Being raised Catholic didn’t seem to make me Catholic Some how I never felt as if I fit in to what seemed to be the religion of my ancestors I can remember praying with my Granny three times a day when we were around one another At her house she had a little altar facing the east with candles on it and she used to put a scarf on when she prayed I never really understood these rituals

Growing up I can remember questioning God I use to tell him with my little finger pointed to the sky I want to see you if you are really there I know you are not in those statues If break one of which every one in our family had several I knew I would be in trouble How could God be in those some what scary things any way was my thinking? I can remember clearly waking up around three in the morning at different times and going outside to swing on my swing set looking up at the full moon with rippled clouds surrounding it I would ask God so many questions for I knew there was some thing more than statues to talk to

My brother and I spoke a language of our own; no one could understand him for his first five years After a few doctor’s visits my parents were told not to teach us both Spanish and English; they believed that was confusing my brother and thus he couldn’t speak either Only I could speak with him and understand what he wanted I use to talk with my angel in this language When I first read the Zohar I read that the angel Gabriel speaks all 70 languages to a cluster of dust and then hands it to Ha Shem to breathe his ruach into it Thus it becomes a living soul The Zohar further says that by the time the child is out of the womb it no longer remembers all the languages or the Torah If so I thought maybe we need to remember so we could find our way back to who we really are

My life has been very difficult; with every turn in the journey there seem to be up hill battles and down hill tumbles At the age of eighteen I had been on my own for a year having quit high school where I had fallen through every crack possible No one seemed to care that I did I had learning disabilities that were not detected at that time and was told all my life I was not teachable There were also homerelated problems that kept my mind day dreaming about other things besides school thought to be more important However I was given a gift that would carry me in life: talent and skills to work and create with my hands

I started working at the very young age of twelve waiting tables then working for a neighbor at thirteen stringing jewelry for his store Everything I made sold; creating was never difficult it seem to come as natural as breathing to me Growing up I learned leather skills welding beading; I knew how to crochet at a very young age I started using a potter’s wheel in the third grade Shortly after turning eighteen I met my future husband while I was hitchhiking in Arizona He ended up taking me all the way home to New Mexico and asking my father if he could take me to Dallas with him My father knowing me made a deal with him: “Before you hit her send her home COD”

Shortly after moving to the Dallas area I had an awakening at 3 am; it was another spiritual encounter I was told not to follow man or the religion of man to follow him I was told I would never be forsaken nor forgotten I began for the first time in my life to teach my self to read with the Bible After that experience I was changed I made the mistake of calling my parents and telling them I gave up Catholicism for Lent: not a pretty picture

Three months later I knew I had to be water immersed so I drove in my car looking for a church to baptize me fully in water not knowing any thing about mikvah I found a little Pentecostal church on a back road that didn’t require me to join all that was asked of me was to wear a dress So I went and made me a simple white skirt and blouse and was water immersed I would do so any time I could even though I was told once I was baptized I didn’t need to do it any more For me it seemed to be needed to cleanse my soul

I waded my way thru the Christian maze never feeling like I fit or belonged I still had my encounters around three in the morning always having the Old Testament speak to me the loudest I always felt like some thing was missing some thing wasn’t right After that encounter at eighteen I started having dreams of living in Israel; they would reoccur many times I had the strangest connection to Jewish people that I didn’t seem to have with just any one All my friends called me the Jew magnet My exhusband always told me that if we divorced I would remarry a Jewish man After being married sixteen years nd having a beautiful daughter Rachel Hosanna he decided he no longer wanted to be married and told me to go home

Two weeks later I was in New Mexico a single parent and moving back home to start all over again with nothing but my two hands a bit of glass and some tools After a few car accidents I was told I was 80% disabled Soon I was living at home once again My father told me to take a month off and think about what I wanted to do and they would help me I told my parents I didn’t need a month to think about it I wanted to do my art fulltime and venture into business for my self

Starting in 350 square feet in December 1996 I began to work twelve to sixteen hour days seven days a week for 3 years I was still having my three am encounters being shown things in the Torah more and more clearly The dreams about living in Israel were more and more frequent as well Within a few months of living back home I stopped eating pork; I couldn’t stand it any longer Within one year of being back I was no longer observing Easter or Christmas Living with my parents where those practices were still being done was difficult

In ’99 I was invited to a Jewish conference I was amazed to see other Hispanics there I wondered if they were checking this out too that they knew who they were By the end of the conference I was told I might be of the cryptoJewish or marrano background At that conference I met my soontobe mentor from Israel who seemed to know more about my history than I did He asked me if I would consider selling his Judaica in my glass shop Within five years of doing business in that small space I was able to move into 2500 square feet Again I stepped out believing that Ha Shem was with me There were 1000 square feet next to the gallery that remained empty for a year until I started BatTzion Hebrew Learning Center with a Judaica shop in full scale

At that time I met my fiancé who was also the only one practicing Judaism in his family We wanted to create a safe place for others like ourselves who were having the same difficulties we were “not fitting in” We believed that Judaism was the answer The messianic arena was not fulfilling for us nor did we find it much different than Christianity other than the feasts wearing talits and keeping Shabbat We needed and wanted more but didn’t know how to find it Thus BatTzion Hebrew Learning Center Inc was born Damon spoke 11 languages and Hebrew was his favorite

Three months later he died from cancer It was most difficult left alone to journey the road in darkness I lost seven people in my life in seven months and my only child was now leaving for college The morning she left my little dog of eleven years who had been with me from the moment of her birth was run over and killed However a year after Damon’s death I had this strong feeling that I was to continue with BatTzion; how I didn’t know

On January 5 2004 I asked my parents for their blessing I knew it would affect them when I went public with the learning center Not only did I get my blessing but my dad finally admitted that he had known he was Jewish since the age of six Needless to say my mother and I were shocked But shock wasn’t the only emotion going through my being There were anger joy confusion and relief all at the same time When I asked why hadn’t he said anything all the times that I had told them I thought we might be Jewish he shrugged his shoulders and said “I was raised Catholic” and left the room Later I found out why The persecution of Jews had lasted in New Mexico up until the early 1900’s

I held several conferences at the Learning Center with the help of my volunteer Carl Johnson At these Bill Radcliffe one of my mentors and his friend Ed Madson brought the Torah scroll up the mountain to Ruidoso and assisted us in doing Shabbat services in Hebrew English and Spanish We didn’t have the big picture or understanding about what we were doing but more and more crypto Jews started coming With hindsight I see that we were preparing these people for their transition from Christianity to Judaism I held my first Sephardic Anousim conference in August 2004 with very little advertising and people showed up from all over: Colorado New Mexico ArizonaTexas Some thing was happening

During Rosh Hashana I was allowed to parade the Torah This was followed by a dream of flying to Israel The following week I received a call from a gentleman I did not know who owned a travel company in Israel asking me to take a fam tour I was in Israel that next month; it was my first trip and an amazing part of my journey to Judaism I felt at home; for the first time in my life I felt like I was where I belong

In January of this year I met Rabbi Leon of Temple B’nai Zion in El Paso He came in March to speak to the anusim studying at BatTzion Now several of us are in the process of our returns or conversions During our beginning conversations Rabbi Leon asked me if I knew what Beresheta meant When I told I thought it meant soul mate he said yes in marriage although it also means destiny in life He told me he had been asking Ha Shem if it was his destiny that he work with me Then he asked what I thought My response was that although I may not know much I do know that I will let him lead me in my path Although the road is difficult the journey is worth being on when it leads to your destiny I hope to complete my return some time soon thanks to Rabbi Leon who is now assisting so many on the road back home Isaiah 58:614 is what I have lived my life by for 15 years now it seems to be what my life is all about

In February 2005 I called Bennett Greenspan from Family Tree DNA in Houston inviting him to speak at my second annual Sefardic conference in El Paso He said he would put it on his calendar then asked if my dad and brother would be willing to take the DNA test They agreed When the test came back with our genes pointing to Ashkenazi Levites it confirmed what I had felt for so long

I also asked Stan Hordes to help me research my last name I received the results of the DNA tests and the research on my name the very same day It is found among Moroccan Jews and was a prominent jewish quarter Loya in the province of Navarra Spain in the middle ages

I hope to encourage others to continue their search It will be worth the work to find the treasure In this lifetime I hope to restore to my family what was taken from us by force Being able to share part of my personal journey at the Sephardic Anousim Conference in August in El Paso was a first public experience for me This is the first of the many conferences I have coordinated where I asked my self to be a speaker! I hope it will encourage others to search out the truth for themselves

SONYA LOYA SCJS member is the director of Bat – Tzyion Hebrew Learning Center in Ruidoso NM which she started to facilitate her research into her crypto Jewish background and to help others on the same quest This article is adapted from the talk she gave at The Anousim Conference in El Paso TX in August 2005