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Awakening The Sephardim To The Negev
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My Journey as a B’nei Anousim
One’s journey of discovery of identity has many colors and types, but the inward soul will always cry out for truth. Such is my story of Return to the ancestral past of my Jewish identity.
It was not until 1999, upon my first visit to Israel that I encountered the “reawakening of my Jewish soul”. All through this trip Israelis were coming to me and saying “welcome home”.
On my first visit to the ancient site of Masada, a woman called to me from behind her cash register…”where did your family go after they left??? My family went to Italy” she said.
Stunned for a moment I replied…”Mexico”…
Maybe Masada was a strategic place of discovery by HaShem …had we hidden to survive for 500 years only to return full circle here to this place as survivors?? What was happening to me??
This was a rude awakening indeed and I spent the rest of this trip pondering, crying at the Kotel and crying as I left Israel on the flight home to the US. This was the first time I had felt I was at home in my entire life.
It was not until a year later, after much research and soul searching that I traveled from California and confronted my father, then 87, who was living in Texas. I cared more about the truth than anything else. I dropped my suitcases on the floor as I came in and stood before him (he was in a wheelchair from a badly repaired hip surgery). “Dad…who are we really???” I just wanted to hear the truth from his mouth.
We had lived with “non-identity” in an all Catholic society around us, yet we were never Catholic. We had lived with very strict rules and Jewish customs that I had never recognized because I did not know they were Jewish customs or foods, etc.
With resignation and a shocked look, he lifted up both hands in the air and stated plainly…”Somos Judios “… we are Jews. My dear mother and one brother stood by in shock. Was the truth actually now being spoken out after so many years of hiding in our home?
From that moment my father (Yossi, as he was called by his family) and I began the long journey of disclosing the truth, recounting memories and history about our hidden Sefardita family. I have written about our family journey and more in my book, “Anousim Awake”. The book recounts our story and history of the lost Sefarditas of the Iberian peninsula.
On the last day of Hanukkah, 2004 my mother’s light went out and on the first E’rev Shavuot 2006, my father’s journey here ended. Blessed be their memory.
On Hanukkah of 2014, my Return ceremony took place in California. The journey continues. I have another miracle of return full circle to Israel. On November 3, 2016, I was granted My Israeli I.D. As a citizen of Israel. I will be returning for my official Passport soon.
Now the journey continues, with all its challenges and joy along the way. My passion has always been to help others. My parents taught me this, even as the Crypto Jews that they were.
I stand asking for HaShem’s help, with all humility to accomplish all he has for me to do. My desire is to help others with encouragement, speaking, singing, continuing our Surnames project, continuing our DNA project and bringing our people and Israel supporters to the land of Eretz Israel. Our desire is to have a hospitality center to share also, with our non profit Sephardim Hope International www.sephardimhope.com.
Thank you all for your support and for sharing this vision with us. “Somos Judios”
We are Jews.
Gracia Serrano Fenn, President of Sephardim Hope International.
I am wondoring if things like that can be possible? Please take a look and tell me what you think http://stucuntebi.esinglesmagazine.com/aevvkixk
HIDDEN BNEI ANOUSIM EMERGE TO USHER IN A NEW ERA FOR ISRAEL
Israel Independence Day was marked last week with large celebrations and fireworks, but small rallies held around the world, easily overlooked, may have signalled the beginning of a great change for the Jewish people: the return of millions of Bnei Anousim.
The “crypto-Jews”, or Bnei Anousim in Hebrew, are descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisitions in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. At the time of the Inquisitions, Jews made up 20 percent of the population of Spain and Portugal but only about half a million fled during the subsequent expulsions. Those who remained were forced to convert. Many maintained a covert connection to their Jewish roots through cryptic family traditions and are just now beginning tentative steps to re-establish their spiritual and genealogicalidentity.
The rallies were organized by Ezra L’Anousim (“Help to the Anousim” in Hebrew), an organization started by Batya Yaffa Dacosta, a returned Jew, to help crypto-Jews reconnect to their Jewish roots. The organization offers a platform for crypto-Jews to connect to each other in their journey back to their spiritual roots.
Acknowledging this national identity had special meaning for the groups of emerging crypto-Jews who gathered together in over 40 cities around the world on Israel’s Independence Day last week to show support for the state. The turnout was admittedly modest but participation at the rallies was visibly enthusiastic . The small groups represent the vanguard of a much larger movement that can only continue to grow. The cause is important and the number of people affected is in the millions.
This religious identity took on a nationalistic dimension with the creation of the modern State of Israel, which in many ways enabled the Bnei Anousim to finally reconnect with Judaism. Dacosta explained that Israel provides a focal point for Jews to come together, a necessary aspect of the return of the Bnei Anousim.
“The reason for the rallies was so that these people who have had to live a secret life for so long should know that they are not alone,” DaCosta toldBreaking Israel News. “There is an incredible awakening going on but some of the people are so afraid to come out publicly because of all the fear that has been passed down.” DaCosta compared it to the experience of Holocaust survivors, who were suddenly turned on by their neighbors. “The difference is that this has gone on for 500 years.”
DaCosta said that many of the Bnei Anousim want to come live in Israel, expressing a preference for settling in the Negev, the southern area of Israel, as an enactment of the prophecy in Obadiah.
And the captivity of this host of the B’nei Yisrael that are among the Canaanites even unto Zarephath (France) and the captivity of Jerusalem that is in Sepharad (Spain) shall possess the cities of the South. (Obadiah 1:20)
Recent awareness of the plight of the Bnei Anousim has led to the creation of several organizations to help the Bnei Anousim connect with the Jewish People. Shavei Israel, the largest of these organizations, has been working with Bnei Anousim for over a decade. Its Spanish language guidebook for crypto-Jews has been distributed to tens of thousands for free and future editions in Portugese, Italian, and English are planned. Reconectar is a website that helps people on any level they choose, whether it is to reconnect with Judaism, or just to learn more about their own heritage. Another educational and benevolent organization, Sephardim Hope International, has been sharing the message of the Bnei Anousim for almost ten years in various ways.
The return of the Bnei Anousim is a recent global phenomenon. Spanish and Portuguese governments are offering citizenship to descendants of Jews expelled from their countries centuries ago. In October, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs held the first ever official Knesset Caucus for Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Communities.
DaCosta plans on having a global rally every year on Israel’s Independence Day. She compared it to the beginnings of the movement that opened the doors for millions of trapped Jews to leave the former Soviet Union, though the return of the Bnei Anousim has far more potential for the Jewish people. Recent genetic studies have shown that the return of the Bnei Anousim could increase the number of Jews in the world four times over.
Dacosta insisted that these first steps towards raising awareness are essential. She has high hopes for more people around the world to discover their Jewish roots and joining in future rallies. “There is really a great anousim awakening going on, and it is only just beginning.”
Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz is a features writer for Breaking Israel News. He made Aliyah to Israel in 1991 and served in the IDF as a combat medic. Berkowitz studied Jewish law and received rabbinical ordination in Israel. He has worked as a freelance writer and his novel, The Hope Merchant, is available on Amazon. He lives in the Golan Heights with his wife and their four children.
By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz October 19, 2015 , 12:30 p
“Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more. Thus says the Lord, ‘Restrain your voice from weeping And your eyes from tears; For your work will be rewarded…And they will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future…And your children will return to their own territory.” (Jeremiah 31:15-17)
On October 13th, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs held the first ever official Knesset Caucus for Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Communities. Attended by 300 representatives from all over the world, the caucus gathered senior political, diplomatic, academic, religious and Jewish organizational leaders to discuss how Israel and world Jewry can reconnect with the millions Crypto-Jews, also known as Bnei Anousim, Marranos and Conversos.
Should the initiative prove successful in correcting a historic wrong perpetrated against Iberian Jews, it has the potential to change the face of Judaism forever, strengthening the Jewish people spiritually and demographically.
Ashley Perry (original family name Perez) is descended from Portuguese ancestors who fled to Amsterdam before the Spanish Inquisition. Today, he is president of Reconectar, an organization facilitating a reconnection with the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities.
“This building, the Knesset, and the reestablished State of Israel remind us that the Jewish People are indeed the ‘eternal nation’ and we never let historical circumstances prevent us from achieving the seemingly impossible,” Perry told Breaking Israel News.
He advocates reassessing the Israeli Law of Return and perhaps patterning it after the recent changes in Spanish and Portuguese law, which extends citizenship to people who can prove descent from Jews who were expelled during the Inquisition.
“Many rabbis and communities are turning our brothers away. In order to really undo this historic injustice, they don’t need to return to the Iberian Peninsula. These people need to return to the Jewish people,” Perry explained to Breaking Israel News.
He proposes that those who can prove a Jewish heritage should be able to make aliyah (immigration to Israel) under the Law of Return, a subject that is the focus of controversy within the rabbinic courts.
“Until the 18th century, Jewish law ruled that Bnei Anousim could rejoin the Jewish community without any ceremony,” Perry points out, quoting modern rabbinic sources. “Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik ruled that they must be counted in a minyan (a quorum of ten Jews), but for the purposes of marriage, they need to go to a mikveh (ritual bath ) and receive upon themselves the obligation of performing mitzvoth.”
He also explained that the purpose of the initiative is to connect with all of those who have a historic connection with Israel. This does not always mean aliyah or conversion.
“Our job is to reconnecting. When a person approaches me, I ask two questions: Do you want to reconnect, and on what level do you want to reconnect? Each person has a unique story and individual expectations about what they want to do about their ancestral connection to the Jewish people,” Perry explained.
Perry is optimistic that technology and the viral spread of information via the internet will help the effort in many ways, including allowing people with specific family histories to seek solutions that are tailored to their interests and needs.
“People approach us wanting to know about their heritage, tourism, up to wanting to convert, or return, and make aliyah,” he told Breaking Israel News. “We don’t missionize. We want to remove the stumbling blocks and reconnect with these people who were connected to the nation of Israel in the past.”
Modern technology and developments in the medical field have also helped Bnei Anousim connect with their Jewish roots. DNA testing can reveal historical genetic connections with the Jewish people, such as the well-known Cohen gene, checked through haplotype patrilineal tests, or mitochondrial DNA testing (mtDNA test), which can trace a person’s matrilineal ancestry. DNA testing is used as corroborative proof of Jewish descent.
Perry described the urgency of his mission in his address to the Knesset. “Although we cannot reverse the suffering endured under the Inquisition, or bring back those murdered by it, we can begin to free those still psychologically imprisoned by it because of the centuries of oppression felt by their ancestors,” he said. “This is our mission and our goal.”
Yaffah Batya daCosta-Sacks was born and raised in New Bedford, MA to a nominally Catholic family that came to America from the Azores around 1915. In 1995, she found out that she might have Jewish ancestry and in 2000, she was accepted by an Orthodox Beit Din in New York as a returnee from among the Bnei Anousim. Since then, Yaffah has become an activist on behalf of the Bnei Anousim community. She sees her mission as restoring her people to the nation of Israel, fixing something that was broken. Today, Yaffah is religiously observant and lives in Jerusalem.
After pointing out that presently only a trickle from the ocean of people who have a genealogical connection with Israel are returning, Yaffah proposes very personal reasons why this is so.
“The community is not as accepting as they should be. Despite our historic connection, they view us as outsiders and with suspicion. There needs to be a major effort to educate the Jewish community,” she told Breaking Israel News.
Yaffah explained that there is too much emphasis placed on converting the Bnei Anousim by Orthodox rabbis instead of a return ceremony, as ruled by Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel. She notes that many who would potentially reconnect are discouraged by the emphasis on conversion and the absence of other options. In her experience, many well-intentioned rabbis prefer conversion, feeling that it will help the Bnei Anousim be fully accepted into the Jewish community, however it is a hurtful approach.
“It denies our Jewish ancestry, a part of our identity and tradition. The church forced us to convert in the Inquisition, and now many rabbis are forcing us to convert,” she told Breaking Israel News. “It does not return to us what was taken away. This year 5776 is a year of Jubilee. Biblically captives and slaves were set free. The Bnei Anousim have been kept captive in a culture not of their choosing for 500 years. Let’s hope that this is the year our people are set free.”
Portugal poised to adopt Jewish return lawJewish Telegraphic Agency
(JTA) — Portugal’s law on naturalizing descendants of Sephardic Jews could become effective before March 15, a leader of the country’s Jewish …
Help us get direct Flights from The Bay Area, CA to Israel! Thank you! Grace at Sephardim Hope International!
Want to get to Israel in 1/3 less time and not have to rely on unpredictable East Coast weather during a stopover? You can help by signing the petition started by a group of Israeli high tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to start nonstop flights between San Francisco and Tel Aviv.
NOW IS THE TIME. Prime Minister Netanyahu promoted the idea during his recent meeting with Governor Jerry Brown. Two airlines have expressed initial interest. Business and cultural exchange between Israel and the Bay Area is booming.
OUR GOAL: In the next 10 days we want to go from 7,229 signatures to more than 15,000, which we will then take back to the airlines.
WHO SHOULD SIGN? If you might be interested in flying nonstop to Israel and making the first airline to agree to provide the service your frequent flyer airline, then the petition is meant for you. Just sign and send it to all your Bay Area friends.
WHERE DO YOU SIGN? Just click here and then join the petition. It takes just a moment of your time but could save 8 hours of travel each way!
This is a great way to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut this year and to support our Israeli friends who initiated the petition.
Let’s make it happen.
Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund
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ShareAll the six children are here. Where am I?? The Serrano clan /family found refuge in Mexico in the late 1890s from Andalucia Spain. Our parents had already immigrated to the USA by 1940s/1948. Three of us were born in Texas!
Just a few hours left on this “Learn Hebrew” Special! from our friends (Seth and Ben) in Israel.
Here is a direct link to the special, while it still lasts: Practical Hebrew!!
Doña Gracia Serrano-Fenn, President
Sephardim Hope International