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A Tepid &Lsquo;welcome Back’ For Spanish Jews!!!!

I AM conducting a global search for a missing menorah that my great-aunt Luz concealed in a commode in her cramped bedroom in a garden apartment in San José, Costa Rica. She preserved it until she died, in her 80s, in 1998, when she was buried swiftly the next day with a Sabbath-day psalm on her funeral card — cryptic signs of my Catholic family’s clandestine Sephardic Jewish identity because the prayer avoided any reference to the trinity or Jesus.

I AM conducting a global search for a missing menorah that my great-aunt Luz concealed in a commode in her cramped bedroom in a garden apartment in San José, Costa Rica. She preserved it until she died, in her 80s, in 1998, when she was buried swiftly the next day with a Sabbath-day psalm on her funeral card — cryptic signs of my Catholic family’s clandestine Sephardic Jewish identity because the prayer avoided any reference to the trinity or Jesus.

I tallied these and other Carvajal family clues a few days after the Spanish government heralded its new immigration reform last month. Five hundred and twenty years after the start of the Inquisition, Spain opened the door to descendants of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors had fled the Iberian Peninsula, forced, in order to live in Spain or its colonies, to choose between exile or conversion to Christianity. Or worse.

Top government officials pledged to speed up the existing naturalization process for Sephardic Jews who through the centuries spread in a diaspora — to the Ottoman Empireand the south of Italy; to Spain’s colonies in Central and South America; and to outposts in what are now New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.

Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, sought to address his nation’s painful legacy when he revealed the reforms, declaring it was time “to recover Spain’s silenced memory.” But the process is much more complicated than it appears, and some descendants are discounting the offer as useless, or even insulting, as it dawns on them that they are excluded.

Some of those converts in Spain’s colonies — still within the reach of the Inquisition — led double lives for generations, as I learned from writing a book about my own family’s concealed identity. They lived discreetly, maintaining Jewish rituals that would have put them in peril if they had been discovered. They risked confiscation of wealth, prison, torture or death. Some relatives knew, some didn’t and others refused to see.

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