Anusim Conference 2016

By CBM

Passionate hearts focused on the return to Judaism during the 13th Annual Anusim Conference at the Anusim Center in El Paso this past August 19, 20 and 21st. Led by Rabbi Emeritus Stephen Leon of the Congregation B’nai Zion synagogue, attendees from throughout Texas, New Mexico and Mexico shared ideas, traditional foods and Jewish spiritual services while listening to topics by renowned speakers and congregational members.

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The Anusim Center was originally created by Rabbi Stephen Leon and members of B’nai Zion as a study center and gathering place for descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were once forced to convert to Christianity in the 15th and 16th century. Many fled to the new World and lived as Christians in order to survive, but kept their Jewish identity alive in secret until awareness faded and only rituals remained. The modern day discovery of their heritage and return to Judaism is a worldwide phenomenon, most evident in Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries like Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and others. Because so many descendants live in New Mexico and Texas, this center is a vital link for a changing regional culture.

Keynote speaker Jay Sanchez, an attorney from New York (formerly from Puerto Rico), addressed “Potential Alternatives for a Lawsuit Against the Inquisition.” He explored the possibility of reparation and restitution of the wealth and property taken from the Jews of Spain at the time of the Expulsion in 1492. Through a variety of historical examples, Sanchez proved that legal precedent exists for this very possibility.

Rabbi Royi Shaffin, Senior Rabbi of congregation B’nai Zion, delivered an inspiring sermon on the plight of the Anusim or returnees in the world today. Rabbi Danny Mehlman from Downey California, originally from Argentina, spoke about serving communities of returnees in southern California, South America and northern Mexico. Small groups of Hispanic individuals are intent on restoring their ancestor’s faith and need support. Rabbi Mehlman defined the many aspects inherent in this important community work and the need for outreach.

On Saturday, Colorado author Corinne Brown and board member of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, as well as editor of the Society’s biannual journal “HaLapid”, spoke about identity and faith, especially as explored in her new, award–winning novel Hidden Star – a story of crypto-Judaism in New Mexico. In addition, Brown stressed the importance of tradition and memory and writing down family stories before they are lost. E-mail information- cb@corinnejoybrown.com

Rabbi Peter Tarlow of Texas, a crypto-Jewish historian and national advisor on security and travel stressed the urgent issues of media, language and meaning, and the importance of clarity in understanding crypto-Jewish history. He also compared select, current world conditions to pre-Inquisition and Nazi Germany era circumstances.

Finally, on Sunday morning, New Mexico resident Sonya Loya from Ruidoso, a renowned glass artist, Anusim activist and founder of the Anusim conferences, spoke about the concept of return to the Jewish homeland, Israel. She introduced the details of a remarkable tour scheduled there in 2017. Rabbi Leon also spoke on the future of the Anusim Center of El Paso.

The presentations concluded with inspiring personal narratives by members of the B’nai Zion Congregation, including John and Neora Garcia, Bill and Yoli Radcliffe and Blanca Carrasco, among others.

Of special note, the conference welcomed Martha Vera, Consulate General of Spain in El Paso. In addition, Saturday’s events ended with the evening wedding of converts Miguel and Abigail Balboa. Festivities were catered by Peter Schvarzbein and the Kosher Taco Truck, followed by his multimedia presentation on the Anusim of El Paso. The wedding, held under the stars, was a perfect symbol of the new beginnings of Judaism in the Southwest. For further information on the Anusim, contact Rabbi Leon at rabbisal@aol.com (915) 529-3693.

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