24 January 2009

Los Angeles: Secret Jews, search for identity, Feb. 8

"Secret Jews: History and Culture of Crypto-Jews and Their Search for Jewish Roots and Identity," will be presented by Arthur Benveniste, at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County.

As Tracing the Tribe readers know, this subject is one in which I am very personally interested. I am fortunate to know many Converso families and am particularly interested in their preservation of Judaism, observance, customs and traditions within their families since their New World arrival in the early 1600s. Many Conversos have always known their history, while other Hispanics are just learning about their Jewish roots. Many are conflicted about how to handle this new information as to their heritage.

The meeting begins at 1.30pm, Sunday, February 8, at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, which of course is not technically Los Angeles, but is well within driving distance of the city for this excellent program.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, Jews of Spain and Portugal were forced to convert to Catholicism. Many families kept the knowledge of their Jewish past for 500 years, transmitting it in secret to their children and often continuing to practice Jewish rites covertly.

Many of the descendants of these Crypto-Jews are now seeking their Jewish heritage. Mr. Benveniste's presentation will follow the history of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, their forced conversion, the emergence of crypto-Judaism, how it came to the Americas, and the discovery of their Jewish background by many Hispanics in the Americas today.
Benveniste has been active in the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies (SCJS) since 1993, was president (2001-2003), and co-editor of the group's newsletter, Halapid. He has traveled to Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Peru, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Greece. In 1992, King Juan Carlos of Spain invited him to return to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Expulsion.

There is no charge to attend the program. For more details, address, and more click here.

SCJS also holds an annual conference - this year in Denver, August 2-4. I missed the conference last year due to scheduling details, and was really looking forward to attending the SCJS event this summer. Unfortunately, the timing conflicts with the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (August 2-7, Philadelphia). I encourage the leadership of all conferences focusing on Jewish heritage, genealogy, history and research to check the calendar to try to avoid head-on conflicts with other major events.

The SCJS is also publishing an annual journal with academic, peer-reviewed papers - Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto Jews - which will soon be available. Florida International University will publish it with editor-in-chief FIU Professor of History Abraham Lavender, editor Dolores Sloan (HaLapid's former editor) and business manager Arthur Benveniste.

For many HaLapid articles, click here to read them online.

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