacher of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) a writer, and an activist for the study, preservation, and promotion of Judeo-Spanish language and culture. She is featured in the documentary film, Trees Cry for Rain: a Sephardic Journey, and, in 1999 founded Ladinokomunita, the only Ladino correspondence group on the Internet, which now has nearly 1400 members from over 40 countries. At present, she serves as the secretary of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies.

Cengiz Sisman, Furman University, Konvenyamos Kon Vedrad, Language of Daily Lives, Communal Regulations and Liturgies of the Ottoman and Turkish Sabbateans (Dönmes)

Language is one of most powerful vehicles to transmit the crypto- and esoteric identities from one generation to the next. For example, the Marranos, Moriscos, Huguenots, Mashhadis, the Sabbateans, better known ma’minim or Dönmes owed their survival due in part to their adherence to their secret and “sacred” languages. The aim of my presentation is to examine the nature of the Sabbateans’ relation with their language from the seventeenth century to the present day. This is one of the least explored questions in the Sabbatean studies. It seems that adhering to their linguistic tradition was one of the major strategies of preserving their cultural idiosyncrasy as well as encouraging group cohesion in a context of fear and repression. Similar to the Ottoman Jews, the Dönmes were fluent in several languages including Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish, Turkish, and French in different periods of time. And they did not hesitate to code-switch among these languages. “Code switching” is a socio-linguistics term that basically means switching back and forth between two or more language if the person is fluent in those languages. When and why one switches languages and codes reflect his/her attitude toward his/her own identity.

Based on the known and newly-found Sabbatean/Dönme documents and in-depth interviews conducted in the last ten years, I first argue that the Dönmes, especially the males, learned Turkish in order to survive in the public sphere, but retained their knowledge of Hebrew, Ladino and Judeo-Spanish in private until the turn of the twentieth century when this knowledge became increasingly limited to the Dönme educated elite. In the public sphere, as a typical characteristic of the esoteric (as oppressed) minorities, they used a “dual talk” with hints that only the initiated could grasp the full meaning. Secondly, the language, especially Judeo-Spanish served as one of the most importantly tools in transmitting the Crypto-Dönme identity to the next generation until the present time.

Cengiz Sisman is an Assistant Professor of History at Furman University. He received his Ph.D. from the History Department and Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University, specializing in the early modern Islamic, Middle Eastern, Ottoman and Jewish religions and histories, with language training in Arabic, Ottoman and Hebrew. Currently, he is revising a book manuscript titled “Burden of Silence: 18 Commandments, Sabbatai Mehmet Sevi and three Ottoman Sabbateanisms/Dönmes (1626-1926) which has been accepted by Stanford University Press.

Schelly Talalay Dardashti, Rio Rancho NM, Sephardic Research Comes of Age: Trends and Resources

This paper is based on the increasing resources for Sephardic genealogy appearing over the past few years, a field which has seen tremendous growth. Detailed resources cover events, websites, databases, books, journals, archives/archival research, special projects and personalities.

Karen Singer, Albuquerque NM, The Other Side of Judaism: Crypto-Jews, Conversos and Anusim Hidden in Plain Sight (Proposed Sephardic Early Childhood Curriculum Project)

After much study and reflection, I am now ready to write an experiential pilot K-3rd grade curriculum on the Crypto-Jews (Jews practicing Judaism in secret while outwardly following Christian practices), Conversos ( New Christians), and Bnai Anusim (“descendants of forced ones”), that would help solve the puzzle of their ancestral heritage and secret past from Inquisition to the present. This curriculum can be introduced to as many Jewish and secular educational programs and libraries as show interest in this project as a multi-cultural and historical theme. The curriculum would meet the guidelines of all education programs that subscribe to this project. Crypto-Jewish, Converso and Bnai Anusim information will be integrated with the usual school subjects for each grade level.

It will be experience-based, using Crypto-Jewish, Converso and Anusim historical and family accounts based on ritual, traditional and cultural activities, using hands-on educational games, language arts in English and Ladino, Ladino music and theatre, village construction activities, social experiences, cuisine, Converso poetry, literature, musical tapes and instrument playing, pictures, video, maps of the Iberian Peninsula during expulsion and Diaspora, fine arts and arts and crafts, Columbus’ role in freedom and his ancestral past, Sephardic surnames, secret prayer rooms, Ladino radio show reviews, oral history of family journeys, houses of worship, Jewish rituals, introduction to genealogy and DNA genetics, and more. There will be a list of resources for instructors, and a list of associations that may be helpful related to this curriculum.

Howard Woolf, Tufts University, Writer, Director, Co-Producer, Marranos, From History to Dream to Screen

Disguised as a “period piece,” Marranos is actually a very personal work. Over the last twenty years, as the founding director of TuftsFilmWorks (the filmmaking program at Tufts University), I’ve collaborated on a range of documentaries, shorts, and experimental films. Throughout this time, the raw material that has now become Marranos (my first feature) was never far from my consciousness.

As a boy, in Hebrew school, I was introduced to the story of the Marranos (the term my teachers used). I must have said something about this to my family, because one of my aunts sat me down and showed me how she’d traced our heritage from the Edwardian London of my Sephardic grandfather, down through the generations to Rotterdam in the early 1700’s, only to lose the trail at that point. Of course, in my mind, the trail wasn’t lost at all. It ran straight back to Spain. However naively, I’d been injected into history, and my worldview changed forever.

Fast forward to graduate school. I began having an incredibly vivid, recurring dream that takes place in a haunted Spain at the time of the Inquisition. I am a Marrano. I work as a mapmaker, I have a family and a modest home, and I belong to a community of secret Jews. One night, after carefully planning our moves for months, a few close friends gather clandestinely to observe Shabbat – only to be discovered. Everyone escapes, except my wife and I. We are taken.

Slowly but surely, the dream, as it recurred, became a storehouse of emotions related to my sense of being a Jew, and at some point, it became the basis for the movie, as well. The project began as a “short,” but then as I got deeper into the research—especially going through the records of the Inquisition—the script took on a life of its own. Friends and former students urged me to produce a feature-length version, and that’s what we’ve done.

Our goal for the film, in a very real sense, is to tell a story that stays true to the spirit of my dream. We want to put the audience inside a web of impossibly difficult realities—psychological, political, and personal. My Marranos are Jews faced with a decision that, stripped down to its essence, offers a “choice” between physical death and spiritual death. As Jews before and after them have done, my Marranos see beyond this trap. Engaged in a never-ending war of nerves, living in a world where very little is what it seems, they will be neither martyr nor Christian. Instead they use conversion as a subterfuge –a strategy to survive, to remain Jews, and to keep the Covenant.

Isabelle Medina Sandoval, Santa Fe NM, Creating Credible Crypto-Jewish Literature

The theme of this address may be described as Crafting (Personal Passion) + Credible (Thinking) + Crypto-Jewish (Facts, Languages) = Literature (National Standards). Topics to be covered include a review of Crypto-Jewish Literature displaying exemplary principles of literacy, scholarly and personal standards. This literature must encompass Jewish historical facts, historical facts, authenticity of voice, credible characters and legitimate plot, while weaving valid Jewish identity threads. The talk will describe Crypto-Jewish Literature, and discuss constructing a work of literature based on an unpublished manuscript of the Elijah’s Crypto-Jewish Trophyd. Issues raised include New Mexican Crypto-Jewish facts, historical facts, developing plot based on family circumstances, integrating family history, and constructing realistic identity issues of characters.

Judy Frankel Memorial Concert: Songs of the Sephardic Diaspora: Daniel Elias Ladino Ensemble (see above)

Jessica Felber, JerusalemOnlineU.com, A Comparative Study of the Identities and Perceptions of Crypto-Jewry and “Traditional” Mexican Jewry

Much research exists both about Crypto-Jews in Mexico and the Southwest United States and about “traditional” Mexican Jewry and formal Jewish communities in Mexico. However, little is known about the complexities of the dual identities of Mexican Jews and how the identities of Crypto-Jews differ from those of “traditional” Mexican Jews. This study is based on a review of the literature pertaining to crypto-Jewry and “traditional” Mexican Jewry, on two personal stories of crypto-Jews, and on two personal interviews of “traditional” Mexican Jews, conducted by the author. An analysis of these sources finds that Crypto-Jews and “traditional” Mexican Jews have identities distinct from other Mexicans, from other Jews, and from each other, as developed over time and through different experiences. Non-Jews and the formal Jewish community associate crypto-Jews more closely with a Mexican heritage, whereas “traditional” Mexican Jews are associated more closely with a Jewish heritage. This study provides a better understanding of how crypto-Jews perceive themselves and their struggles for a connection to Judaism and may allow for more sympathy and inclusion from “traditional” Mexican Jews who are already accepted in the Jewish community.

Jessica Felber graduated from UC Berkeley in 2010 with an Economics B.A. and a Legal Studies B.A. She became interested in Crypto-Jewry during her last semester of college, when she enrolled in a Chicano Studies class. In an effort to combine her study of the Chicano movement, her identity as a Jew, and her experience growing up with “traditional” Mexican Jewry in San Diego, Jessica began researching the Crypto-Jewry of Mexico and their relations to “traditional” Mexican Jewry today. This research resulted in her final paper for the class, titled “A Comparative Study of the Identities and Perceptions of Crypto-Jewry and “Traditional” Mexican Jewry.” Jessica now works as the West Coast Director for JerusalemOnlineU.com, a non-profit that educates communities and individuals about Israel and Judaism through film.

Seth Kunin, Durham University, A Comparative Analysis of Issues Relating to the Kakure Kirishitans and the Crypto-Jews

Seth Ward, University of Wyoming, Roots and Identity: Divergence and Parallels in Crypto-Jewish and African-American Muslim Identity

In the second half of the 20th century, many African Americans, Americans of Spanish ancestry and others, came to identify more strongly with a portion of their ethnic heritage that had previously been suppressed or forgotten. Although there are important divergences, there are striking parallels in the ways these communities reshaped rejection of a past that was considered anti-normative, and in the complex discourse with members of their religious and ethnic identities. In both cases, the communities assert a strong identification with a group of ancestors, whose religious and cultural identity is foreign—indeed, antithetical—to their apparent communities of birth. They see themselves as recovering and retaining a history that had been largely forgotten, and in both communities, they often experience rejection by co-religionists in the Jewish and Muslim communities, and by members of their “original” ethnic cohort (Hispanic or African American, respectively). In both cases, the assertion of Jewish and Muslim heritage has become much more mainstream in these communities, although tensions remain, and have international ramifications. The differences are substantial, to be sure, but the parallels are instructive and contextualize both communities.

Frances Levine, New Mexico History Museum, Roger Martinez, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, and Stanley M. Hordes. University of New Mexico, Panel: The New Mexico History Museum Exhibition on the Cultural and Religious History of Sephardic Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews

The New Mexico History Museum is planning an exhibition, opening on May 24, 2015, that will focus on the cultural and religious history of Sephardic Jews, Conversos, and crypto-Jews. It will traverse from the late medieval to modern periods (late 14th through 21st centuries) and will journey from Spain, into the Atlantic world, and reach its final destinations in Mexico and New Mexico. The exhibition will be developed with partners in Spain, Portugal, Mexico, and New Mexico and will trace the conditions of Jewish life in Spain that led to the diaspora from the Iberian Peninsula. The showing will include documents and artifacts from Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican, and New Mexican sources, as well as photographs, paintings, and other art forms that present the Sephardic experience and the formation and persistence of Jewish identity in New Mexico. Lastly, the NMHM will collaborate with other museums in the United States so that the exhibition will be on display on both the west and east coasts.

Dr. Levine will give an overview of the exhibition as well as those scholars involved. Dr. Hordes will speak on the development of the trans-Atlantic and crypto-Jewish aspects of the exhibition. Dr. Martinez will speak on the Spanish/ Portuguese, as well as the trans-Atlantic components of the exhibition. Following these brief presentations, the panel would like to hold a dialogue with the audience on the development of the exhibition.

Harry Ostrer, MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Population Genetics of the Jews

Paul R. Duncan, MD, Albuquerque NM, The 185delAG BRCA1 Mutation in Non-Ashkenazi Jews and in the Non-Jewish Population

Colleagues at the City of Hope in Los Angeles have collaborated with Dr. Eitan Friedman in Tel-Aviv on a manuscript titled: “Haplotype analysis of the 185 delAG BRCA1 mutation in ethnically diverse populations” accepted for publication in the European Journal of Genetics. Our recent data shows that there are 185delAG mutations which occur in non-Jewish populations with different haplotypes, i.e. Malaysia and one family in England. Thus the location of the 185delAG BRCA1 mutation may represent a “genomic hot spot” where one might anticipate mutations developing in many different locations. Hence, one must think carefully when encountering this mutation before concluding that this population has Jewish roots. For the most part it does mean just that, particularly in our New Mexican Hispanic population. Our study suggests that the 185delAG mutation arose in the Ashkenazi and Iraqi Jewish populations 61 generations ago. At a later time it was introduced into the Sephardic and Iraqi Jewish populations. Our findings suggest that in non-Jewish individuals it has a different origin and may have arisen at least twice, independently of the Jewish origin mutation.

Paul R. Duncan, MD, is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He interned in Oakland, California, completed two years as a general medical officer with the Indian Health Services in Alaska and completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in oncology-hematology through the University of New Mexico. He completed the academic year 1976-77 in a post-graduate year at the Royal Marsden (Cancer) Hospital in London, UK. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.

He was a founding member of the New Mexico Society of Clinical Oncology and the New Mexico Cancer Care Alliance. Since 1996 he has developed expertise in the evaluation of patients with familial cancers most specifically related to breast and colon cancers. He has published scientific articles in this important clinical area and spends a significant portion of his clinic time in the area of familial cancer.

Matthew Warshawsky, University of Portland, The Otherness of Jews in the Literature and Law of Medieval Spain

Blame for the end of Jewish life at the end of the medieval era in Spain rightly rests with Isabel and Ferdinand, the Catholic monarchs who expelled the Jews from their respective kingdoms in 1492. However, negative social attitudes towards Jews on the Iberian Peninsula and legal decrees discriminating against them preceded the expulsion document by several centuries. In fact, these beliefs and laws helped create the idea of Jewish otherness that made possible the disastrous events of 1492. This paper will study the representation of Jewish difference in several poetic and legal texts of the 1200s in order to show that the well of anti-Jewish prejudice from which Fernando and Isabel drew was old and deep. The poetic texts include two examples from the “Miracles of Our Lady,” by Gonzalo de Berceo, and versions of similar stories from the “Canticles of Holy Mary,” attributed to King Alfonso X “the Wise.” The legal text consists of examples from the Siete partidas that institutionalized a definition of Jews and, at least in theory, restricted their rights and privileges. An analysis of these texts shows how, to varying degrees in both folklore and in royal documents, Jews are seen as threatening, subversive, and the antithesis of Christian goodness and purity.

Matthew Warshawsky is associate professor of Spanish at the University of Portland, where he teaches courses on the literature and culture of Jews and former Jews in Spain and the lands of their diaspora. He has published a number of articles in peer-reviewed journals about the experiences of New Christians prosecuted for Judaizing heresy by the Iberian Inquisition. Matthew is also a member-at-large of the board of the SJCS.

Roger Martinez, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Sephardic Origins and Transformations in the Spanish Extremadura: Tracing Jewish and Converso Families on the Eve of the Atlantic Diaspora

Tracing the origins and movement of the Sephardim is one of the greatest challenges that historians and genealogists encounter. Not only are we frustrated by the effective lineage masking efforts of Jews and Conversos intent on concealing their identities, but also the difficulties of locating the fragmentary primary sources that reveal their transformation. A solution to the problem of tracking the transition of Jewish lineages and identities during the era of anti-Jewish pogroms, “cleanliness of blood” statutes (limpieza de sangre), and the Spanish Inquisition, lies concealed in an unusual location – the manuscripts held in Spanish cathedral and municipal archives. Within these Catholic and royally-created institutions, both of which were intent on eradicating Judaism from Spain, are the foundational documents that detail the origins of the Sephardic community that filtered into Portugal and the Atlantic World. The Extremadura, a Spanish border region adjacent to Portugal, is exceptionally interesting because large Sephardic communities resided in this area, which was one of the prominent sources of migrants to the Americas. Key to this proposal are my prior research findings that indicate the Extremadura functioned as an “identity transformation hub,” where Jewish lineages were laundered into Catholic ones and practicing Jews either hid or relocated to Portugal and the Americas.

In this paper presentation, I will give an overview of the key historiographical research that has been published on Jewish and Converso families in the region of the Spanish Extremadura (from the late 14th through early 16th centuries). In particular, I will discuss the following sub-regions: southern Extremadura (Badajoz and Merida), northern Extremadura (Caceres, Trujillo, Coria, Plasencia, Bejar, and Guadalupe), and the geographically related zone of western Castilla-Leon (Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Zamora, and Benavente). After presenting this overview, I will discuss my upcoming archival research trip (and the methods I will employ), which is being funded by the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy (IIJG) and Paul Jacobi Center (National Library of Israel). Lastly, my paper will also explore how I intend to (1) re-amalgamate Jewish and Converso family lineages for this source point of the Spanish diaspora; (2) explore the cultural, religious, and economic activities and associations of the Sephardim; (3) propose new ideas on the varied survival strategies utilized by Jews and Conversos; and most importantly, (4) investigate the nature of communal and personal identities during this period of intense stress for the Sephardic people.

Robert Martinez, Albuquerque NM, Xuetas of Mallorca: From Palma to Puerto Rico

The Xuetas, or Jews, of Mallorca, Spain, offer a fascinating glimpse into a unique aspect of Sephardic Jewish History. As residents of the Mediterranean island of Mallorca for centuries, the Xuetas, like the Hispanic people of northern New Mexico, are a heterogeneous group of people who through generations have maintained an ancient identity in the face of conquering armies, alien cultures, and persecutions. One of the most defining events in the history of the Mallorcan Jews was an outbreak of Inquisition persecutions and prosecutions that took place in the 1680s. Almost ninety procesos, or case studies from the Inquisition records survive in Madrid, Spain, at the Archivo Historico. There, a rich and deep historical perspective on this corner of Spanish Jewish culture reveals a robust people not only surviving, but thriving. Intermarrying and moving not only throughout the Baeleric Islands, but throughout the Spanish Empire, the roots of their story are laid bare in these documents.

While researching a family from Puerto Rico with Crypto-Jewish roots, we were confronted with a branch of the family that led directly to the Xuetas of Mallorca. While separated from their primos experiences in far away Cuba or Mexico, they share a bond of suffering and survival. My presentation will follow the journey of a branch of a Puerto Rican family that eventually emigrated to the United States. The story of the families Pomar, Aguilo, Miro, Pico, and many others will be traced using sacramental documents such as marriage and baptismal records which can only be found in Palma de Mallorca, as well as Inquisition documents from Madrid, Spain.

Robert Martinez is a research historian, educator, and folk musician based in Albuquerque, NM. Robert earned a business degree from the University of New Mexico, with an emphasis on international business, then a Master’s degree in Latin American history from the same institution. While in graduate school, Robert worked as a research assistant at the Vargas Project, learning paleography and research and publishing methods from Dr. John Kessell, Dr. Rick Hendricks (current state historian), Dr. Meredith Dodge and the late Larry Miller. For the past thirteen years, Robert has worked for Dr. Stanley Hordes at the Sephardic Legacy Project, researching genealogies, analyzing primary sources in church and civil archived in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, France and Italy. When not conducting research, Robert teaches high school world history in Rio Rancho, NM and plays Hispanic New Mexico folk music with his family.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.