Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

The University of Michigan Library provides access to these materials for educational and research purposes. These materials may be under copyright. If you decide to use any of these materials, you are responsible for making your own legal assessment and securing any necessary permission. If you have questions about the collection, please contact the Bentley Historical Library at bentley.ref@umich.edu

September 03, 1982 - Image 68

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1982-09-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

12 Friday, September 3, 1982


Marrano Incident Novelized in Yiddish

New Apter Volume is Fascinating Historic Fiction


(Editor's note: While
most book reviews ap-
pearing in these columns
are of works in the
English language, this
review represents the oc-
casional exception as a
comment on a novel in
Yiddish. Mr. Warsen is
especially qualified to
deal with a major Jewish
historical subject. He in-
jects in this review his
knowledge of Jewish his-
tory, his thorough ac-
quaintance with Yiddish
literature and his mas-
tery of the Yiddish lan-
The Yiddish literature
has been enriched in recent
years by such great novels
as "The Agunah" and "The
Yeshivah" by Chaim Grade,
"Artapanos Comes Home"
by Mordechai Tsanin and
"Jericho" and "Queen
Jezebel" by Izban.
To this remarkable list of
books Samson Apter added
his historical novel, "The
Marrano Family Da Silva,"
subtitled, "Marranos in
Brazil and Portugal at the
Beginning of the 18th Cen-
Published in Israel by the
World Council for Yiddish
and Jewish Culture, it has
been distributed by the
Congress for _Jewish Cul-
The novel commences
with a description of the Da
Silva family, residents of
Rio de Janeiro, capital of
Brazil. The family con-
sisted of Juan Mendes da
Silva, Rio's most distin-
guished lawyer; his wife

Laurencia, a dedicated
Jewess and the novel's cen-
tral character, who refused
to participate in her boy's
baptism; and their three
Their closest relatives
were Laurencia's uncle,
Juan (Yochanan) Gomez,
an observant Jew and a
sugar plantation owner;
his son Pedro, a Domini-
can monk; his widowed
daughter Miriam and her
daughter Gracia. With
the exception of Pedro,
-the members of both
families were Marranos.
These families are re-
miniscent of the Marranos,,
who had settled in Recife,
Brazil, following its capture
by the Dutch from the Por-
tuguese in 1630.
In Recife, as historian
Rufus Learsi writes, the
Marranos established "a
vigorous Jewish commu-
nity, the first in the West-
ern Hemisphere." Its rabbi,
Isaac Aboab de Fenesca, the
first rabbi in the New
World, helped excommuni-
cate Baurch Spinoza.
The Marrano, Yochanan
Gomez, often reminisced
about Rabbi Aboab whom
he remembered from Recife.
On Yochanan's advice,
his niece Laurencia brought
her boy to his sugar planta-
tion, where he circumcised
him secretly.
Shortly afterwards, old
Yochanan, fearing his
son Pedro the priest
would arrange an elabo-
rate Catholic funeral for
him, wrapped himself in
his "talith" (prayer

toms and ceremonies. A
good example is his depic-
tion of a Marrano wedding,
Though held in strict sec-
recy, it was observed in ac-
cordance with Jewish law.
There was the velvet canopy
with its golden decorations.
The officiant, who wore a
solemn white linen robe (a
"kitten, read the "ketuba"
(marriage contract) written
in Aramic and recited the
"kidush." Following the
wedding ceremony, the
sound of "mazel tov,"
though uttered softly, was
heard everywhere.
Thorough is the
author's delineation of
the immoral means the
Church, with the assis-
tance of the Inquisition,
employed against the
New Christians it sus-
pected of disloyalty. The
scribes the way the Mar-- following episodes are il-
ranos instilled a love for luminating:
Judaism in their children.
Once, the priest-teacher,
Thus, when Antonio Jose noticing Jose reciting the
began to read, he continued prayers softly, lost his
to cross himself before going temper, hit him and
to sleep, but instead of recit- screamed:
ing loudly the prayers his
"Who has taught you not
nurse had taught him, he to pray?"
read quietly the prayers
"I prayed silently, be-
from the beautifully- cause I had a headache,"
illustrated book his father Jose told the priest.
gave him.
"You are lying! It is the
The prayer Jose read duty of every true Christian
nightly was:
and New Christian to de-
Protect me; angel,
nounce those, including
when I sleep
one's parents, who tell their
Like a shepherd his
children not to pray to the
Father, the Son and the
Watch over me, 0
Holy Ghost."
Influenced by the false
Lord, all night
until I awake at day-
rumors against the New
Christians, even Jose's
Eloquent are Apter's de- schoolmates would re-
scriptions of Marrano cus- peatedly ask him:

shawl), recited the
"videh" (confession) and
went to the sea shore
where he took a boat that
he propelled toward the
enormous ocean waves
that enveloped and swal-
lowed him.
- Skillfully the author de-

"Is it true that your fam-
ily observes Saturday in-
stead of Sunday?"
"Does your mother light
candles to the devil, instead
of to Jesus Christ?"
"Do you change your
shirts on Fridays?"
"I change my shirts when
they are dirty," Jose replied.
The novel, it is impor-
tant to note, is replete
with dramatic incidents,
such as the herioc death
of the Marrano Yocha-
nan and the circumcision
of Antonio Jose. Drama-
tic too is the case of
Hadar, the Falasha girl.
Kidnapped and sold into
slavery, Hadar preferred to
endure physical suffering to
serving as a slave and vio-
lating her moral and reli-
gious convictions.
Unexpectedly, the Rio In-
quisition began to suspect
the Da Silva and the Gomez
families of loyalty to the
Jewish faith.
First its agents arrested
Francisco Phillippe, a
friend and business associ-
ate of the Da Silva family.
Unable to extract a confes-
sion from him, the in-
quisitors tortured him to
death. Following his de-
mise, they burnt his body to
save his soul.
Then they seized the fam-
ily's slave and tried by in-
quisitorial means to force
him to denounce his owners.
Frustrated by his resis-
tance, his tormentors
turned him over to the In-
quisition in Lisbon.
Finally, the inquisitors
arrested the members of
the Da Silva and the

Gomez families, except
Juan Mendes, Antonio
Jose and Gracia.
Employing all the means
at their disposal, the in-
quisitors tried to compel the
arrested to admit their reli-
gious transgressions, but
failed. Disappointed, the
Rio Inquisition delivered
them to the Holy Office in
Lisbon for further interro-
gation and punishment.
As recorded by Rufus
Learsi in his book, "The
Jews in America: a His-
"As late as 1739 the most
illustrious of these victims
was delivered to the flames
in Lisbon. He was the bril-
liant Antonio Jose da Silva,
born 34 years earlier in Rio
de Janeiro, who in his brief,
span had time to become one
of Portugal's foremost
dramatists. Da Silva was
found guilty of being
secretly loyal to Judaism; in
the history of Portugal lit-
erature he is usually called
"the Jew."
The novel, "The Mar-
rano Family Da Silva," is
written in a lively, vib-
rant Yiddish. Its plot is
absorbing, fast moving
and the reader is drawn
into its historical events.
Also, the characters are
vividly depicted and
realistically portrayed.
The novelist, Samson Ap-
ter, authored three histori-
cal novels and numerous
novellas. He is the recipient
of the Jacob Glatstein Lit-
erature Prize presented
yearly by the Congress for
Jewish Culture.

Lebanese Fac i ng New Reality After Eight War Years


World Zionist Press Service

give me permit — I must go
to Israel to see my son in the
hospital." The woman in the
blue dress with the anxious
eyes was not addressing me
in the crowded public
square at Tyre. She was
plucking at the sleeve of the
IDF spokesman who was
explaining to me the local
situation — they'd already
had water for two weeks and
the electricity was turned
on last Thursday — facts
and figures that seemed un-
important measured
against the urgency of the
woman's plea.
Wearily he told her that it
was not his function and
pointed out where to wait —
where he'd already directed
scores of other people anx-
ious either to travel to Israel
or to rejoin relatives up
north in Beirut.

Most of them stood told me. "My house is fine—
patiently alongside a truck not even a broken window,
piled with blankets that and it is wonderful to know
would later be distributed to that I am safe from 'them.'
those who needed them.
But I can't start my life
Later I went over to again properly until my son
her. "Can you help me get is better and can live with
a permit?" she asked. me. I want to go to visit
Amira would have been him."
an attractive woman _ Tyre is a picturesque
under different circum- I town and despite the bomb
stances. She was about damage, the profile and
40, well-dressed, with a skyline remain. We drove
gold cross around her there from Naqoura, where
neck. But the worry lines the UNIFIL forces have
around her eyes and their headquarters not far
mouth were already from our border. It's a
etched deeply.
Western-style shanty town,
Like many others from like something from an old
southern Lebanon, now that cowboy movie. It even has a
the PLO had been routed, Silver Coast restaurant,
she had returned to her clothing store, a barber shop
home in Tyre from Beirut, and "coiffure de dames" for
where she'd fled with her the Swedish nurses at
son. But he'd been caught in Swedmedco.
the crossfire a week before
But Tyre is a real town.
and flown by helicopter to a The shopping center was
hospital in Nahariya.
doing a brisk trade on
"It is good to come," she this Sunday morning,

particularly "Patisserie
Arabe" a giant cake shop
with the kind of mouth-
watering confections
that I've only seen in
Groppi's coffee-house in
Cairo. A 10-tier wedding
cake dominated the win-
The proprietor, Mr. Ram-
lawi, was doing business as
usual, despite the war —
business better than usual,
one of my companions re-
marked cynically. Whether
he was -Happy that Israel
had cleared the PLO out of
Tyre or was just benefitting
from the influx of soldiers
and journalists in the town,
Mr. Ramlawi did seem very
cheerful indeed. He even
had the word "Open" let-
tered in Hebrew on his door
(in fact there were many
shops with Hebrew signs,
some even offering special
discounts for soldiers).
"You are welcome in this
country," he informed me,
noticing my IDF Liaison
Officer waiting nearby.
"When the terrorists were
here, they would come in
the shop — 10 at a time —
taking whatever they
wanted. Food, money,
drinks. It is good that you
got them out." It is thought
that there are still many
PLO terrorists in Tyre, but

we were told that the shells; tin helmets, terrorist
townspeople regularly in- literature. There was a ran-
form on them, either to the - cid stench of decay. It
IDF or to their local bishop. seemed almost sacrilegious
Ninety were turned in the to use this wonderful relic of
the past to attack innocent
week before our visit.
Tyre is a romantic loca- people in the present.
tion, situated round a tiny
It was almost a holiday
bay with a marina for boats. scene when we crossed the
Several fishermen were Litani River. The banana
wading in the water, plantations looked splendid
patiently waiting for a bite. in the hot sun. Soldiers in
The skyline of minarets, bathing suits did their
spires and domes reminded washing in the river, with
me of Akko (Acre).
towels and underwear
Just outside Tyre, we strung up to dry. Every
visited the archeological building we passed seemed
site of a Roman stadium to be flying a flag.
from 13 BCE. The third
On the road to Sidon, the
largest in the world, it is
beautifully preserved. scenery continued to be
The enormous hippod- beautiful . . . sparkling sea
rome was used for striped in bands from light
chariot races and aqua to deep indigo; and the
green of figs, grapevines
gladiatorial combat.
Behind the rows of seats and lemon orchards. Sidon
were cleverly concealed reminded me of Haifa.
When we reached Sidon,
rooms built by PLO ter-
rorists, the crude cinder- there was some kind of
blocks and freshly daubed demonstration by women.
cement contrasting with the They were screaming and
massive stones of olden some were crying. I was told
days. It was from this site they were the women of
that rockets were launched Palestinian prisoners. A
at Nahariya. Israel knew soldier fired twice in the air,
this, but did not bomb it in shockingly close to us, and
order, to preserve the magni- they dispersed. The whole
incident took half-a-
ficent ruins.
We looked in the dark minute, yet it is hard to
bunkers, now filled with the forget for it symbolizes so
ugly remnants of war: spent much of the pain of war.

Back to Top

© 2020 Regents of the University of Michigan