From the Editor’s Desk
By Ron Duncan Hart
No Jew ever achieved a spokesmanship for his people comparable to that of a renowned Sephardic immigrant family, the “House” of Nasi…
Its founder was a woman, Beatriz de Luna Mendes, better known to pos terity as Doña Gracia Nasi. The lady’s arrival in Constantinople in 1553 was noteworthy. Her caravan of four magnificently gilded coaches, pulled by a train of sleek horses and flanked by three dozen uniformed bodyguards, thundered into the city with an elaborate entourage of family members and retainers. Doña Gra cia, forty-four years old, handsome, regal in bearing, entirely suited her times.
—Howard M. Sachar
Farewell España: The World of the Sephardim Remembered (p. 78)
Doña Gracia Nasi (a.k.a. Beatriz de Luna Mendes) is one of the all time heroes of the Jewish people and especially of the Sephardic anusim . She did more than anyone else for thousands of Jews escaping the religicide and genocide perperpetuated by the various arms of the Inquisition, not only in Spain and Portugal , but also in other parts of Europe . She provided funds and escape routes for those fleeing for their lives and religious beliefs. She provided employment, housing, community, synagogues, religious books, and hope for those who had little reason for hope. She played a central role in populating what were to become the largest eastern Sephardic communities, especially in Greece , Turkey , and Israel .
On February 9, 2010 we celebrate the 500th anniversary of her birth. Her parents had been expelled from Spain , then forcibly converted in Portugal without the option of refusing or leaving. She grew up hiding her religion because of the intolerance of the day, and even after fleeing Portugal , lived much of her adult life unable to practice Judaism openly. She was imprisoned by the Inquisition and felt the horror of anusim like herself being tortured and burned at the stake.
She was a successful businesswoman and essentially the Chairwoman and CEO of perhaps the largest business enterprise of her day. She was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in her world, and some argue that she was one of the most powerful women of the modern era.
HaLapid honors the life and work of Doña Gracia Nasi and her compassion for rescuing Sephardic Jews and the anusim and creating communities where they could reconstruct their lives in peace and tolerance.