Baal Teshuvah: I Am Ready to Return

In the years of researching my Jewish family history and studying Judaism I have finally come to a place where I feel reconnected with my Sephardic ancestry As a descendant of cryptoJewish heritage I feel compelled to reclaim my Jewish faith and family lineage in order to preserve what is left and also build onto it a richer future My Mikvah symbolized my reentry into Judaism and is intertwined with my cultural and spiritual revival My rite of return is not just for myself: it is also for my ancestors who did not have the opportunity to safely return to their Jewish roots My Jewish identity comes from various facets of my life that involve my Jewish history cultural traditions social action and spirituality HaShem Echad I am ready to return home Teshuvah

I believe that as Jews we place a great deal of importance on our past history of our forefathers and work hard to reconnect that history to our current lives Understanding my mother’s Jewish history is just a part of making that historical connection for me At one time my ancestors lived in the Iberian Peninsula BCA until the 15 th Century It was at that time the Catholic Church gained control of Spain and either expelled or forced Jews to convert to Christianity (c onverso ) creating a great Diaspora among the Sephardic Jews Many Converso Jews left Spain and found refuge in the New World where they were able to practice their Jewish faith illegally and in secret all the way up to the 17 th century It was in 1642 when the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Mexico began charging Conversos with the criminal heresy of practicing secret Judaism Many CryptoJewish families suffered confiscation of their estates and in a few instances burned by the stake ( Hordes p 50 ) To escape this renewed inquisition families began to migrate to northern Mexico Texas and New Mexico to escape persecution My ancestors settled in Northern Mexico

The recovery of my hidden Sephardic heritage is based on the origins of my mother’s name and the survival of remnant Jewish practices My mother unaware of the significance of these Jewish rituals has been practicing Sephardic traditions rooted in cryptoJewish history all her life We are descendants of Spanish Jews living in Mexico and Texas Although my family does not speak pure Ladino they still use Spanish Jewish words all the time in everyday language The Bejarano family has expressed Jewish traditions through customary foods language and rituals

Sephardic practices include the making of pan de semita (Semitic bread) capirotada during Passover and empanamitas during The Fast of Esther (Purim) In my mother’s upbringing her family drained the blood out of animals were discouraged from eating pork and also eggs with blood spots in them They covered their mirrors after relatives died and widows wore black for an entire year after the death of a spouse Women often took baths in rivers and streams a customary mikvahlike ritual swept rooms from corner to center and celebrated a cryptoJewish version of Chanukah How effective are these religious rituals if the meaning behind have been lost? Even though my family has exercised various Sephardic traditions they no longer define themselves as being Jewish The reality is that there is a huge disconnect and a great ethnic loss that has occurred among my Sephardic lineage Many generations of being persecuted by the Mexican Inquisition led to my ancestor’s abandonment of Judaism and loss of their ethnic identity

I have engaged in a struggle for ethnic recovery and reconstruction of my Jewish identity I started my Jewish journey by asking myself what it means to be a Jew I began studying Judaism to see if it was relevant to me My exploration led to my intense love of the religion and its traditions The more I studied Judaism the more it became a meaningful part of me My values are so closely aligned with its fundamental belief structure For one I have always understood there to be only one Gd El Dio Also I believe that God created the world established a covenant with the Israelites and revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of the Torah Lastly I passionately believe in the concept of tikkun olam I think that carrying out Gd’s mitzvot is all part of helping to repair our world I feel a personal responsibility to the betterment of our society and want to act in ways to improve it

I often participate in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions Jewish culture is now interwoven into my daily life which in turn has allowed me to renew my Jewish identity These past few years I have been attending Shabbat services participating in the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) lobbying missions organizing local GesherCity events learning basic Hebrew working at the Jewish Community Center listening to Jewish music cooking Jewish foods and even creating artworks about my cryptoJewish heritage I continue to help lead the HIAS Young Leaders Education advocacy chapter in DC where I lobby with other Jews on many social causes I am also an active member at Beth El Hebrew Congregation where I have gained immense spiritual guidance and support from Rabbi Brett Isserow and Cantor Sharon Steinberg

I am not the only cryptoJewish descendant who has reclaimed my heritage There has been a revival among many cryptoJews to revisit and revert back to their ancestral faith Practicing Judaism has allowed me to deepen my awareness and love for HaShem and evaluate my own actions It also continues to enrich and bring new meaning to my life as I continue to grow My spiritual roots have been firmly planted and I am ready to watch a new branch of my family tree grow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *