I was speaking to a new member of my havurah I happened to mention my interest in crypto Jews He said “My landlord is a crypt Jew” I said that I would like to meet him
A few days later the three of us met for breakfast at a waterfront café in Redondo Beach And this was the beginning of a close friendship between Flavio Montoya and me
Flavio soon became an active member of my havurah and when he learned of my interest in crypto Jews he became a member of the SCJS also He eventually served as secretary of the society
We always called him Flavio but he was known as Floyd on his official documents He was completely bi-lingual or maybe even quadra-lingual as he spoke French and Italian almost as well has Spanish and English He worked as a translator with Immigration at the Los Angeles International Airport His office was near the El Al counter where he once was startled by the sound of gun fire He looked out to discover that a gunman had fired at the El Al center killing a bystander
Flavio was from New Mexico He grew up in a family that was Hispanic and Catholic But his family also had some odd practices that he later found out to be indicative of a crypto Jewish background
He once described to me how about a week before Christmas his father would place nine luminarias on the roof of their house Luminarias or farolitos are small paper bags half filled with sand with a lit candle in them They are a tradition in New Mexico in the Christmas season where they can be seen glowing in front of houses Some speculate that they evolved from secret observances of Hanukkah by the crypto Jews The fact that his father always lit exactly nine of them indicated to Flavio that they were definitely of Jewish origin
Flavio identified completely with the Jewish people He learned Ladino He often attended services in a nearby Chabad center He learned traditional Sephardic recipes and prepared them for our havurah events He once showed me how to cheat in the making of Hanukkah bormuelos He bought some frozen muffin dough and instead of baking the muffins he deep fried them They weren’t as fluffy as the bormuelos that I grew up with but they weren’t bad
He suffered from diabetes as his condition worsened he began dialysis Several times he was hospitalized Despite his condition he kept a happy spirit On Sunday August 28 I visited him in the hospital He was weak but he managed to smile and we joked together The next day we lost him We will miss him
Hi I have lived in Tucson Arizona and T or C New Mexico and those luminarias were a familiar sight! Thank you for explaining their possible origin! It’s so special to think about it.
In New Mexico of course we were surrounded by people who knew they weren’t from Mexico, but rather came there as settlers from New Spain. There were individuals who would say, although they are catholic, they know they are Jews. It was especially interesting to speak with the old rancheros in the countryside who had inherited their land down the generations for hundreds of years. They said, “somos judíos”.