COMING HOME - THE STORY OF THE ANUSIM
by Shoshana Tita
On a cold winter night a couple of years ago I was invited to speak at the inauguration of the first department of Judaic studies in Spain. I was driven on that 200 mile drive by a young taxi driver .That drive was the beginning of his homecoming to Judaism. All Ignacio knew was the simple fact that he was a descendent of the Anusim,the Jews forced to convert to Catholicism 500 years ago. But he had so many questions to ask me during that long drive to Leidathat I knew that it was ultimately for him that I had traveled so far.
Ignacio's story is the same as those of numerous other Anusim whose souls are crying out to rediscover their roots. So many of those 'crypto Judios' ,or secret Jews are longing after five or six generation to find ways to return to their Jewish roots. Spain and Portugal have a history of fervent Catholicism but according to a recent genetic study reported in the American Journal of Human Genetic, almost a third of the population of the Iberian Peninsula now turns out to have a non-Christian genetic heritage. About twenty percent show Sephardic Jewish ancestry .The forced conversions to Christianity in the 15th and 16th century left genetic signatures. That genetic study based on an analysis of Y chromosomes indicates that there was a high level of conversions among Jews.
My friend ,Malka Gonzalez Bayo, has just published a fascinating book titled 'The Surnames of the Spanish Jews'. Jews undergoing conversions often took surnames from locations or professions in order to preserve the memory of their origins. In Mallorca there is even an entire group called 'Chueta' , which means pig in Catalan ,who married only from that group in order not to assimilate. During World War II Hitler sent his emissaries to Mallorca in order to secure the list of names of those chuetas. The bishop turned down the request saying that he would have to turn in himself in that case.
Upon arriving in Spain I decided to invite as many Anusim as I could find for Shabbat dinners. It was then that Malka Gonzalez first spoke of the 'mutilated memory'. Each one of my quests had a painful story to tell of how he or she felt rejected by both Catholics and Jews alike. Each one had a different tale of a grandmother lighting Friday night candles or separating meat and milk. Some of their families had biblical texts passed on from generation to generation. Above all what they all had in common are memories and stories from their forefathers that awaken their Jewish soul. Ironically, during Israel's most recent military operation in Gaza these Anusim have been at the forefront of pro Israel demonstrations while Spanish Jews have kept a low profile.
This awakening of the descendents of Jews 500 years later has led many to formal conversions. The fractured collective and individual memory is being restored. So many of those disparagingly called 'Marranos' or pigs by the Spanish are looking to reconnect to their heritage. We see that prophecy of the hunger to return to Judaism manifest itself in those Anusim who are reclaiming their stolen past. We are taught that all Jewish souls were present on Mount Sinai at the giving of the Torah. For the numerous Anusim returning to their forefather's religion , the souls are finding a rebirth.
ShoshanaTita is a writer and director of Torah Life Center. She speaks internationally on Spain's Jewish history. She currently resides in Barcelona,Spain. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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