I made up my mind after due reflection on how to write this article to view the International Symposium SANTANGEL 98 The Life and Times of Luis de Santangel with rosecolored glasses For this gathering which took place over four days in August at Dominican University near Chicago appeared to have the best of intentions

It bore the subtitle The Contributions and Heritage of Spanish Jews Conversos and Sephardim And certainly it is noteworthy that an institution founded by the same Roman Catholic ecclesiastical order that spawned and carried out the Inquisition for over four centuries would initiate and host a gathering to honor the very people who were the Holy Office’s chief target population

So time passes and significant changes take place in the way the western world looks at religious differences Within that Roman Catholic Church there has appeared its own way of relating to the recognition that tolerance is not only right but practical So here we have the descendants of those whose ancestors were persecuted tortured and burned at the stake sitting down with representatives of that same prosecutorial religious order in another time and place

Conference planners seemed to be following after a recent statement of regret for the Inquisition by Dominican leadership And great efforts were made to help the participants feel comfortable such as kosher meals and a visit to a local temple

The list of presenters included rabbis academics researchers of cryptoJudaism and leaders of Jewish organizations that support cryptoJews There were speakers on Sephardic culture in the diaspora

Luis de Santangel was a wealthy converso from a powerful merchant family who served as the royal household’s finance minister and chancellor during the latter half of the fifteenth century The conference utilized the fact of 500 years since his death as a theme to pull together material on life in Spain for observant Jews and conversos and life in the diaspora for Sephardic exiles as well as to cover diverse aspects of his life

The keynote speaker Rabbi Martin Cohen of Hebrew Union College ’s Jewish Institute of Religion denied the assumption during the Spanish Inquisition that converted Jews would by nature continue to feel as Jews and observe Judaism He called the belief in this congenital propensity to things Jewish “the marrano myth: the first example of racist mythology in the modern world” He likewise debunked the inquisitors’ concept that all Jews including Catholic converts were hostile to Christianity

From this assumption the fifteenth century church and the monarchy developed the doctrine of limpieza de sangre which held that this “uncleanness in Jewish blood could be passed from generation to generation” Cohen rejected this belief He applied his theory to contemporary times averring that without the experience of some contemporary Jewish practice feelings of Jewishness would be very unlikely after centuries limited to Christian observance

Cohen’s view received widely different responses Seth Kunin SCJS member and anthropologist observed that “Cohen tried to create a creative theoretical model based on the facts as we have them” At the 1998 SCJS Conference we had dialoged with Seth who held that there is no evidence that the sense of Jewishness would continue through the centuries in Christian families formerly Jewish

Disagreeing with Cohen’s thesis was Schulamith Chava Halevy Israel teacher and researcher who headed a panel session called The Anusim in the Americas Schulamith reported an experience she had had in Brazil with a woman who had approached her to explore whether her ancestors had converted from Judaism After a while the woman began to say the very words of a Jewish prayer that has survived in Belmonte Portugal among a 500yearold converso population that by all appearances practiced Catholicism The words and their tone were the same as those spoken by the women of Belmonte Schulamith held that there was no way that the woman could have provided misinformation as the woman knew nothing of the city and its history

The conference proved fruitful for my needs I gathered much needed information and made valuable contacts with resources for the book I am writing Luis de Santangel is one of four notable Sephardic Jews I am highlighting and there is a dearth of information about him in US sources Several scholars from Spain spoke about him his genealogy his role in the court and the record of his family with the Inquisition There were papers presented on his family history and ancestors by Yitzak Kerem editor of Sepharad Jerusalem ; Roberto Ferrando Perez Instituto Juan de Garay Valencia Spain and Miguel Angel Motis Dolader University of Zaragoza

Maria de los Desamparados Rincon de Arellano Castellvi a direct Santangel descendant described how it was the practice for true conversos to marry into Old Christian nobility as had the Santangel family In my research I have learned that anusim or those who were converted by force and were secretly faithful to Judaism married only other anusim to perpetuate their Jewishness and be safer from the prying eyes of the inquisition

Senora Desamparados Rincon de Arrellano Castellvi is giving support to Rabbi Cohen’s thesis that not all conversos were secret Judaizers

Can a sense or feeling or knowingness about being Jewish persist on a familial unconscious level through the centuries without support from family members and some Jewish practice? We have dealt with this question at SCJS meetings with disagreements voiced similar to those I report at the Dominican conference

Did the conference achieve anything? For Seth Kunin the professional contacts were useful

“If it accomplished anything related to my work it brought together academics from difference disciplines creating the potential for interdisciplinary discussions And to some degree outside of the sessions this certainly happened”

Seth adds that while his own sessions on the CryptoJews of New Mexico “went reasonably well: it was a pity that the other people working in similar fields were doing sessions at the same time: ”

SCJS member Ruth Silverman particularly enjoyed the talks by Seth and Schulamith with the latter especially interesting because of her views conflicting with Cohen She called “weird” the situation of “being hosted by your own executioners!” I heard this view repeated several times to me by conference participants

Ruth appreciated the exhibit brought to the conference by the cultural department of Valencia Spain “[It’s] always worthwhile seeing actual artifacts – writings drawings dishes etc Those kinds of things make history come alive”

With Ruth I wished there had been more participants Attendance fell short of expectations I also wish the simultaneous translation had been universally effective On the other hand I made significant contacts gathered some data and got inspired to go home and write

As for the incongruity of a Dominicansponsored university sponsoring the event let me remind readers of the fact that today’s peaceloving Swedes are the descendants of the Vikings who looted pillaged raped and murdered as they conquered much of the known world of their day It is also good to take note of Spain ’s notable record in sheltering Jewish refugees during World War II

More to the point was how well I was taken care of by the socially and culturally sensitive Sisters who assisted with conference administration to the point of a special ride to the airport at the end planned to give me a socioeconomic tour of Chicago and its ethnicities It was with one of these Sister Philip Mary that I shared laughs about how the conference director in her naiveté had referred me for lodging to one of these motels where you only spend a few hours and move on Said Sister ” I knew that and I’m the nun!”