We have written extensively about “lost” Jews, people who come from backgrounds where their ancestors, for one reason or another, were forced to abandon Judaism. Dozens of articles, books and scholarly essays have also been written in the subject – covering Jews from Uganda to Peru – but a journalist from Harper’s Magazine, Theodore Ross, wanted to take a closer look into this curious segment of the Jewish community, so he went on a journey to seek out the anusim, or Crypto-Jews, of New Mexico.
Most of the articles we read on the subject of “lost” Jews tend to focus on efforts to engage these folks in the mainstream Jewish community. We often see articles about large “Ceremonies of Return,” where a group of folks living as Jews are formally welcomed back into the fold, but this article is different. Instead of focusing on how to engage this population, the article looks at how a number of Crypto-Jews in New Mexico discovered their own Judaism, and how that discovery has impacted their lives.
The article is expansive and well worth the read. Ross travels throughout the Southwest to talk to people of varying backgrounds and belief, but the theme that runs through the article is one tackled by nearly every segment of the Jewish community today: who is a Jew? Ross, after all his reporting, believes “a Crypto-Jew who acted as a Jew, lived as a Jew, and wanted to be a Jew, was Jewish.”
Leaving aside questions of conversion and practice among Crypto-Jews, Ross is absolutely right. On a fundamental level, anyone who lives as a Jew and identifies as Jewish should be welcomed to participate in the Jewish community. This applies to not only Crypto-Jews, but all those in our orbit. If we want to see the Jewish community thrive, we need to better engage anyone with Jewish roots, whether “lost” Jews, children of intermarriage, or mixed-heritage Jews. Doing so isn’t just about growing the number of Jews worldwide. It’s about strengthening Jewish identity and securing a vibrant Jewish future.
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