To many, the Spanish Inquisition calls to mind one of countless historical examples of the persecution of the Jews. Or maybe it conjures Mel Brooks’ macabre, comedic roost in “History of the World, Part I.” Yet, for hundreds of thousands of people, the Inquisition represents a historical drama that continues to shape their lives. In the past few decades, a growing number of the descendants of Jews who had been forced to flee, convert, or hide Jewish practices during the Inquisition have been seeking to reconnect with their Jewish roots. At times, they have been embraced, other times shunned, and, too often, encountered Jewish experiences that didn’t authentically reflect their Sephardic roots. We talk about all this with Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, a scholar of Spanish Jewry and former congregational leader. Rabbi Berner's latest book is Listening to the Heart of Genesis: A Contemplative Path (Wipf and Stock), a fresh, contemporary approach to the stories and themes of Genesis that includes the practice of Kri'at Hakodesh, Sacred Reading. For her research into the medieval Spanish Jewish community, see her book, On the Western Shores: The Jews of Barcelona During the Reign of Jaume I, el Conqueridor 1213-1276.
To broaden the discussion, we also speak with Rabbi Barbara Aiello, who grew up stateside steeped in her Italian Jewish heritage. Nearly 20 years ago, Rabbi Aiello returned to her ancestral homeland of Calabria, Italy to help rebuild Jewish life. She founded Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sul, the first openly functioning synagogue in Calabria in nearly 500 years.
Theme song, “Ilu Finu” by Rabbi Miriam Margles. Her album This is the Day is available for purchase at CDBaby: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/miriammarglesandthehadarensemb
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- Read the Evolve essay: Sefardi Crypto-Jews: Real Jews or Remnants of a Distant Past? — Rabbi Leila Gal Berner writes, "When [the descendants of] Jews who were forced into hiding by the 15th-century Spanish Inquisition want to affirm their Jewish identity, we should welcome and support them."
- Listening to the Heart of Genesis: A Contemplative Path — Rabbi Leila Gal Berner's latest book, "Listening to the Heart of Genesis: A Contemplative Path' (Wipf and Stock), offers a fresh, contemporary approach to the stories and themes of Genesis that includes the practice of Kri'at Hakodesh, Sacred Reading.
- A Long Journey: The Hidden Jews of the Southwest — A one-hour film bringing to life the stories of modern-day New Mexican Catholics whose secret was their hidden Jewish roots. Includes the history of their 400-year journey from Spain through Mexico with persecution by the Inquisition, before finally settling in the Southwest. The physical journeys of these secret Jews ended in colonial times, but their internal journeys continue to this day.
- US crypto-Jews race to reclaim heritage before Spanish citizenship offer ends — From the Times of Israel: A record number of Americans whose Jewish ancestors fled the Inquisition are applying for citizenship as an ‘insurance policy’ against a perceived rise in US anti-Semitism
- The secret Jews of the Southwest — From the JTA: A steady trickle of Hispanics in the Southwest, from Juarez to Texas to New Mexico, are discovering Jewish roots.
- Tisha B’Av: The Right Time for a Law of Return for Italian Anusim Jews — In this Times of Israel blog post, Rabbi Barbara Aiello argues that the time is right for the Italian government to examine the Law of Return adopted by Spain and Portugal and to begin a process to enact Italy’s own Law of Return for those whose southern Italian heritage includes Sephardic Jewish roots.
- Mel Brooks' History of the World Part 1: The Spanish Inquisition — The Spanish Inquisition segment parodies a grandiose Busby Berkeley-style production, consisting of an extended song-and-dance number featuring Brooks as the infamous Tomás de Torquemada. Orson Welles narrates the scene which also features Jackie Mason and Ronny Graham in cameo appearances as Jewish torture victims.
- ON THE WESTERN SHORES: THE JEWS OF BARCELONA DURING THE REIGN OF JAUME I, 'EL CONQUERIDOR,' 1213-1276 (SPAIN, CATALONIA, SEPHARDIM, MEDITERRANEAN) — Rabbi Berner's research into the medieval Spanish Jewish community.