ÓRALE ISRAEL ! Converso or Jew?

Órale! Hurry up!

In slang it can mean HEY! How’s it going what’s happenin’ get it on ok etc The word comes from ” ahora ” (now) and the indirect pronoun for you ” le” It is used when you want to get someone or something moving or to exhort someone to do something or more casually in greeting like “C’mon or “whatever” Literally it means “NOW YOU” Órale this slang term is not a phrase one would normally link with Israel ; not Israel the geographic place but Israel the people who descend from Jacob son of Isaac son of Abraham Órale Israel is a call to pay attention to listen

Initially Órale Israel the title of this paper was selected to stress the need for Latin American Israel to wake up get going This title now focuses on my personal “waking up” to the contradictions between my family narratives of Jewish ancestors from Spain documentation of CryptoJudaic practices and family descriptions of Jewish practices of three or four generations ago Whereas I began this paper knowing I had a Jewish heritage I am now not as certain as to how much of the family history is CryptoJudaic

Órale Israel “what now?” How we got to be Jews in Mexico

My mother’s family PérezMuñoz had always spoken of past Jewish ancestry but never elaborated on it until a 1960 reunion of most of the PérezMuñoz family in Torréon Mexico At this time the family discovered more members of the family more family history and a copy of the Luá­s de Carvajal El Mozo’s inquisitorial records and writings This book details how one group of Spaniards Conversos/New Christians came from Spain in the late Sixteenth Century The leader of the group was Don Lúis de Carvajal El Viejo Carvajal is one of the PérezMuñoz family names This fact and others in the book validated many of the stories and names remembered over generations by my family

However once the family history narrative was verified there was no additional research My grandfather Esaú PérezMuñoz wrote a series of books (published in the 1970’s after his death) His autobiography Memorias de Esaú P Muñoz added more details about his Jewish ancestry however it primarily dealt with the conversion of his parents to Protestantism their ministry and his own ministry in the Methodist Church Latin Mission Our Jewish ancestry was placed in the backs of our minds As time went on grandparents aunts and uncles retired got ill died The cousins grew up went to college got married had families Our roots became less important than the branches we were adding to the family tree Amazingly enough the older girl cousins all married nice Jewish boys (except for me) but kept their Protestantism (except for me) I married a nice IrishCatholic alcoholic Our religious compromise was the Episcopal denomination Then in 1989 our 8yearold youngest daughter announced at dinner that she was no longer going to grow up to be Barbie she was going to grow up to be a Jew

Órale Israel I am a CryptoJew

Proud of my Jewish roots I openly spoke about my Jewish heritage with friends and relatives who then sent me articles and emails about Hidden Jews CryptoJews and Marranos Because the1960 family reunion information and family trees put together by my mother and aunts had the Carvajal name I assumed that the PérezMuñoz family was descended from Spaniards on the Carvajal voyage in the late Sixteenth Century

When comparing the PérezMuñoz religious and family practices with the practices of CryptoJews described by Dr Stan Hordes there were some striking differences Yes candles were lit mirrors were covered during the week of family mourning and the Sabbath (Sunday) was spent in worship and with our extended family At the core of the difference between the PerezMunoz family and the documentation of the CryptoJudaic practices is a disjuncture between the secrecy of the converso/CryptoJews and my grandfather’s recollection that the PérezMuñoz family did not exhibit the usual fear of being a Jew or of practicing Judaism Could it be possible that some of the religiosity of my mother’s family could be attributed to Mexican Evangelical Protestant behaviors rather than CryptoJudaic customs? (As Tomas Atencio points out Protestantism is a highly likely transition for a hidden Jew to openly worship and have access to the Torah)

Some of the stories and practices shared by the PérezMuñoz family resemble Protestant practices with an unusual twist For instance in the family there was emphasis on the Old Testament (and Megillah) teachings and stories

My mother often told the story of how disappointed she had been as a child to have to always be Mary in the Christmas play instead of Queen Esther at Purim My Grandmother had told her that she was chosen to be Mary because she was so humble and Elizabeth got the “glory” roles because she was so beautiful But why was my grandfather celebrating Purim in his Methodist church?

Comparing what I learned in my grandfather’s LatinMethodist Church and my home (from my mother) with what I learned at the AngloMethodist church I realized there were differences of emphasis In particular there was in Grandpa’s church an extremely strong emphasis on the Old Testament all of it not just the basic Genesis and Exodus stories In the Anglo Methodist Church we learned nice stories about Jesus and how good he was as a child and about his teaching Instead of Old Testament stories the parables of the New Testament were emphasized as well as the goal of individual salvation Were some my grandfather’s teachings from his evangelical upbringing or from CryptoJudaic practices of his mother?

In our stories we were always persecuted Like many families sometimes there are as many versions to a story as there are family members One story that my grandfather wrote about in letters and that was retold by relatives was the story of the night the Catholics came to burn my great grandparents out of their house and were saved by my great great grandfather’s hymn singing My great grandparents had already converted to Presbyterianism and held services in their house So many community people were leaving the Catholic Church to become Protestants that the priest and catholic community members were incensed and after many warnings planned to burn them out In the version my mother told me my great great grandfather Fernando Pérez was holding Friday Shabbat service outside with his Jewish friends and a group of Catholic leaders rode to the ranch carrying firebrands to burn the house down They rode round and round the place where the men were praying Everyone was scared My great grandmother Macedonia Muñoz y Pérez ran over to her father and told him to sing the Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh in Spanish The Catholics hearing Santo Santo Santo recalled it from Sunday Mass and left them alone In the version my grandfather tells in his Memorias the men sent to burn the house down came with cans of gas but could not get in because the house was so full of converts The men had to stand outside and could only enter with the fuel after everyone left My great grandfather Quirino Muñoz welcomed them in knowing what they had been sent to do But instead of pouring out the gas and lighting it they sought to be converted to Protestantism Which story is true: Choice of a life true to the Bible or how Fernando left Judaism?

There are many versions to this story too It boils down to the time just after my great grandparents’ conversion when her father Fernando refused to see them or their children anymore Macedonia was distraught over the loss of contact with her father She had given birth to conjoined twins my grandfather Esaú and his brother Jacob and sought his blessing for them Fernando refused to even answer the door (or open the gate) In the version brought back from Torréon in 1960 Macedonia carrying the twins sat at the gate all day and all night reading the entire Bible out loud to her father who stood just beyond her sight Upon finishing Fernando stepped forward weeping after hearing the Bible again and said “Now I see how it all fits together” And he gave his blessing to the twins In the version written in Memorias Fernando was very sick in bed and Macedonia gave him the Bible to read telling him only that it was a book And of course upon completion he accepted their religion

My mother had three sisters and three brothers Four families lived in California and the rest lived in Arizona most in Phoenix where Grandpa’s last church was As children we spent weekends with the relatives living closest to us and all holidays with my grandparents and the Arizona families In most cases all of our families had pretty much the same family practices especially the reading of the Bible at bedtime Such a practice was normal for Protestant families except that every year at the beginning of the school year we started with the Old Testament and read as far as possible only to start again the next September at Genesis In addition everyone who could read read and everyone was expected to comment on the reading especially the children We were asked questions about what we read and there was really no right or wrong interpretation

Doesn’t it all boil down to how you want to look at it?

When my father died in 1955 everyone came to our house from Arizona and California and sat with us They did cover the mirrors my mother wore old black clothes and no makeup I thought they stayed so long because they came from so far away but now I wonder Or it could have been because it was Thanksgiving week and Disneyland had just opened

Maybe we were just different

PérezMuñoz practices such as my grandfather’s incorporation of Purim and Pesach into his Methodist ministry’s annual cycle were certainly aberrant and reminiscent of Jewish annual holiday practices Furthermore my mother’s dismissal of basic Christian beliefs such as heaven and hell original sin the Virgin Mary the Trinity ( God is all One Why do they say that? ) personal salvation as all being Catholic and not “our” beliefs belie a nonChristian belief system Many Mexican customs such as Dias de Los Muertos were also dismissed as ” Indio ” or “Catholic” and not “our” customs The PérezMuñoz family identified as Mexicans more in political and historical terms rather than social or cultural terms

In fact my grandfather in Memorias wrote

Overhearing my grandfather mother and father conversing I understood although very young at the time that my grandfather had been the son of a family of Spanish Jews who later became refugees cruelly persecuted during the Holy Inquisition as was the common lot of the children of Israel Among other relatives according to my maternal aunts and even my grandfather there was a Jew who had become a Rabbi among his people spending his days on the border between Mexico and the United States perhaps in Laredo or Nuevo Laredo My aunts discussed the controversy engendered by my grandfather who had become Christian and their Uncle whom they referred to as the “Jewish Uncle”

Órale I am a Jew!

Though I knew I had Jewish ancestry I was not too sure what it was The confusion about how and when my family was and/or was not Jewish deepened the need for me to make my own Jewish commitment I began a study of Judaism that resulted in my return to Judaism Beit Din the Mikvah conversion in 1998 and Bat Mitzvah in 2001 At the Bat Mitzvah party my cousin’s husband Marshal Wartnik showed me a letter from Grandpa written in 1965 relating that his great great grandfather (Raby Simeon Pérez) had been a rabbi and that the men in his family continued to practice Judaism openly in Mexico In the letter he wrote:

According [to] my maternal lineage: ancestors to my greatgrandfather came from Spainwhere they were livingbut as they were from Hebrew race and belonged to the Israel family(giving the line) my grand father was born in Mexico and named Fernando was born December 1828and his father Don Perfecto Pérez was the son of Raby Simeon Pérez” (February 5 1965)

Pérez men had long beards and hair in braids which my grandfather wrote about in Memorias

: when my great grandfather (Perfecto) would drive herds to the capital with his cowhands he would wear according to the customs of his race the traditional long beard and braided hair Don Perfecto would take pains to carefully form the plaits securing them with ribbons according to his position in society and sex: they followed the dietary and religious customs of the Jews and they worshipped at a synagogue : of my great grandmother I only know that she was a good woman: generous with the poor she would share out food to all and sundry: and provided them with local produce cheeses milk curds eggs fresh or cured meats Being Jewish they raised only “clean” animals and never used either animal fats or forbidden lards Holidays were celebrated in an almost family intimacy adhering to the dictates of their race making those permitted to isolate pockets of Jews

Grandpa mentions his family living near a community of Israelitos in Agua Dulce Mexico and that the men kept Jewish (Halacha) but the women were Catholic even though their families were Jewish

: my grandfather Fernando attempted to marry within his race but finally exchanged vows with a young Gentile Jacinta (Carrizales y Carvajal) Hence my grandfather’s daughters came to practice Roman Catholicism: the sons were held back following Jewish tradition within the confines of their ancient laws and so my maternal uncles grew up without any religious instruction since poor Jews generally only learn the Talmud legends and a little from the Torah or the Law of Moses

My mother wrote down this Pérez lineage: Raby Simeon 1750 Agua Dulce Don Perfecto Pérez 17841870 Agua Dulce Fernando Pérez 18281903 Romero Rubio Macedonia Pérez 1853 Agua Dulce 1911Torreon Esau Pérez Muñoz 18841967 Saltillo Coahuila

So where are the Carvajals in this lineage? In the 1965 letter written to my cousin Maria Rosalia Wartnik Grandpa mentions: “The family came to Mexico by expulsed by order of the Holy Inquisition with the Waldalcazar and the Benalcazar and Carvajal families and came to the Nuevo Reino de Léon” Further on he refers to his family as the PérezCarvajal “part of my family were ’Hebrew stock’”

In the midst of looking in family papers for more information about the Pérez family line I found her listing of maternal ancestors: Carvajal Kepis Carrizal Gamiz Calderon Pérez Florian Rebecca Muñoz listed by century

And there is another list that could be one of the connections to the Carvajals: Luá­s Carvajal 1544 Bencazar Canizar Jacinta Carrizales +Fernando Pérez (1828)

Órale CryptoJew? or Jew? The answer has to be both

Perhaps we were Jews who came later? Or were we really just religious evangelical Protestants? The Memorias de Esaú P Muñoz describes the family as Jewish and living near Jews Many beliefs and customs intrinsic to the PérezMuñoz family are reminiscent of CryptoJews such as the emphasis on the Law of Moses reading the Bible family prayers celebration of Purim and Pesach resting completely on the Sabbath The basic values of my grandfather and his family focus on HaShem improvement of mankind societal responsibilities and education There is a lack of belief in satan or evil as a force separate in battle with HaShem With the emphasis on education and selfimprovement for the greater good not one’s personal good helping others becomes an end in itself These were all values shared by all the PérezMuñoz relatives Are these Jewish values? I can only say that I find the roots of these values in the Torah (Al shoshah devarim al hatorah v’al h’avodah v’al Gemilut Hasadim There are three things the Torah and the work and acts of kindness)

My personal reunification and discovery of identity is merely a microcosm of the whole awakening of Anusim/ Conversos/ CryptoJews/ Marranos/ Latinos/ Sephardim/ Hispanics to the rest of his/her/our identity and to the reclaiming of lost generations and traditions unexpected discoveries and contradictions All is to be expected All real history with real results help us approach the truth in multidimensional time and space

ÓRALE ISRAEL ! C’mon let’s get going Israel !

MERCEDES GAIL GUTIERREZ a member of SCJS presented this article as a paper at the 2008 Society Conference 

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