A Story of Return
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 Erev 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, 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.