For thirty years, since I found a small group of Marranos-Anousim in Ibiza, in the Balearic Islands of Spain, a small band of historians, researchers and caring Jews, on the tiniest of budgets, have been making representations to the Israeli Government, The Jewish Agency, as well as the Rabbinical Authorities to help us investigate and assist the Marrano-Anousim of this world who wish to identify, regain their Jewish Heritage and return to the land of their Forefathers.
Mercifully in the last couple of years The Institute of Jewish Studies, set up by the Israeli Rabbinate to form classes here in Israel for would be Converts, has helped those small numbers who have arrived, but these people have NONE of the rights of Olim and are not permitted to work until their Conversion is finished which takes at least a year, so they have to come with sufficient money for fares and to support themselves during this period. Once they arrive a small group of us try to be available to help them adjust.
Far greater in number are those in far away countries like Brazil, Cuba, Canary Islands, Spain, Puerto Rico, etc., where it is reckoned there are there literally an excess of three million wishing to make Aliyah. Many of these people are in Agriculture, something that could so enhance the labour situation here. The way they have clung to Jewish customs and marrying only amongst themselves should be an example to people living openly as Jews all over the world.
Interviews with the Head of Absorption of the Jewish Agency when we brought him figures and letters, some four years ago, whilst we were endeavouring to raise funds to arrange Sedarim for some of these groups in Spain, (which for eight years we managed to do); all the response we could enlist from this gentleman was he had no idea that there were any “Marranos” left in the world and anyway his priority was to enlarge the Russian Aliyah.
Since the advent of E-mail, hardly a day passes that our Institute does not receive messages enquiring about the writers possible Jewish identity… from what our experience, data base, library etc. is able to provide, the correspondence frequently evolves to a hitherto re-awakening when some parents have hidden from their children their true origins… Usually these exchanges are initially slow but gradually the ways and history of the family are discussed with elder members of their families and our office. If requested we send Prayer Books, Dictionaries, Tallasim, Mezzot etc. We work full time, without salary and rely on volunteers.
Two weeks ago a 34 year old Neurology specialist from the Caribbean, now living in the USA, suddenly realised that all the strange customs, which had become more apparent to her and her sisters since she came to live in the USA., were Jewish ones… We are at all times most careful NOT to give any personal details away, but have permission to quote the following from part of what she wrote me:
My paternal grandfather[…] told me in a dream what generations had decided that it would be better for me not to know. He told me that I was Jewish and why I was Jewish — my mother. And I prayed. I started to ask questions at home but not really knowing what to look for or what to ask. I have never told them about the dream, because after all it was a dream and they would think of it as such. After noticing that I was not going anywhere, I prayed.
And God put you in my way.
Last night I read the Casa Shalom Journals and, of course, the section about Puerto Rico. And something clicked in me. All of a sudden all of the pieces of a big puzzle started to fall in place and I was able to see the whole picture. And I cried. I wept. I sobbed like I haven’t in a long time. (And while I’m writing this, tears are still rolling on my cheeks). I cried because of anger. I cried because of pain. I cried because of joy. I cried because of anger towards human intolerance against other humans and promised to myself that as long as I live I would not condemn or judge another human just because they believe differently from me. I cried because of the pain of my ancestors that were forced to convert to something they didn’t believe in order to maybe ensure that their children would be able to live. The pain that generations after went through when being signaled as odd. The pain of not knowing why they were odd, but despite of it passing their oddness to their children. The pain that I went through while growing, feeling that I didn’t belong. I cried because of the joy that God, in His great mercy, decided that we had had enough. He decided that it was time to know that when Abraham looked into the skies and saw the stars, one of them was me — that I had crossed the Red Sea with Moses — that I was there when the walls of Jericho fell down — that as Caleb it was time for me to claim my mountain. And yet my heart and soul always knew the truth that my brain refused to see.
And I cannot stop crying and I need to, at least for a while, because I have patients to see and a lecture to give. I will tell you about the Puerto Rican article as soon as I stop crying…
More details about the activities of Casa Shalom, the Institute For Marrano-Anousim Studies, can be obtained from our regularly updated web-site at www.casa-shalom.com
e-mail: Marrano @ aquanet.co.il
Executive Director/Hon. Research Fellow,
Dept of Hispanics
Univ. of Glasgow 1988-2003
Institute For Marrano-Anousim Studies