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May 13, 1988 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-13

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

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ew York — For four
centuries they were
only a rumor, virtual-
ly indistinguishable from
their Catholic neighbors in
New Mexico and southern
Texas.
But thanks to two resear-
chers in Albuquerque, more
and more information is com-
ing to light about the Mar-
ranos, or "secret Jews," of
America's Southwest.
Stan Hordes of the New
Mexico State Historical Socie-
ty and Tomas Atencio of the
sociology department at the
University of New Mexico
have been collecting the oral
histories of families who trace
their own roots in the New
World back to the 16th
Century.
Although most have been
baptized as Catholics, they re-
tain a dim cultural memory of
a time when Jews were forc-
ed by the Inquisition to either
practice their banned religion
in secret or leave Spain
altogether. Their ancestors,
according to the researchers,
did both.
"The very earliest Spanish
settlers of New Mexico were,
in fact, secret Jews," said Nan
Rubin, an independent radio
producer who has recorded a
series on the work of the two
researchers. These settlers,
she said, were originally part
of the Spanish colony that in-
habited what is now Mexico,
having fled or been expelled
from Isabella and Ferdinand's
Spain in 1492.
By the mid-1500s, the In-
quisition had reached New
Spain as well, and the Mar-
ranos escaped to the frontiers
to the north.
Four hundred years later,
an estimated 2,000 of their
descendants still practice cor-
rupted forms of Jewish
customs, including Friday
night candle-lighting, ritual
hand-washing before meals
and an aversion to pork. Some
continue to speak Ladino, the
Spanish dialect of Sephardic
Jews.
Other, hybrid forms of wor-
ship have developed over the
centuries as well, incor-
porating Jewish and Catholic
customs. Some families have
worshiped a "St. Esther,"
after the heroine of the Purim
holiday. Others, having only
faint awareness of the Jewish
calendar, mark Easter and
Christmas with rituals
remembered from correspon-
ding holidays, such as
Passover and Chanukah.

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28

FRIDAY, MAY 13, 1988

Researchers Discover
Southwest's Marranos

$24,555

N

According to Rubin, the
legacy of these Marranos has
been one of confusion.
"I met some of the families
and they seemed pretty mix-
ed up," she said. "They said
that they always felt dif-
ferent, but when they found
out they were Jewish it fit in."
Realizing who they are can
be an intensely emotional ex-
perience for community
members, said Rubin. She
described one custom in
which mothers wait until
their children are 12 or 13
years old before telling them
about their Jewish roots. "At
first, they're horrified," said
Rubin.
Although some have had
formal conversions to
Judaism, others in the com-
munities remain reluctant to
have their centuries-old
secret become known. Rubin
recalled one man who travel-
ed to Spain and Israel's
Diaspora Museum to search
for a cure for his cultural
schizophrenia, but who was
not satisfied until he
discovered the work being
done by Hordes and Atencio.
The researchers, mean-
while, continue to study
America's Marranos, sear-
ching for common threads
among them or their connec-
tions to other obscure
religious groups in the area,
including the mystical
"Penitente" cult of mystical
Catholics.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

I NEWS I

Kaplan Urges
Israel Visits

New York (JTA) — Mendel
Kaplan, chairman of the
Jewish Agency Board of
Governors, urged American
Jews to show their support for
the State of Israel at this "dif-
ficult time" by visiting the
country.
"Israel needs your presence
as much as your money,"
Kaplan told American Jewish
leaders attending a briefing
session for the upcoming
Jewish Agency Assembly in
Jerusalem.
Expressing concern over the
decline in American Jewish
tourism to Israel since the
disturbances in the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip
began in December, Kaplan
said that American Jews have
not been showing their sup-
port and concern for Israel "in
terms of being there."

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