Society for Crypto Judaic Studies
SCJS Conference 2007 Meets in Albuquerque
Program Features Arts, Papers, Memoirs Of Crypto Jews
by Louise Pitta Polsky
From HaLapid Fall 2007
The variety of presentations at the recent SCJS Conference, August 5-7, in Albuquerque, was vastly expanded over those of the past. A grant from the Sosin-Stratton-Petit Foundation enabled the program committee to include several New Mexico artists, a poet from South Texas and a flamenco dancer from Albuquerque in the proceedings. The conference also featured speakers from Israel , Mexico and Canada as well as from throughout the U.S. In addition, awards were presented to three members.
From early Spanish Colonial times, New Mexico has been a center of crypto-Judaic activity, with large numbers of New Mexican Hispanics discovering their Jewish ancestry. It is for this reason that the SCJS decided to return to Albuquerque for its 2007 annual conference, the second meeting in that city during its fourteen-year history. A varied group of about 85 people, one of our largest ever, attended and was rewarded with two and one-half days of fascinating presentations. People spoke of their personal experiences and they shared the dais with artists, academics, messianics and more. Click here for a review of artists whose presentations were made possible by the Sosin-Stratton-Petit Foundation.
Below are synopses of the key events of the conference:
Ana Pacheco: Keynote Address
Ana Pacheco is founder and publisher of La Herencia magazine, the premier quarterly publication providing information on Hispanic culture with articles written by local historians from New Mexico and the Southwest. The editorial content consists of oral Spanish and Mexican folklore retold with documentary photographs and illustrations. Her talk illustrated the roots of identity in New Mexico with articles from past editions of La Herencia .
Pacheco told of a column on Sephardim authored by Albuquerque historian Emma Moya, whose story on New Mexico 's crypto Jews first appeared in La Herencia in December, 1996.
Another featured the work of Cary Herz, conference photographer of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies. Her photographic project was designed to show the variations among descendants of Crypto-Jews and how their connection to their Jewish roots played into their more public Catholic practices.
Herz's photographs of today's descendants of crypto Jews accompanied the article. One shows our own members Gloria Trujillo and sister Mona Hernandez in St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe with the statue of La Conquistadora in the background. Their ancestor, Francisco Nuñez Robledo, saved the statue from a fire during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and later returned it to Santa Fe . He and his son were later tried at an Inquisition tribunal in Mexico City and died in jail.
Another article, “Our Culture's Deadly Legacy,” tells about a rare genetic disease, Neimann-Pick Type C (NPC) which has a founder's effect (can be traced to one common ancestor) appearing in two regions, Nova Scotia , Canada , and northern New Mexico and southern Colorado . NPC may occur when both parents are carriers of a defective gene. This may occur in relatively isolated populations where marriages between blood relatives are common.
Vanessa Paloma: Lisbon , Porto and Belmonte: A Personal Account of Passover 5765/2007
Vanessa Paloma, musician and teacher, traveled, performed, and taught throughout Portugal in March and April of 2007. She found the anousim community of Belmonte to be in crisis with no leadership. Crypto Jews from Lisbon never visit there.
However, Vanessa believes that Portugal is pulsing, ready for a Jewish renaissance, particularly in urban centers. She concluded with a song from Belmonte, “Nossa Esperança não Esta Perdida,,” loosely based on the melody of Ha Tikva . Its lyrics sing of an ancient longing to return to the promised land.
César Ayala: Faith in Memory, and Memory in Faith in the Crypto-Jewish Experience
There is a concern that social scientists are applying halachic criteria as opposed to social science methodologies to the study of the crypto-Jewish phenomenon. Social scientists have to be concerned in observing the interaction between normative Judaism and the crypto Jewish traditions not to impose the normative beliefs of one group on the other. Observing this disjunction will ensure us a better historical understanding of the process of formation and evolution of Crypto Jewish communities. It is also a better starting point to understand the reconstruction of historical memory in crypto-Jewish communities.
Ron Duncan Hart: Vicente Ferrer
Vicente Ferrer was a Dominican evangelist who traveled through Spain , particularly Castile and Aragón, preaching conversion to the Jews. His incendiary preaching was anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim and inspired his followers to maraud through Jewish neighborhoods, assault Jews, destroy their property and even kill them. He held that it was a mortal sin to kill someone, but if God commanded it, it was a virtue. His preaching contributed to the 1391 pogroms and the ghettoization of the Jews. Ferrer emphasized that Jews must be baptized and Christians must then accept them. Those Jews who did not convert would become disciples of the anti-Christ. He was probably responsible for more forced conversions than any single individual in Spain . For that, he was canonized by the Catholic Church.
Juan Mejia: The Fifteenth-Century Spanish Kuzary: A Pamphlet for Crypto Jews
The first translation into a European language, Castilian, of Yehuda Halevi's philosophical work, “The Kuzary”, written in Arabic, was made in the XVth century. The unnamed translator was a learned man who knew the academic lingo of his age.
This translation, which has survived in a single manuscript in the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, shows an incredible sensitivity to the needs of its audience: Sephardic Jewry in the fifteenth century. His translation was accurate with two exceptions, the sections on conversion and the importance of philosophy. Mejia said that the translator's complete deviation from the original work's treatment of those subjects leads him to believe that one of the purposes of this translation was to reach out to crypto Jews in Spain and convince them to return to their faith.
David Kunin: Inés of Herrera
The first mention of Inés Herrera, messianic prophet, appeared in 1495. She was influential in the anusim community. She had visions and prophesied that Elias would come before the messiah. Followers should fast until night, give alms and clean for the Sabbath. Arrested in 1500, she was burned at the stake in 1501. Her stepmother had testified at her inquisition trial.
Abraham Gross: Marrano Mixed Identities: The Case of Solomon Malkho
Solomon Malkho was born Diogo Pires to new Christians in Portugal about 1500. At some point he returned to his Jewish faith, circumcised himself, and traveled preaching. Malkho stayed with the poor and sick and as a result was granted an audience with the Pope.
In 1530 he had a vision of Mary who told him to go to Jerusalem to preach which he did. He charmed Christians and Jews alike.
Malkho saw himself as the second Daniel and proclaimed himself the Messiah. As a result of his preaching and writings he was returned to Mantua , Italy , where he was martyred in 1532.
Silvia Hamui Sutton: Some Communication Codes between Crypto-Jews in the Secret Prisons of the Inquisition in New Spain
After the edict of expulsion in 1492, Spanish Jews had two options: leave Spain to be able to continue practicing Judaism or convert to Catholicism to stay in Spain . Nevertheless, when they opted to convert they remained marginalized. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, some conversos came to New Spain . In the New World , they were able to meet with their coreligionists clandestinely. The inquisitors of New Spain were tolerant of them during the first half of the century, but in 1642, persecution of judaizers intensified. Hundreds of conversos were imprisoned and, as a result, the fragile community structure was broken.
Hamui described how incarcerated conversos developed a coded language of words, taps, and singing which preserved their sanity and group cohesion during the long periods of incarceration, when they were under threat of torture and fire.
Francine R. Gaillour: So Your Ancestors Were Crypto-Jews: Now What? A Conceptual Model for Helping Hispanos Evaluate the Significance of Their Ancestral Past and its Meaning in Their Spiritual Present
Gaillour identified five stages individuals go through in dealing with the knowledge that they are descendents of crypto Jews.
First is discovery, which may come as a result of a family's verbal history or from vestiges of Jewish customs or rituals. Maybe there are ancestral links to conversos found in genealogical records or family memorabilia. Now, DNA may give us a link.
Then we have acceptance of the discovery and afterwards learning about crypto-Judaism if we seek the information. Not too many families go past stage one (discovery). Next come return and reconciliation and then healing.
Panel: Messianic Crypto-Judaism: Personal Stories of Quest and Acceptance
Dolores Rubio, Ruben Duran, Rodolfo Rodriguez and Jay Salazar of Sephardim for Yeshua, Albuquerque, discussed their experiences as Messianic Crypto-Jews. As with many other crypto-Jews, each had discovered a Jewish family heritage and wished to identify with the Jewish community, but each also felt compelled to continue accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as the savior. Their solution was to return as Messianics who follow Jewish rituals and laws but believe in Jesus.
Kevin Scott Larsen : Enríquez de Valderrábano - Psalm 137
Kevin Larsen presented a love song by Renaissance composer and vihuelaist, Enríquez Valderrábano (c. 1500-1557) which recalls aspects of Psalm 137.
Señora, si te olvidare, la mi diestra olvide a mí,
ni si jamás me alegrare, si no el tiempo que llorare,
quando esté ausente de ti péguese a mis paladares
mi lengua y pierda su ser quando a mí te me olvidares,
que más valen mil pesares por ti que ningún placer.
These lines call to mind:
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem ,
let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee,
let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy (verses 5-6)
Here we have a secularization of the psalm substituting the cult of a mortal woman for Jerusalem and the Temple cult. Was Valderrábano judaizing in the very eye of the Inquistion? Such references to the Hebrew Scripture could bring down the full fury of the Holy Office.
Mercedes Gail Gutierrez
Mercedes Gutierrez said that her family has always known that they were descended from the Carvajals who came to New Spain in 1579. However, she is also descended from Rabbi Simeon Perez, her great great grandfather. This branch of her family is descended from Jews who came to Mexico two centuries after the Carvajals. Gutierrez' grandfather's autobiography states that his grandfather dressed like a Jew, had long hair and braids, and followed the rituals and dietary laws of the Torah. Gutierrez realized that this was inconsistent with crypto-Judaic behavior.
In 2001, she returned to Judaism and continues to research her family's history.
When he was eleven years old, Lopez-Cadena went with his parents to his grandparent's home for lunch. He was told that he could not talk during the meal for there would be praying throughout. He had gone into his grandparents' bedroom and discovered that where a picture had always hung, there was a crucifix. After lunch he was told to go outside and to return when summoned.
Four years ago, Lopez-Cadena was clearing his mother's house and found the crucifix. It opens and has spaces for candles. He has been told that it is customarily used by Catholics at home when a medical emergency arises. This may be the case today, but this wasn't what Lopez-Cadena observed years ago. He believes he was at a seder then and the crucifix was part of a crypto-Judaic ritual.
This year, SCJS honored three individuals, Martin Sosin, Cary Herz, and Richard Greenleaf with awards for their contributions to the society.
Dolly Sloan received the award for Martin Sosin, president of the Martin Sosin-Stratton-Petit Foundation, which has made an annual grant to the society to enhance arts programs at conferences. This year, the grant enabled us to bring Lili del Castillo, Miriam Herrera, and three outstanding santeros to our conference (click here). A retired attorney, Sosin also has supported the Society pro bono , helping secure 501.c.3 tax-exempt status. Sloan passed on Sosin's message to the conference that he feels strongly about the need to preserve and protect the First Amendment. He believes that the artist is in the vanguard of that protection. Supporting the arts at SCJS is harmonious with protecting the freedom of religion in the amendment for crypto-Jews, who were denied that freedom for five centuries.
Mona Hernandez presented an award to Cary Herz on the Society's behalf for her contributions and dedication to the subject of crypto Judaism. Herz has been the official conference photographer and has worked to capture images of the people whose ancestors, through families' oral histories and genealogical records, knew about their heritage. Herz has sought out symbols at gravesites, artifacts, and icons that might point toward the presence of the descendants of crypto Jews who came to the New World . Her book, New Mexico 's Crypto-Jews, Image and Memory, will be available in November.
Richard E. Greenleaf
Richard Edward Greenleaf, formerly Professor of Colonial Latin American History, and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University, has authored eleven major scholarly books, has served as co-author of, or contributor to, seventeen others and has published almost four dozen articles in the field of Latin American and New Mexico history. Stanley Hordes presented this award to his mentor.
“For his lifetime of research, service and teaching, Richard Greenleaf is most deserving of recognition from the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies. For this reason, I am pleased to present to Dr. Greenleaf the “Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Kathleen Alcalá read “A Star of David on Christmas,” from her new collection of essays, The Desert Remembers My Name , from the University of Arizona Press (review on page 10).
She spoke of trips to visit family in Saltillo , Mexico , which once had a settlement of crypto Jews. Her descriptions showed the variety with which her family takes note of their Jewish ancestry. On one visit, her aunt Julietta wore a Star of David, as did her sister Kathleen, whom Alcalá portrayed wearing “a Star of David on her red Christmas sweater.”
Kathleen Alcalá suggested that we discuss new ways to make our meetings more interesting. She began by asking Abe Lavender for the demographics of our organization. His report included the following statistics, based on 250 paid members:
31% from California
11% from Texas
10.4 % from New York
8.6% from Florida
25.4% from other states
56% from California , New Mexico , Arizona and Texas
60% reside west of the Mississippi River
60% are closer to the west coast
40% are closer to the east coast
Alcalá then asked the attendees for suggestions on what changes would make future conferences less repetitive. One proposal was to invite some high profile personalities. Members present then suggested examples, such as New Mexico Governor, Richardson, Oscar Abuelos of the Mambo Kings, author Rudolfo Anaya, and opera star Placido Domingo, who admits to having ancestors who were converted Jews. Alcalá commented that most of these people require huge honorariums. Seth Ward added that we should invite many of these people to come anyway, “you never know what happens.”
The meeting then discussed the need to attract younger people and whether we could afford to give scholarships to college students. It was also suggested that some speakers make their presentations in Spanish. Other recommendations included that we tie in with a festival or large cultural event, solicit papers more widely, have fewer and more intensive offerings, try parallel sessions, show films and review scope and length of talks. There was consensus that the Martin Sosin-Stratton-Petit Foundation grant making possible the SCJS Art Program, has transformed us.
The meeting concluded with the election of officers. The new board members are listed here