History of Sephardic Anousim

Obadiah 1: 20) This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan will possess as far as Zaraphath; the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the towns of the Negev. 21) Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau, And the kingdom will be the LORD’s.

 

 

The Awakening of the Sephardim Anusim from Spain

Mexican Heritage From Judaism

 

 

This is the best-kept secret in 500 years:

The Spanish Inquisition and then the Mexican Inquisition kept a people in secret for five centuries. It is the tragic story of a people who have been so persecuted for so many years that they have hidden their identity as a secret for so long that they have forgotten who they are. This dark secret has caused much pain and the loss of identity has caused many repercussions. The wandering, persecution, torture, torment, hatred, prejudice, isolation, murder, and overall misery of this people has taken its toll on their sons and daughters. In these last days, however there is an awakening that God is orchestrating. The Sephardim, Spanish Jews, a once forgotten people are emerging to tell their story.

The word of God (Tanach) says that in that day there will be a restoration of all things. The restoration of Israel will not be complete until the secret of the forgotten Sephardim is known. The lost sons of Judah, God’s chosen, will return to the Negev, their inheritance in Israel, God’s chosen land.

 

Jews were first sent to Tarshish (Spain) or Sepharad by King David and King Solomon for the building of the first Temple as early as 965 BCE. In 70 C.E., the Roman Empire plundered Jerusalem and destroyed the second Temple. The Diaspora and resulting turmoil sent Jews fleeing to Sepharad where they already had brethren from the Babylonian exile earlier. Centuries later, their presence resulted in the “Golden Age” of Spain, where art, science and culture flourished.

During the 4th and 14th Centuries however, with increasing Church Councils, atrocities were cast upon the Sephardic Jews across the Iberian Peninsula. There was still no known protestant movement at this time. The vie for power and religious control held by the Catholic Church lead the Catholic kings, Isabella and Ferdinand, to eventually assume control over the Jews as their “protectors”. The church coffers were becoming quite wealthy by confiscating the land and wealth of the Jews by accusing them of “heresy” or Judaizing. The vie for power transferred the perpetuating massacres to the kings of Spain who could now have access to the wealth, resources and properties of these Spanish Jews.

This lost Anusim Sephardim began their escape from Spain in 1492, when Christopher Columbus set sail towards the New World. The official expulsion of all Jews from Spain took place one day before his sailing. Some, who remained in Spain as Conversos and Crypto Jews (secret Jews) survived by God’s miracle power and by the 1800’s most fled to Spanish speaking countries taking their secrets with them after many centuries.

The expelled Sephardim were actually called the “prohibited people”(la gente prohibida), barred from going to the New World after their official exile. They were allowed to go into other areas in Europe, Africa or wherever they were able to escape. It is a known fact, that many of these people were smuggled onto ships with the Columbus’ four voyages and others that followed to the New World. Most were either given different names or not listed on the passenger lists as to not reveal their true identity.

Thousands upon thousands of these Jews died in shipwrecks and other forms of human perils, like pirates and bandits and other elements of nature trying to find an escape from Spain.



 

Solemn Procession

 

Doomed prisoners were led in procession to the place of execution. The burning would be held on a Sunday or other holy day so that the maximum number of people could attend. A Jesuit priest would walk on either side of each victim, gagged to prevent any words of outrage.The priests would intone the gospels and “wrestle for his soul.”

 

If the Sephardim did not leave Spain, they would be subject to imprisonment and torture, massacres and various methods of execution during the “Autos de Fe”—-(An Action of Faith) a type of tribunal, processional and public execution. The Catholic Church leaders held these events with much pomp and eloquence. The victims were made to wear “San Benito” garments, along with a “dunce” hat—a type of vest that they would wear to identify themselves as Jews until their public trial. The Autos de Fe ended in hanging (some after being garroted, beaten and strangled), burning at the stake (hougeras) or life imprisonment. Even if the people charged recanted their “heresy” they were most likely hanged, burned or imprisoned to complete a “limpiesa de sangre”, a cleansing of the blood for their “heresies”.

 


 

Caricatured Victim

Decked out in a yellow san benito penitential garment and wearing a 3-pointed coroza cap – both painted with effigies, the flames of hell and devils, the victims would be given opportunities to recant and suffer a less painful death.

During this time, no one with a Jewish background (Converso) was safe. Even if you were “converted” and became “Conversos”(converted ones) you were not to be trusted. You were given the name “Marrano”—swine and were made to eat pork to further prove your loyalty to the Christian faith. Anyone, at any time, could accuse you or your family of “judaizing” and your troubles would begin.


 

Burning for the unrepentant

Those about to be murdered would first have their faces burned, a bit of fun to excite the crowd. The corpses of those who had died during torture would also be burnt; those who had fled burnt in effigy.

 

Garroting for last minute repentance

If a victim “converted” to Catholicism at the last minute (fuego resuelto), in its loving kindness the Church would sanction strangulation before burning.

Auto de Fe in the Plaza Mayor

The eventual discovery of the “prohibited ones” leaving into the new world brought the need for the Catholic kings to follow these Crypto-Jews’ activities abroad.

The Sephardim were multiplying and prospering in the New World and something had to be done about it. These Sephardim immigrated into northern Mexico, (and other countries) using the Vera Cruz port until the San Juan De Olua prison was set up there to imprison fleeing Sephardim. It was during this time that many of the ships charted their course for Vera Cruz but turned to enter through the northern Port of Tampico in Mexico to escape their capture. Many of these ships also landed in the West Indies and other countries. It is now known that other countries, like Columbia, Peru and others were also chosen for tribunals.


 

A Catholic Sacrament, Exported to the Colonies too …

Mexico, Brazil and Peru would enjoy the delights of the auto-da-fé long after it lost its charm in Europe. Mexico witnessed its last auto-da-fé as late as 1850.

 

In 1524, the Catholic kings sent the Franciscan missionaries to Mexico City and other areas, to set up Tribunals to seek out and punish the fleeing Sephardim. The large Cathedral at Tesistan, “San Francisco” was build around 1587. This is where my grandparents lived and integrated into the community.

These Franciscan “missionaries”, were vested with power to install the Spanish version of the Inquisition and instructed to steal the land of all practicing “Crypto-Jews” hidden as Conversos (the new Christian believers) who had ventured to the New World. The Spanish Inquisition later shipped the Dominican Order to assume control over what the Franciscans had begun. This persecution could consist of life imprisonment, confiscation of property, several hundred lashes, burning at the stake and other insidious tortures and harassment documented in inquisition records.

Their children were susceptible to being taken away, raped or placed in “Christian” families to raise—if they were cute, intelligent, etc. The written complaints that followed were called “Quejas”. Some of this information can be accessed through the University of California at Berkley, University of Arizona at Tucson, Texas State University, etc.

These Sephardim had to do everything they could to remain safe, including becoming, outwardly, the most loyal and religious Catholics. Many times, names were changed or whole families held this secret from their own children regarding their true identity for safety reasons. Many of these families (including my own), lived in secrecy with a double life. They were “Catholic by day” and Jewish by night.

Consequently, many of the men would have to gather in secret to study the Bible (Torah). Many of these families had brought and handed down Bibles from Spain that had been translated into Spanish during the “Golden Age”. Dad’s family “Bible” was the “Old” Testament only (Tanach), brought by his family from Spain. Men met in secret and children were brought in for “devotions” where prayers were recited. In our family, by my oldest uncle who knew his Hebrew prayers (possibly in the Ladino language) had this task.

Ladino was the Hebrew/Spanish of the Sephardim. The Academia Real in Spain later changed this language to modern, Castilian Spanish. Whatever version, prayers were conducted, usually by the oldest son. Scriptures were read by the women (daughters) in the family in later years. Mothers (like my grandmother Felicitas) taught their children, but feared for their families.

The idol worship through statues (images were brought into Mexico to help in the conversion of the Indians) was the thing that bothered the Sephardim the most. According to my father, no images —“idols”— were allowed in his home and yet he was forced to go to the Catholic Church in Tesistan (San Francisco) and worship. When we were growing up, no “images” were allowed in our own home, not even a “cross” of any kind. We were expressly not allowed to wear a cross around our necks.

Our immediate family was not brought up Catholic, as dad had left this “faith” long before. Our father had immigrated to Texas in 1942 and later mother (Francisca) came to Brownsville, Texas with three of her children. Three more came later in the U.S., I am the youngest. They all became U.S. citizens in 1964. My brother, Joshua, even served in the Viet Nam conflict.

The memories of every Friday: bathing and dressing our best and being ready for Sabbath, with no explanations, is still etched in my memory. Because of this continued secrecy, and little understanding, many superstitious practices also continued with the Sephardim. The Talmud was also kept and studied in secret by many. The legalism was endless. Many of these Jews also held to the Kabala. In the absence of a Rabbi, the oldest or father became the teacher, as in my father and grandfather’s case. They kept these discussions among themselves within their own clan.

Grandfather Pantaleon, was a leader in the community and men would often gather in secret for study in my father’s home. According to my father the children were not allowed in the same room or were not interested in “religion”. My father would sometimes listen to grandfather’s conversations when no one knew he was hiding close by.

It is interesting to note, that my grandfather’s land and crops always prospered when others did not. The Catholic Church prohibited praying for one’s fields as a Jew to bless his land. Yet, when there were crop failures all around, and no food or work, it was my grandfather who would hire or give food to those in need.

Grandfather was also very industrious and also felled trees and supplied wood to the growing community in Guadalajara. This brought him wealth and gold that he hid for many years. Grandfather Pantaleon Serrano, never became a Catholic and was later murdered for his gold by an unscrupulous “doctor”. This “doctor” tired to drug him to make him “talk” as he was dying (this story has been verified by family members) to try to discover the secret hidden gold. It seems that a venomous spider had bitten grandfather and the doctor was suppose to have helped him but gave him the wrong antidote or none at all.

My father was never really a part of  the Catholic faith. My grandmother feared for his life as a result. The parish priest at San Francisco in Tesistan called him in. When my father was called in, he explained that he wanted to read the Bible (that was prohibited by the church) and that he was against idol worship. Although the priest was agreeable, he said he could do nothing about this practice. My father’s opinion, however, gained him the anger of a relative of this priest (the organist at the church) and later a posse was sent to lynch my mother and father upon this person’s influence. My oldest sister Rahab (She would “save her people” it was said when she was named this on her birth) was only about 1 or 2 years old. My parents were hidden in a loft by grandmother, as the posse circled all night with torches. It was a miracle that my sister never made a sound all night. Later my grandmother put them on the milk truck at 3am in the morning to escape to Guadalajara. The family, consequently, did not take this well because of the turmoil caused by my father’s decision. My father left to the United States in 1942 as a Bracero (labor while the men were away to war in the US) to work in New York and was not to return to his family for years to come. There he worked on the railroad as a cook for about three years and later returned with his family, never to return to Mexico to live.

Along with my father, these Sephardim fleeing such treatment had already begun migrating north for years. They were the former founders of Texas and New Mexico. Those who kept their identity so secretive eventually immigrated into Northern Mexico, south and central Texas, New Mexico, Southern Colorado and other areas to find greater freedom. Here they sought to live as Jews if they preferred. In Texas, these would be later be called, Tejanos and Los Manitos de Nuevo Mejico (The Texans and Brethren of New Mexico).

As lost Anusim, (those who have been forced, coerced and raped as a people) my ancestor’s history was not revealed openly by my own father until 2001 when he was 87 years of age.

The psychological backlash of such a life is yet to be analyzed, but the confusion it perpetuated is extensive, from my personal point of view. The constant awareness of never belonging (we always felt different, almost without a country), the confusion and roots of rejection have been felt strongly. The “toxic waste” of spiritual and psychological baggage from the family line is something that must be contended with as a result of this type of lifestyle.

 


Anusim Gravestone Marker


It is from this secretive and ash heap of oblivion that the Sephardim are emerging. We are discovering who we are. We have been forced to attempt to fulfill a false destiny with a false identity. It is this “revelation” of our Jewish roots that is bringing the light of day to our lives of oblivion and confusion. The Jews, after all, are not a perfect people, only a chosen people by God.

We are praying for open doors for the Sephardim Anusim to make Aliyah (return and ascend to Jerusalem), as God will help us (Obadiah 20, 21). His word and covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is forever.

It seems clear, from the word of God, that the entire calling of all Jewish People can be summed up in this, we are called to become a BLESSING TO ALL THE NATIONS OR FAMILIES OF THE EARTH.

Although it has been a difficult road, God has somehow preserved us. We went “underground” to be preserved and now God is raising us up. God is revealing this true destiny to us now as His people.

“And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” Genesis 12:3


 

Endnotes: Encyclopedia Judaica, “Chronological Chart of Jewish History”

The Jewish Encyclopedia

From around 313 CE, when Emperor Constantine I granted official states throughout the Roman Empire, the term “Christianity” only applied to the Catholic Faith. The “Protestant” movement did not emerge until the 16th Century.