“Portland, Ore., is going to be a sort of birthplace of a new community in Israel.”
That might sound like an odd statement, but it comes from a unique and fascinating background – namely a large number of Jews who long ago were forced to jettison their Judaism for the sake of survival during the Spanish Inquisition. Many left Spain and moved to Mexico, eventually settling in what is now the Southwestern United States. These Jews came to be known as Crypto Jews, and the above statement was made by Rabbi Joshua Stampfer, the founder of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, located in Portland. He made this claim in light of a recent ceremony in which 17 Crypto Jews were welcomed back into Judaism.
This is a great testament to the welcoming nature of Judaism – though they were “lost” for hundreds of years, assimilating and losing touch with their Jewish heritage, Crypto Jews somehow maintained a deep spiritual connection to the Jewish faith. For example, according to an article in Portland’s Jewish Review, one of the returnees simply felt a connection to Judaism and after some extensive research into her family history, she discovered that her parents were of Spanish descent and had Sephardic roots. Others have even backed up their spiritual awakening with hard facts; DNA testing has proved that many Latinos are indeed genetically linked to Sephardic Jews.
All who participated in the ceremony in Portland, which included a dip in the mikvah (spiritual bath) and a drawing of blood for the men, have said they plan on moving to Israel. Rabbi Stampfer believes these 17 are just the tip of the iceberg, and there may be thousands more in the Latino community who carry Jewish ancestry. Crypto Jews are an important part of the Jewish narrative, and we applaud those who are taking the steps to discover their heritage, join our family, and strengthen the Jewish community.