05 August 2009

Denver; Crypto-Judaic conference report

Tracing the Tribe has been trying for several years to get to the annual Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies conference. Unfortunately, it usually is timed to compete head-on with the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.

I'm hoping that in 2010 it will be possible, as the Jewish genealogy conference is much earlier than usual.

Here's a report on the SCJS conference held in Denver this year:

When Gerald Gonzalez was a young man, his Spanish-speaking grandfather remarked — out of the blue — if he weren't Catholic, he'd be Jewish.

It would be a few more decades, and countless hours of genealogical research during the lunch hours of a busy law career, before Gonzalez would learn that his ancestors were Jews who had escaped Spain, and later Portugal, with the Inquisition on their heels.

Such tales were told many times at the 2009 conference of the Society of Crypto Judaic Studies. The three-day event in Denver drew about 75 people, including scholars and descendants of persecuted Jews.
Attendees shared stories of their Catholic families preserving such traditions as Friday night candle0lighting, Jewish burial customs and family heirlooms such as Hebrew Bibles, menorahs or other specifically Jewish objects, as well as preserving such Jewish traditions as circumcision or observation of such holidays as Santa Esther (Purim) or Santo Moises (Passover).

"The scholars learn from the descendants. The descendants learn from the scholars," historian Stanley Hordes said. "As word spreads, more people in (the region) are going to their grandparents and great aunts and uncles and asking about this."

Hordes, whose 2005 book "To the End of the Earth," is one of the few histories available on this region's crypto-Judaism, said the study here is in its infancy and difficult. It involves uncovering evidence of people "who for centuries tried desperately to cover their tracks," he said.
Although these secret Jews, known as Conversos (Spanish) or bnai anusim (children of the forced, Hebrew).

Others call them marranos which is a pejorative term. My Converso friends are extremely insulted and angry if this epithet is applied to them. It should never be used. Its use seems to be accepted in some books or papers, and it seems the authors are not aware of how insulted Conversos feel when identified by that term.

In recent decades, increasing numbers of northern New Mexicans and southern Coloradans either are sure of or suspect Jewish heritage, yet no one reliably knows how many, said Hordes, a pioneer researcher of New Mexican crypto-Judaism. He began compiling anecdotes in the mid- 1980s.

In the past several years, mounting DNA evidence has begun to support once-contested claims of Jewish ancestry. One result is a New York University study, underway among Latino populations in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, on the incidence of a genetic mutation implicated in a type of breast cancer most common among Jews.
Family reactions to such evidence of Jewish ancestry range from rejection to return to mainstream Judaism.

Read the complete article at the link above.


  1. I am the descendant of Dutch Converso's and perhaps its my upbringing but I personally do not find the term Marrano to be pejorative in reference to my own heritage. In fact, I wear it as a badge of honor that my ancestors were given this term and persevered against incredible odds to preserve their Jewish traditions before being able to escape to a country accepting of Jews and returning to their identity.

    However, I can't speak for those who are still of the Converso status. Just thought a descendant's interpretation would be interesting to add.

  2. I believe that I am from the Crypto Judaic tribe. My last name is Narro which I found out was Nyerros and we originally come from the town of Nyer. I live in New Mexico along with many family members.