Finding Redemption and Joy
This March, we celebrate the redemption of Persian Jews who were threatened with extinction in 356 B.C.E. Not every threat against the Jewish people has end-ed as well, or led to a festival as joyous as Purim.
Five centuries ago, religious repression and official terror forced the Jews out of Spain and Portugal. At the time, their choices were limited: convert or go into exile. Today, Jewish migration is trending in reverse.
Last April, 51 strangers from 12 countries returned to the Spanish town of Ayllón “to walk cobblestone passageways and medieval stone structures” and celebrate Shabbat there for the first time since their ancestors were forced into exile. The official welcome was warm, writes Andrée Aelion Brooks, herself a descendent of the town, in “What’s in a Name?”. But the group’s emotional reconnection left a message that Jews who had once lived there must not be forgotten.
Of those Jews who survived the Inquisition by converting, many lived dangerous double lives, outwardly Christian but Jewish in their hearts and secret rituals. In “Retracing Old Footsteps,” Rahel Musleah looks at b’nei anousim, the descendents of Conversos, who are returning—in greater numbers than ever before—to their authentic Jewish selves. “No exact demographics exist,” Musleah writes, “but scholarly estimates of Jews lost to Judaism during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, mostly through forced conversion, range from 200,000 to 800,000; their descendents number in the millions.” And for those who find their way back, the journey entails “a lot of drama, a lot of tears, a lot of joy,” says Alia Garcia-Ureste, a returnee in El Paso, Texas.
As more b’nei anousim—from Costa Rica to Cuba, from Guatemala to Mexico—connect their intuition to solid evidence of their Jewishness in genealogical websites, archives from Spain and Inquisition-era documents, perhaps their days of historical sorrow will eventually be a time for celebration.