25 September 2009

Brooklyn: Conversos follow tradition

The Jewish High Holydays usually produce a plethora of stories about Conversos or Bnai Anousim, and this year is no different.

Moshe and ChanaLeah Nunez have an interesting story on CNN, a video link and photos here. The photo here is their wedding photo before they converted to Judaism.

Every Friday evening, the Nunez family sits down to a traditional religious dinner.

Moshe Nunez and his family moved to Crown Heights, a New York neighborhood with thousands of Hasidic Jews.

Like most families in their Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, their Jewish Sabbath meal includes blessings over the wine and bread, the company of family and friends and excellent food.

But for the Nunez family, the Sabbath table would not be complete without salsa picada and jalapeno dip.
Born to a Mexican father and American mother, Moshe Nunez is an information technology consultant and motivational speaker who was raised in Guadalajara, Mexico. His wife, ChanaLeah is the daughter of a Salvadoran mother and American-born father who was raised in Panama. They have a son,Michael, 17, and daughter Simcha, 18.

"Our home is a Latin American home," Nunez says.

"We bring into our home a mixture of the American and Latin culture, and that's reflected in the way we eat. We also enjoy hosting guests, so it's a very Hispanic thing, and a Jewish thing."
Nunez says that among thousands of Hasidic families in the area, a significant number are Latinos.

"There are a lot of Latin American Jews here," Nunez says. "Some of them have moved from countries like Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina, where there's political unrest. We make a life here, settle down and become part of the fabric of American society, but we still don't lose our roots."

Many non-Jewish Latinos are surprised to see Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn who speak Spanish, carry on their Hispanic traditions and even keep up with soccer scores from their home countries, Nunez says.
While an excellent story about this couple and what they represent, Tracing the Tribe wasn't happy that the pejorative term Marranos (instead of Conversos or Bnai Anousim) was used many times in the article. You might think CNN would know better.

Nunez began working on his family genealogy some 13 years ago when they lived in Atlanta, and he met Lorraine Nunez, raised as a Christian, who believed she was a direct descendant of the famous Portuguese physician Samuel Nunez who arrived in Savannah, Georgia in the 1700s and helped start Congregation Mikve Israel.

Lorraine inspired Moshe - then Marco - to explore his own genealogy. ChanaLeah - then Jacqueline - knew that her army colonel grandfather in El Salvador was Jewish. The couple believed their ancestors were conversos from Spain and Portugal.

[NOTE: According to Tracing the Tribe's copy of Pere Bonnin's "Sangre Judia," there are several listings for this name: Nunes 1634 Toledo, Nunez 1634 Toledo, Nunez 1202 Galicia, Nunez de Leon 1721 Sevilla, Nunez de Najara 1593 Granada and Nunez de Silva 1654 Alcala. It also appears frequently in the various Sephardic name indexes at SephardicGen.com and in the indexed name engine at Sephardim.com, which indicates a strong Jewish connection.]

Moshe began studying the Bible, including the Torah, while working on the family genealogy, and - when they relocated to Milan, Italy for his work, the couple continued their Judaic studies under Orthodox rabbis and had Orthodox conversions to Judaism, changing their names to Moshe and ChanaLeah.
The Jewish community in Milan welcomed the family "with open arms," Moshe said. "The rabbi said to me, 'Moshe, you are Jewish, you were always Jewish.'"
The couple who are both songwriters and musicians were inspired by their experiences and wrote a song - "Jews of Spain" in Spanish, English and Hebrew. It is on Nunez's album, "Kol Haneshema" (Every Soul).

He hopes that sharing the knowledge of Torah through education, songs and acts of kindness will ensure that what happened to the Conversos during the Inquisition won't happen again.

Read the complete story at the link above, and also view a video in which Nunez talks about his life, cooks and sings.

Thanks to Rabbi Gary Gans for this link!


  1. Anonymous6:15 AM

    Nice story. Nunes (pronounced noonsh) is, of course, the Portuguese variant, Nunez the Spanish. I teach in Madeira where Nunes is a common surname.

  2. Emilia Antunes dos Santos1:02 PM

    Nunes, is not so common, I my self have that surname, as well as Antunes, My grandfather was called Efraim, our origin is from Tomar, I am making our family story, one of my ancester´s was Simão Antunes, whent to Brasil 1515. I recently went to Torre do Tombo, with spme familly names and ask for their Processes of Inquision, They looked at me, and asked, with whom would you like to begin with?
    Saudades From Portugal
    Emilia Antunes dos Santos