Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies
June 1, 2009
The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies was founded in 1991 in order to foster research and networking of information into the historical and contemporary development of crypto Jews of Iberian origin. Membership is open to anyone who is interested in this fascinating area.
The HaLapid is the SCJS quarterly publication featuring general articles, personal stories, conference reviews, book reviews, and more.
The Secret Jews of the Southwest
May 18, 2009
Written by Amy Klein, JTA
EL PASO, Texas (JTA) -- Three strange things happened to Rabbi Stephen Leon the first week he moved here in 1986 to lead Congregation B'nai Zion, the Conservative synagogue in this border city.
“Rabino,” said a Catholic man calling from Jaurez, Mexico, about 30 minutes away. “I need to talk to you.”
Every Friday night from the time he was little, the man's grandmother took him into a room, lit candles and said some prayers in a private language he didn't understand. His grandmother had just died, and he asked his mother if she would continue the tradition. She told him to go find a rabbi.
The visitor made a most unusual request...How the Crypto Jews of El Paso Transformed My Work
March 1, 2007
written by Rabbi Stephen A. Leon, HaLapid, Spring 2007
I will never forget her wrinkled, glistening elderly eyes. It was a beautiful spring day in 2001 and my secretary informed me that there were three people who had just rushed into the Synagogue and insisted on seeing me immediately. I invited the three strangers to come in and asked them to please be seated. The elderly woman sat directly in front of me, while the middle-aged couple sat behind her. The younger woman told me that she was the daughter of the older woman who was in her mid-eighties and that she and her husband had taken “Mom” from Los Angeles to San Antonio by car because her mother didn’t like to fly. She also informed me that her mom was suffering from a terminal illness and didn’t have long to live, perhaps two or three months.
They had gone to San Antonio to attend the college graduation of her son. On the way home to Los Angeles, as they approached El Paso, Mother insisted that they get off the next exit and find a synagogue and a rabbi. Since all three were Catholics, the daughter could not understand her mother’s urgent request. Coincidentally, they exited the highway at Exit 13 “Sunland Park” on Interstate 10, which is the closest exit to my synagogue. The old woman smiled and looked deeply into my eyes. She told me—and her daughter and son-in-law for the first time—the following story:
El Paso and Ruidoso: Centers of Learning for Anousim
January 1, 2007
written by Leonard Martinez, 2007
As I was called to an aliyah at El Paso's B'nai Zion synagogue, Rabbi Stephen Leon stepped back from the bimah. His place was taken by a New Mexican grandmother, Lupe Ramos. She proceeded to chant the parashah with skill and confidence. Lupe Ramos is one of a group in America's Southwest known as Anousim, Hebrew for “the forced ones.” She is a descendant of Spanish and Portuguese Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th and 16th centuries. After more than five centuries, she and others like her have returned to Judaism.
In the 17th century, Anousim or Crypto-Jews hoped to secretly practice their religion away from Spain and Portugal. They sailed to Mexico as colonizers, eventually settling in the remote mountains of New Mexico, far from the grasp of Spanish authorities and the Inquisition. It was a practice followed in Spanish and Portuguese colonies world-wide, wherever Crypto-Jews sought to escape the prying eyes of Church and Crown. Over the centuries, knowledge of their heritage faded. But a few still clung to some forms of Judaism through symbols and rites, vaguely conscious they were Jews. In the last two decades, however, many Anousim have stepped forward, publicly acknowledging their roots but not necessarily converting. They sift through centuries of family histories, curious about Judaism and their relationship to the Jews around them.
Anousim Conference Meets in El Paso
September 1, 2005
written by Arthur Benveniste, HaLapid, Fall 2005
Just two weeks after SCJS held its annual conference in Miami Beach, a similar conference convened in El Paso, TX, August 19-21. Titled “The Sephardic Anousim Conference,” it was hosted by local Congregation B’nai Zion.
El Paso is a city with a strong crypto-Jewish presence and Rabbi Stephen A. Leon of Congegation B’nai Zion has a long history of working with anousim, assisting them in their return to Judaism. Rabbi Leon delivered the keynote address after Friday evening candle lighting and dinner. His topic: “The Crypto-Jews of the Southwest; How and Why They Are Returning to Judaism.” It is a topic with which he is acquainted.