My Journey to Judaism

As a youngster I grew up in a very good Roman Catholic home I went to Catholic parochial school in El Paso TX The Irish nuns that taught me always told their students that what they taught in religion class had to be believed by us They told us on the one hand that we all had free will but on the other hand took away that free will by saying that if we didn’t believe the truths as taught to us in religion class then we would be in a state of mortal sin and headed directly to the eternal fires of hell

That was pretty heavy stuff for a young impressionable and naive young man I swallowed hook line and sinker what these “representatives of God on earth” told me That means that I learned from the very first day of kindergarten that the Jews had crucified Jesus THEY KILLED MY SAVIOR: bad people We used to pray for the conversion of the Jews at Mass

Even so from a very young age I have had a fascination for Jewish authors and things Jewish in general I’ve read novels history both ancient and modern I think I have always had a genetic predisposition to my Jewish faith My reading has gone from the stories of the Bible and their meaning to stories of Jesus of Nazareth with a Jewish slant Of course I have read a whole slew of novels concerning World War Two and the creation of the modern State of Israel

During college I began to have grave doubts about my faith I guess school helped in this The Spanish literature of the Golden Age of Spain especially made me come to the conclusion that truth is relative Truth I came to believe is a concept that changes according to the mind of the beholder It’s easy to come to this conclusion after reading Don Quixote de La Mancha by Cervantes or writers of that era such as Lazarillo de Tormes I won’t go into a dissertation but I concluded that truth did not exist Also I took some religion classes which caused me to really doubt I was taught by fundamentalist preachers and I could not swallow their line I still practiced my faith but not with the enthusiasm as before

While I was stationed in Viet Nam in the Army I read quite a bit of literature such as The Jesus Party The Last Temptation of Christ and histories of the Holocaust and of the Jews Good reading but leading me to pretty contrary opinions than what I was supposed to believe as a Catholic Anyway my doubting of the faith got worse During a three or fouryear period I went through life with a pain in my gut My head told me that the nuns and the priests had taught me a faith that I could not accept intellectually But my heart was still not letting go Ergo pain in the stomach

During my first semester of law school I stopped going to Mass altogether The last straw was when a gentleman (some would say a derelict) was at Sunday Mass at St Ignatius He began to cry out for help I honestly felt sorry for this fellow The priest made a motion to the ushers and these two big galoots picked him up and threw him out I was outraged that the priest had “muscle” at the church I didn’t go back to church again

For a time I felt like I wanted to go back I truly tried to believe I just couldn’t After my first wife and I divorced I went through the motions of getting an annulment from the Catholic Church My wife asked me to do so so I did I have a certain Godgiven ability to write in the English Language so I wrote a pretty good petition and I got the annulment After it just didn’t have any importance to me

My beliefs have changed with my growing awareness of my unhappiness with Roman Catholicism The position of the Church regarding such questions as abortion birth control the divinity of Jesus Jesus the Savior Holy Mary ever Virgin the Immaculate Conception of Mary the saints (ie minor gods) etc have made me stop believing entirely

About 1980 I began to study my genealogy It was my idea that my children were growing up as “Gringos” I didn’t want them to lose their Mexican identity so I thought that I’d do a study to show them where they came from In my study I also included a lot of Mexican History

The results of my study didn’t do much for my children but it changed my life The study of my ancestry has led me to believe that my interest in the Jews must be somehow genetic I think that my reading from the time I was a youngster was an unknowing seeking after my roots As my need for spirituality and ritual increased I began to study the religion of my ancestors I finally found a belief system that fit me

After almost five years of study I reached my first ancestors in the New World It was in 1579 that Luá­s de Carvajal sailed from Spain for a second time with a ship full of wine for sale to the thirsty population of New Spain and traveling with him were many of his relatives Though he himself was the child of new converts to Roman Catholicism many of his relatives were practicing Jews My ancestors were among those that came to Mexico at that time In 1582 he along with Gaspar Castaño de Sosa his brother Baltazar de Castaño de Sosa and others established a settlement at a site then known as Los Ojos de San Luá­s Here the settlers openly practiced their Jewish religion In the words of the Mexican Historian Vito Alesio ” the inhabitants of San Luá­s piously and rigidly kept the Law of Moses and waited for the promised Messiah They kept the Sabbath Using strange and solemn rites they extracted the glands of the lamb They absolutely proscribed swine meat all kinds of grease and the meat of fish that did not have scales In commemoration of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea and their return from Egypt they celebrated the Pascal Lamb This lasted seven days during which they baked bread from fermented rye without leaven and bitter herbs They cut the throat of a tender white lamb and the lintels of all the doors were anointed with its blood Afterwards the people all congregated around a bonfire; the men and women while standing and provided with staffs with their waists girded intoned songs and praises to Moses [and Adonai] They extended their arms to the east; toward the bizarre and mysterious Cerro de La Silla [the mountain that dominates Monterrey Mexico] while in the fire the Pascal lamb slowly roasted” [translation by the author]

On my mother’s side my research revealed that the first Acosta in my line was in fact a Jew named Diego Perez de Acosta who was in on the discovery of silver at Parral Chihuahua in 1631 He was originally from Oporto in Portugal His children dropped the “Perez” surname for political and social reasons

With my knowledge of the faith of my ancestors I began to take certain things personally I take it personally what the Inquisition in Mexico did to my ancestors When I think of Luá­s de Carvajal dying in the prison of the Holy Inquisition in Mexico City I tend to become angry with the Catholic Church for doing him in for the dastardly crime he committed of not turning in his relatives who practiced their Jewish faith His nephew Luá­s de Carvajal el Mozo (a cousin of the first Garcá­a in my line) was burned at the stake for being a Jewish Rabbi El Mozo and his whole immediate family were imprisoned and tortured; some were burned at the stake I take this personally but more so I take personally the fact that Lucas Rodriguez Castaño de Sosa (son of Baltazar Castaño de Sosa and Inez Rodriguez) had to change his surname to Garcá­a (that why I’m Garcá­a and not Rodriguez) and take his religion underground because not to do so would have been detrimental to him politically and socially and even probably would have caused him problems with the Inquisition I have come to the conclusion that the surname taken by my ancestor is a diminutive of Garza (heron) because a family crest I’ve found has a small heron on it

More than anything else I have a deep and abiding resentment of the Roman Catholic Church for denying me my rich heritage This is something that I do not believe I will ever be able to get over I now read Spanish Jewish literature and history with a new pleasure Ladino music is a joy to listen to

I’ve been telling my spouse and children since 1990 that I am a Jew I thought of myself as a Jew but never took any formal steps in that direction That is I didn’t until one Sunday in July 2000 My brother John gave me the phone number of Rabbi Larry Bach at Temple Mount Sinai I called him Since that time both my brother and myself have formally converted (John says we reverted) to the religion of our forefathers Our brother David had converted to Judaism in the 1970’s I’m happy I have the spiritualism in my life that has been lacking I am more comfortable with myself than I have been in a long time I keep finding out the rich history and culture that the Roman Catholic Church cut me off from and essentially robbed me of when they forced my ancestors to convert

I feel like my life has been a long journey regarding my seeking of my roots and religious feeling I am now an active member of Temple Mount Sinai a Reform Jewish Temple I am a member of Shir Haddash the choir; I am on the Board of Trustees and a member of the Social Action Committee I think that attending the Temple assuages my contradictory spirit regarding the Catholic Church I’m home with my faith The chain of Catholicism is finally and unalterably broken

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