I've been trying to participate for a few years, and finally the dates worked out. New Mexico glass artist Sonya Loya, who is very involved with the event, never gave up, stayed in contact, and I'm very happy to be participating this year. I will post about the event.
The 8th conference - in 2011 - will be held in Jerusalem around Tisha b'Av, which is August 8-9.
For more on this year's and next year's conference, read a Ruidoso (New Mexico) News story about Sonya Loya, who has become a leader in the movement.
When she walked into the B'Chol Lashon International Think Tank 2010 meeting in San Francisco last month, Sonya Loya's first thought was, "What am I doing here."She works with with Rabbi Stephen A. Leon of Congregation Bnai Zion (El Paso) and with Rabbi Juan Mejia - a recent Jewish Theological Seminary rabbinical graduate with a converso background - who is the anousim director for B'chol Lashon.
Invited to participate in the four-day session, she found herself sitting and mingling with professors with multiple doctorates, with researchers, sociologists and leaders of various impressive centers of study, with rabbis and educators.
"Everyone had Ph.D.s, plural, and they were from around the world, the Lemba tribe, the Abudaya, the Ethiopians, people from Brazil, Israel, Mexico and Washington D.C," she said. "What is a hillbilly from the mountains of New Mexico and a glass artist doing here?
"But Rabbi Denis Yabarri said they had been watching me closely for some years. After our shabbat midrash study, Rabbi Irwin Kula told me, 'You have fearless grace and that's what the Jewish people and the rest of the world needs.'"
Still, every time someone introduces her as a leader of a Crypto-Jewish community, it jars her. She doesn't consider herself a leader, only someone who is on a journey to rediscover herself and her Jewish faith and is willing to help others along the same path.
Like many descendants of conversos, she was raised Roman Catholic but felt something missing. And like others, attended a messianic event where she learned of her possible Jewish heritage. But when she learned of the Sephardic Jewish movement, she began her return to Judaism.
Since 2003, she has been helping others on the same journey
"Crypto Jews number in the millions," she said. "I am contacted everyday by people asking for help. I received a few this morning. I'm fortunate to be able to help others learn about their heritage while leaning about my own. My art ties into the search. After I read 'Glassmakers, The Odyssey of the Jews,' I knew glass connected me to my ancestry."She also helps to facilitate education in Jewish communities and to help those seeking to learn more about possible Jewish heritage.
In her quest for knowledge she discovered that her connection to glass artistry may have a long connection to her Judaism. Until 1492, the Iberian glassmaking industry was mostly Jewish, and members of Sephardic glassmaking families escaped the Inquisition as they traveled through Amsterdam to the Caribbean. Among them were the ROBLES (her maternal great-grandmother's family) and SALAS families. In the article by Samuel Kurinsky, these families were linked to the industry in Italy, Spain, France and Holland.
This year's conference, as have the past events, is being held at Rabbi Leon's congregation. Leon presented a resolution passed unanimously by more than 2,000 rabbis at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's Rabbinical Assembly conference in December 2009. The resolution calls for member congregations to welcome bnai anousim to Judaism and also called for memorializing the victims of the Inquisition as part of Tisha b'Av observances.
In 2011, the conference in Jerusalem will bring descendants of Crypto-Jews to Israel to learn about their history.
For more information or to register for this year's conference, contact Loya.