A Couple’s Odyssey

Too much of Daniel Ramos” childhood revolved around the church His mother Elizabeth Garcia Ramos a minister’s daughter who became a minister’s wife and his father Ismael spent a lot of time on his ministry and as a result so did their family Daniel the youngest of five siblings was never at home there His discovery of why would shape his future in ways he could never imagine

For Daniel church was full of contradictions he could not reconcile against his mother’s teachings at home”original sin” the “trinity” and the idea that some commandments were followed and some were obsolete did not make sense and were in conflict with what he was learning from his mother What he heard in church seemed to go directly against what his mother would teach him about the Bible It was not until he was twelve years old that he began to understand why he felt caught between what seemed like different traditions It was then Daniel learned that his mother’s family was once Jewish

Dan’s mother’s family the Garcias came to New Spain in the early 1500s and settled in what quickly became known as Garciasville due to the prevalence of that surname (today part of Texas) They came to New Spain fleeing the Inquisition and settled down as outward Christians with a fear of the Roman Catholic Church They remained heavily monotheistic and their Jewry remained a secret handed down within the family From what is known today from family trees they remained tightknit and tended to marry into other cryptoJewish families Perez Saenz Farias Sepulveda; all names that recur throughout the family tree They also retained an aversion to consuming blood

Armed with the knowledge of his true history Daniel no longer felt comfortable at church and eventually stopped attending feeling unable to stomach listening to what to him were contradictions in faith After high school he joined the US Navy and became a submariner serving in the first Gulf War On his own he was free to explore Judaism and began attending services in a Navy synagogue Suddenly religion began to make sense

In 1996 having finished his tour in the Navy Daniel moved to Austin Texas In 1999 at a wedding in the Rio Grande Valley he met Michelle Guerra a native of San Juan TX who was a senior at a Pennsylvania college It was no coincidence that they met at a wedding; Daniel a groomsman was assigned to escort Michelle a bridesmaid and friend of the bride The two hit it off from the start After graduating from college later that same year Michelle moved to Austin partly for the thriving job market but mostly to continue seeing Daniel After a lengthy courtship the two became engaged and made plans to marry in May 2003

Michelle had grown up in a devout Roman Catholic family; however as a teenager she began to question her faith and her agreement with the teachings of the Church By the time she was in college she had stopped attending services and frequently got into tiffs with her family because of her criticism of Church doctrine and her refusal sometimes to go to services at all Unfortunately Michelle’s father Ruben was often blamed by her mother Juanita for their daughter’s aversion to the Church “She takes after your side of the family!”

Three months before Michelle and Daniel’s interfaith marriage (Christian and Catholic) Michelle’s parents were visiting with the couple The discussion turned to World War II and Michelle mentioned to her parents that Daniel’s uncle Canuto Garcia had been shot down over Germany during the war and after having been captured by the Nazis was put into a concentration camp Tá­o Canuto had insisted to the Germans that he was Hispanic would speak to them only in Spanish but was labeled “Juden” and taken to a camp until liberated at the end of the war He came home weighing less than 100 pounds

Ruben’s response to the story would change the couple’s lives “You know the old tá­as say our family your guelita’s family (Perez) was Jewish too That’s why we came here with a land grant because of the Inquisition We had to leave”

Michelle’s family history suddenly received a major renovation The simple story of having received a land grant “for service to the King” was not entirely true Instead the family had come to New Span land grant in hand fleeing the Inquisition and settling not far from Garciasville in the La Gloria/San Isidro area It is possible that a “service to the King” was responsible for getting them a land grant and a chance to escape but the truth of the matter was that the family was Jewish and no longer safe in Spain Suddenly several things made sense: why her father’s family notoriously never went to church; why Michelle as a baby had worn a charm against ojo the “evil eye” on a red string when she was a little girl (a kabbalistic symbol); why the mirrors were covered when her grandmother passed away; and in a “eureka!” moment it became clear why Daniel and Michelle had marriages between their two families going back generations it was “safe” to marry other cryptoJewish families They now understood why even today they have so many relatives in common: Farias Sepulveda and Saenz on both sides Now the families would be joining again this time through Michelle and Daniel’s marriage

The couple had struggled with the issue of religion; they both felt God was missing in their lives and longed to return to services but neither wanted to take part in the faiths in which they had been raised With the revelation that they came from the same secret Jewish history they turned their thoughts to Judaism The couple began attending services at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin Their first service made an impression on both For Daniel it was a return to the faith he had found a home in during his Navy years For Michelle it was the feeling that she had finally found a home Both were acutely aware that they felt closer to God than they ever had; worship suddenly made sense

At the wedding Daniel’s mom surprised the couple by reading a Jewish wedding blessing during the ceremony in Hebrew After their marriage Michelle and Daniel enrolled in a Living a Jewish Life class “basic Judaism” and after celebrating a full year of the Jewish calendar and having learned to read Hebrew they both returned to Judaism formally with their conversions in July 2004

At Congregation Beth Israel which is home to a surprising number of Sephards they have found more than a community; they have found an extended family where they have been welcomed warmly

Today Michelle and Daniel are anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child a son in April 2005 Both feel deeply how important this birth is to them with the brit milah of this baby the couple knows it will be the first child to be raised as a Jew openly in either of their families in nearly 500 years They cherish the old traditions they will be bringing back to their family the covenant long abandoned but not forgotten now being fulfilled