11 May 2010

Houston: Legacy of a Hidden Past seminar, May 23

Congregation Shaar Hashalom (Houston, Texas) will present a seminar on the history of the Crypto Jews in New Spain and Mexico, on Sunday, May 23.

"Discovering the Legacy of a Hidden Past" is open to the public and runs from 8am-3.15pm.

Crypto Jews were Jews from Spain and Portugal who, after being forced to convert to Catholicism beginning in the late 14th century, continued to practice Judaism secretly, and passed on a hidden legacy to their descendants. Among the indications of such a heritage are:

-- Lighting candles on Friday nights without knowing why
-- Sweeping to center of room, not over the threshold
-- Covering mirrors when a relative died
-- Observing these or other unusual practices, not understanding why
More than 500 years after the Alhambra Decree of Exile - which sent many Sephardic Jews around the world and many more who went underground to stay in Iberia - the descendants of these individuals are now beginning to rediscover their hidden past. Readers who are interested in learning more about this intriguing history of Jews who hid their faith during the Inquisition (and even from 1391, a century earlier) will enjoy this lineup of speakers.

Some descendants know their ancestors were Jewish and some have passed down Jewish customs through the century. Sometimes traditions are practiced today, but the families don't know why. Others have learned about their hidden legacy and are trying to reconnect.

The seminar will provide general information to those seeking more insight on the topic through experts on the subject matter and informational outlets which they can use as a reference point for their personal research.

Speakers and their presentations are:

-- Rabbi Peter Tarlow, Texas A&M Hillel: Setting the Stage: History of the Crypto-Jews
-- Bennett Greenspan, FamilyTreeDNA,com: Family Tree DNA and the Crypto-Jews 
-- Rabbi Jimmy Kessler, Temple B’nai Israel, Galveston: Crypto-Jews: How This All Got Started
-- Dr. Janet Jacobs, University of Colorado-Boulder; author, "Hidden Heritage; The Legacy of the Crypto-Jews": Women and the Persistence of Culture (Ritual, Customs and Recovery of Ancestry)
-- The program concludes with a Q&A panel.
To register online ($18 donation is suggested) or for more information, visit Crypto Jews of Houston or Shaar HaShalom, or contact Rabbi Stuart Federow.

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