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Shavei Israel emissary joins 400th anniversary commemorations of Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands

Rabbi Salas in Amsterdam Jewish cemetery

Rabbi Salas in Amsterdam Jewish cemetery

In 1536, Portugal expanded the Inquisition that had begun in Spain into its territory, targeting Jews who had converted to Catholicism to escape persecution, but who were suspected of still secretly practicing Judaism. Many of these Anousim (crypto-Jews also known as Conversos or Marranos) had fled Spain for Portugal, and when the Inquisition caught up with them, they fled again, this time for the Netherlands where, fortunately, they were welcomed in and allowed to restart their lives. The safety they felt in Amsterdam, in particular, allowed the new Jewish communities to once again practice Judaism fully and openly.

In 1614, the first Jewish cemetery was established in Amsterdam. The cemetery celebrated the 400th anniversary of its construction in December of last year, and Rabbi Elisha Salas, Shavei Israel’s emissary to the Bnei Anousim in Portugal, was invited to attend the festivities.

For Rabbi Salas, who is based in Belmonte, Portugal, and works with Bnei Anousim, some of whom are only today rediscovering their roots, seeing how Anousim hundreds of years ago found the freedom to embrace their heritage was an inspiration that will help fuel his interactions with modern day Marranos.

“One might have thought that, given the overwhelming strength of the Inquisition, the Anousim who fled to Amsterdam would at least have continued to hide their Hebrew and Jewish names,” he says. “But what I saw in the cemetery in Amsterdam and among the founders of the synagogue and the Amsterdam Jewish community were not names in German, but in Portuguese!”

The weekend celebrations included prayers at the Esnoga (the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam that was founded in 1671), a visit to the Jewish Museum and the Etz Chaim library belonging to the Montezinos family.

Antonio de Montezinos was a Portuguese traveler and a Marrano himself who in 1644 persuaded Menashe ben Israel, the chief rabbi of Amsterdam, that he had found one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel living in the jungles of the Ecuador. This resulted in a book The Hope of Israel, which became a bestseller in 1655.

The highlight of the weekend, of course, was a trip to the cemetery. Rabbi Salas planted an olive tree that he brought with him from the village of Alentejo in Portugal. “The olive tree is a symbol of the union between past and present, between Portugal and the Netherlands,” he explains. The olive tree has particular Jewish meaning. “It is through this tree that we extract the oil for the lamps that illuminate our Sabbath and the hanukkiah that will light up the next Festival of Lights in Belmonte…and the world.”

At the end of the visit, the Sephardic Choir of Amsterdam regaled the group with songs that recalled the long history of Jews in both Portugal and the Netherlands. Rabbi Salas was deeply moved. “Their beautiful singing transported all of us to our beloved Israel, with its ancient faith that keeps us and maintains us throughout our journeys in so many countries and so many epochs through time,” he says.

The story of the Bnei Anousim in Amsterdam, who reclaimed their heritage after being forced out of their homes in Portugal, and who went on to proudly influence the economic and intellectual development of the many lands where the Dutch settled in the coming centuries, is inspiring on its own. How much more so for modern day Bnei Anousim who, with Rabbi Salas and Shavei Israel’s help, have the opportunity to make history again.

Shavei Israel marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Italy

Italian Holocaust Remembrance Day program

Italian Holocaust Remembrance Day program

Today (January 27, 2015) is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Held annually since 2006, the date commemorates the liberation by Soviet troops of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945. Events all over the world mark the day, including in Italy, where Shavei Israel’s emissary to the Bnei Anousim in Sicily and southern Italy, Rabbi Pinchas Punturello, reports on what’s planned.

“We are holding a study day at the infamous Steri Palace in Palermo,” Rabbi Punturello says. The Steri served as the headquarters of the Inquisition in Palermo from 1601 – 1782, also functioning as a holding cell for Jews awaiting their fate in the terrible auto-da-fe – execution by burning. The theme of the day’s classes and lectures is more recent, Rabbi Punturello adds: “The Expulsion of Jewish professors from universities in Italy following the imposition of Racial Laws during World War II.’”

Participants in the Holocaust Remembrance Day classes in Palermo are to include both members of the Italian Jewish community and a group of Bnei Anousim with whom Shavei Israel and Rabbi Punturello have been working since 2013. This includes Carlo, Marco and Salvo who came to Jerusalem in 2013 on a Shavei Israel-sponsored seminar for Italian Bnei Anousim (see our report here).

“The fact that the two groups are coming together is a sign of pride for us at Shavei Israel,” Rabbi Punturello says. “It shows that the Bnei Anousim are part of the Italian Jewish reality just like everyone else. And it shows that, at Shavei Israel, we not only help people to return to Judaism, we support them to become part of the local Jewish tradition and culture.”

At the end of 2014, there was another meeting point between the communities when a Jewish group from Milan made the 15-hour trip south to get to know the Bnei Anousim in Sicily. “The Milan group met with local Bnei Anousim from Palermo and Catania to hear their stories,” Rabbi Punturello reports. “This was a very important step; it helped to open their eyes to the work we are doing.”

But the best was yet to come: Rabbi Punturello visited a small mountain village called Valguarera Caropepe. “The villagers invited me because they had a fascinating story they wanted to tell me. One of the churches in the county had a Magen David [a Star of David] on the bell tower until a few years ago, when the new priest had it removed as part of a restoration. They still had a picture of the tower with the Magen David, though, which they showed me.”

But even more amazing: “All the people buried in that church have rings on their fingers in the shape of a Star of David! Needless to say, they are very interested in what this means about their own Jewish roots and they want to know more about Judaism and the Bnei Anousim. They are continuing to do research and I will go back to Valguarera Caropepe to help them more next month.”

Bnei Anousim mark Global Judaism Day in Portugal

Rabbi Salas at Global Day of Jewish Learning in Portugal

Rabbi Salas at Global Day of Jewish Learning in Portugal

In 2010, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who is best known for the English and Hebrew translations of the Talmud that bear his name, established a now annual event: The Global Day of Jewish Learning. The day is intended to “imbue an appreciation for the texts that define us, and to inspire hope in the commonalities that unite us,” and every year, thousands of Jews come together in their communities, homes and online to deepen a shared passion for Jewish knowledge.

This year, for the fifth Global Day of Jewish Learning, Shavei Israel’s emissary to Portugal, Rabbi Elisha Salas, joined the study celebration. He led the small Bnei Anousim community in Belmonte, Portugal in a series of classes according to the 2014 Global Day theme: “Heroes and Villains, Saints and Fools: The People in the Book,” whereby every session focused on a different Biblical character.

This was Rabbi Salas’ second year participating in the Global Day of Jewish Learning. In 2013, he led classes in the Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation in Trancoso, Portugal. The Center, which was opened in 2013, is backed by the Trancoso municipality and was designed to commemorate the countless Portuguese Jews who were persecuted, displaced or forcibly converted. The $1.5 million Cardoso Center includes a synagogue containing the first Sefer Torah to make its home in Trancoso in 500 years. (You can read our complete coverage here).

Both Global Days of Jewish Learning – in Trancoso and Belmonte – were sponsored by Shavei Israel. We have a few pictures below.

Rabbi Salas (center) with Argentinian ambassador to Portugal (right)

Rabbi Salas (center) with Argentinian ambassador to Portugal (right)

Also in December: Rabbi Salas hosted the Argentinean ambassador to Portugal, who visited Belmonte to get to know the community there, before continuing on with Rabbi Salas to Lisbon.

We have a picture of Rabbi Salas and Ambassador Jorge Martin Arturo Arguello here.

Shavei Israel’s Hanukah round up 2014

Update from Sicily and southern Italy: 40 Bnei Anousim participate in Shabbaton

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Shavei Israel publishes Shabbat guide in Italian

Shavei Israel opens its first Internet radio station – in Portuguese

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Pictures from candle-lighting in Palermo’s infamous Steri prison

Historic Hanukkah Ceremony at Inquisition Prison

Shavei Israel Hanukah activities in Europe, South America and India

New Shavei Israel emissaries to Poland and South America

Shavei Israel publishes new Hanukah guide in Spanish and Russian

Majorca’s master chef returns to the Jewish people

Shavei Israel to light Hanukah candles in infamous Inquisition prison

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Portuguese town gets first Torah in 500 years

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Bnei Anousim couple return to Judiasm, re-marry in Jewish ceremony

Yeshiva for Bnei Anousim in Colombia launched

Shavei Israel helps organize Shabbaton for more than 100 Colombian Bnei Anousim in Bogota

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All-Italy Jewish seminar invites Bnei Anousim for first time

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Update: First Passover Seder on Portuguese island of Madeira

Shavei Israel sponsors first public Passover Seder in centuries on Portuguese island of Madeira

Shavei Israel visits Bnei Anousim in Chile

Shavei Israel sponsors weekend seminar in southern Italy; appoints new rabbi to work with Bnei Anousim

Shavei Israel launches interactive virtual course in Spanish

First Jewish cultural center in Portugal in more than 500 years to open; Shavei Israel to administer programming

[Washington Post] From Colombian evangelicals to Jews in region with a hidden Jewish past

Justice at last: the “Portuguese Dreyfus” is posthumously reinstated

Justice at Last for “Portugese Dreyfus”, Artur de Barros Basto

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Tiny Portuguese village inaugurates state-of-the-art new Jewish Center and synagogue

Was Columbus secretly a Jew?

Shavei Israel publishes new prayer book in Portuguese

Michael Freund interview on the Aaron Klein show on WABC

Shavei Israel launches new Spanish-language website for Bnei Anousim

Special Chueta recipe: Mallorcan Passover almond torte

Shavei Israel holds seminar for remote Brazilian community of Bnei Anousim

Closing the circle in Mallorca

Michael Freund returns to the 92Y for a conversation with Chueta Regina Forteza

Jews of Majorca reconnect with their roots

Michael Freund to speak at Hong Kong JCC

Shavei Israel visits Portugal – report and pictures

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The Everlasting Light: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin visits Belmonte, Portugal

Shavei Israel sending books to Palma de Mallorca for six Chuetas hoping to formally return to Judaism soon

Clinging to Judaism

Time to rehabilitate Portugal’s Dreyfus

A special seminar in Palma de Mallorca for Spain’s Bnei Anousim and Chuetas

Fundamentally Freund – Jewish life in Sicily reborn

First of its kind seminar for Marranos in Siciliy

Chuetas from Spanish Island of Majorca Recognized as Jewish

‘Lost tribe’ of Mallorca Jews welcomed back to the faith 600 years later

Six centuries after their forcible conversion, a leading Israeli rabbi rules that the Chuetas of Mallorca are Jews

Chuetas of Majorca recognized as Jewish

Majorcan Descendants of Spanish Jews Who Converted Are Recognized as Jews

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An historic condemnation of the Inquisition in Palma de Mallorca

Apologizing for the Inquisition

For first time, Spain’s Balearic Islands officially condemn persecution and forced conversion of Chuetas

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The Renaissance of the B’nai Anousim (Crypto-Jews)

A special Yom Kippur Mahzor has been released

New emissary to the ‘crypto-Jew’s in Portugal

Rabbi Elisha Salas to be Emissary to Portugal’s Crypto-Jews

New emissary to crypto-Jews of Portugal named

First ex-Marrano Israeli rabbi returns to Spain as emissary

One Nation, Many Faces

בן לקהילת האנוסים חוזר לספרד לשמש כרב הקהילה

A 500-year journey back to Judaism

Just call him Chaim Columbus

Secret no more

‘Lost’ Jews in Spain find Israel advocacy

Israel enlisting Marranos in PR effort

Iberian anusim make first kosher cheese

Uncovering Portugal’s Hidden Jewish Past

Brazil: Jews to celebrate Rosh Hashana with new prayer book

A delegation of 16 בני אנוסים, commonly referred to as Marranos by historians, visited Israel this week

Descendants of Marranos arrive in Israel

Exhibit on Crypto-Jews Tours Brazil

A Latin Love for Israel

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Marranos come home

Bnai Anousim Visit Israel on Solidarity Mission

Iberian Jews Return to their Roots

Young Brazilian Anousim Visit Israel on Birthright

Exhibition on Crypto-Jews Opens in Tiberias

Spanish & Portuguese Crypto-Jews Gather for Barcelona Seminar

First Outreach Center for Brazilian Anousim Opens

After Five Centuries, Bnai Anousim Visit Israel

Jewish community emerges from hiding in Portugal after 500 years

Hidden Heritage

Reaching Out to Portugal’s Crypto-Jews

Brazil’s Anousim Get a Rabbi

Spain’s Crypto-Jews Seeking to Return

Build A Monument to the Inquisition

The First Kohen in 500 Years

Majorca’s Lost Jews Search for their Roots

The 500-Year Round Trip

A Synopsis of the History of the Jews in Portugal

Portugal´s President: ´I am proud of my Jewish ancestry´