Shavei Israel’s Jewish Roots book breaks records

Do you have Jewish roots eBook coverWhen Shavei Israel announced the publication last week of its new book in Spanish, Do You Have Jewish Roots?, we expected a few hundred people to request a free download of the eBook version. But within 48 hours, so many people had clicked to receive their copy that the special website we set up had crashed.

The total number of requests topped 5,000, the maximum capacity for the website, explains Estee Dahan from the J. Media Group, which is managing the download system for Shavei Israel. Needless to say, “we were extremely surprised by such incredible results,” Dahan says. J. Media Group has run many similar campaigns and never hit the limit with any other client. Fortunately, the problem was detected quickly, and the site was up and running a few hours later. The requests continue to stream in and will shortly pass the 10,000 mark.

Shavei Israel’s Tzivia Kusminsky, who heads up our Bnei Anousim department and spearheaded production of the book, says she is “shocked by how many people search for information about their roots every day on the Internet. It’s incredible! I knew that there were a lot of people, but I never thought it was so many.”

Kusminsky is referring to the fact that most of the 5,000+ downloads came from people who saw a Google Ad that Shavei Israel placed using keywords such as “searching for Jewish roots.” That means that these were people already searching for information in general about a possible Jewish heritage, not people who have an existing connection with Shavei Israel.

Even more surprising: half the people who downloaded the book are from Brazil, even though the book is currently only in Spanish. A Portuguese translation is in the final stages of production, as is an English version. Italian will follow in a second stage.

The 109-page book is the first-ever practical guide to discovering one’s Jewish heritage. Its nine chapters cover all the major questions someone at the beginning of their Jewish discovery might have – from how to conduct a genealogical search to information on “hidden” Jewish customs. Inspirational personal stories are sprinkled throughout the text and an appendix includes a section from Genie Milgrom who documented her own Jewish roots search in the book How I Found my 15 Grandmothers: A Step by Step Guide.

Do You Have Jewish Roots? was written by Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund and Shavei’s educational director Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, with help from Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham, Shavei Israel’s emissary to Spain, and Kusminsky. It is aimed at Bnei Anousim communities in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America. In addition to the free eBook version, one thousand printed copies are also being distributed by Shavei Israel’s emissaries and staff.

“We are very proud and happy to take part in such an inspiring campaign that helps others in seeking their Jewish identity,” J. Media Group’s Dahan says. Promotion of the book will be stepped up in the coming weeks with a dedicated website and YouTube video.

If you know someone who is interested in exploring their Jewish roots and speaks Spanish (or in the coming weeks Portuguese, English or Italian), please send them to this link where they can download their copy for free.

Shavei Israel publishes new book: “Do You Have Jewish Roots?”

Cover of book: Do you have Jewish roots?

Cover of book: Do you have Jewish roots?

Have you ever wondered if you might have Jewish roots? Is there a family tradition that seems unusual and that you don’t know where it comes from? Maybe your name is similar to other Jewish names from long ago?

Shavei Israel is here to help. We have just published our first ever, practical guide to discovering your Jewish heritage. The new 109-page book, available in both print and eBook versions, is called simply “Do You Have Jewish Roots?”

Its nine chapters cover all the major questions someone at the beginning of their Jewish discovery might have. There are discussions on how to conduct a genealogical search (including how to access records from the Spanish Inquisition when and if appropriate), which surnames are most commonly Jewish in different parts of the world (if you’re from Palma de Mallorca and your last name is Segura, there’s a good chance you have Jewish roots), plus information on “hidden” Jewish customs (such as candle lighting, mourning traditions, baking challah), organized by geography and history.

Personal stories are sprinkled throughout the text to provide inspiration and real world examples – if they could do it, so can you. There are questions to guide readers through their own process, and each chapter opens with a pasuk – an appropriate quotation from the Torah.

At the end of the book, we have included a section from Genie Milgrom, whose latest book, How I Found My 15 Grandmothers: A Step by Step Guide (available on, documents how Milgrom traced her own Jewish roots 15 generations back and proved that she was Jewish by birth. Milgrom is the president of the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami and lectures widely on Jewish genealogy. We wrote about Milgrom here.

The first version of Shavei’s new book is in Spanish and is aimed at Bnei Anousim in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries in Central America (El Salvador and Colombia) where there are large numbers of people interested in uncovering Jewish roots. But the examples in the book are applicable to Jewish seekers anywhere. The next two print runs will be published in Portuguese and Italian, addressing Bnei Anousim in those countries. A future edition is planned in English, as well.

The book was written by Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund and Shavei’s educational director Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, with help from Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham, Shavei Israel’s emissary to Spain, and Tzivia Kusminsky, the head of Shavei Israel’s Bnei Anousim and Hidden Jews of Poland department.

The book, which has been two years in the making, is available as an eBook online for free. Download your (Spanish) copy today. One thousand copies have been printed as well and are being distributed by Shavei Israel emissaries and staff. Some copies have already made their way to El Salvador where Michael Freund and Rabbi Birnbaum brought them to the community’s most recent Shabbaton.

If you think you might have Jewish roots, or you’re interested in following the remarkable resurgence of Jewish connection that Shavei Israel has been supporting from its inception, “Do You Have Jewish Roots?” is a must have addition for your Jewish bookshelf.

With Spanish Citizenship Now For Sephardic Jews, Israel Needs To Welcome Bnei Anousim

Bnei Anousim in Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Bnei Anousim in Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Somewhere deep in the netherworld, Spanish King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Isabella are most assuredly burning with rage. Over five centuries after the cruel monarchs expelled the country’s Jews in 1492, Spain has at last approved a law offering citizenship to their descendants, thereby extending a hand to the millions of people worldwide of Sephardic Jewish ancestry.

Israel needs to take note of this important and historic development, and it behooves the Jewish state to do likewise.

In a session held on June 11, the lower house of the Spanish parliament formally ratified the proposed bill, which is expected to pave the way for thousands of Sephardic Jews from South America to Turkey and beyond to submit applications for Spanish citizenship once it enters into force in October.

Even prior to the law’s passage, according to the Spanish daily El Pais, there was “a deluge of inquiries at Spain’s consulates” by Jews with regard to the possibility of obtaining a Spanish passport.

The move by Madrid comes after neighboring Portugal, which forcibly converted and expelled its Jews in 1497, passed a similar law earlier this year.

Of course, what makes this development so decidedly ironic is that the Expulsion happened in part because Spain wanted the Jews’ assets, and now they are welcoming Jews back for the same reason.

Nonetheless, regardless of their motivations, the governments in Madrid and Lisbon are to be commended for the gesture. These are momentous moves, signifying that tangible steps are at last being taken to address the injustices that were perpetrated on Iberian Jewry in the 15th century.

Coming at a time of rising anti-Semitism across Europe, it is refreshing to see European states making an effort to welcome Jews so openly.

This will hopefully send a strong signal to other countries on the continent, and underline how Europe’s historical connection with the Jewish people truly does stretch back over the centuries.

Needless to say, this is hardly the first time in recorded history that a European nation has banished its Jews only to readmit them at a later date.

Under King Edward I, English Jewry was expelled on July 18, 1290, (Tisha B’Av on the Hebrew calendar), and they were officially allowed to return in 1656 under Oliver Cromwell.

In the early 14th century, over the course of less than two decades, France expelled its Jews, readmitted them and expelled them once again.

It took Spain centuries longer to void the Edict of Expulsion, which was formally rescinded on December 16, 1968, or 476 years later. Despite this, Spain has in fact done little until now to come to terms with its Jewish past.

The Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, its contributions to Spanish art, civilization and culture, are all largely overlooked in the Spanish educational system, as is the 1492 expulsion and the Inquisition’s brutal efforts to hunt down crypto-Jews. And Jewish synagogues and structures, as well as religious artifacts that were confiscated after the Jews were forced out, have yet to be returned to Jewish ownership.

Instead, in recent years, Spain has focused its efforts primarily in the direction of tourism and commerce, such as encouraging the creation of a network of “Juderias,” or Jewish quarters, throughout the country to appeal to Jewish tourists.

There is no doubt that an economic rationale also lies behind the new law on citizenship.

Spain has suffered enormously since the global financial crisis hit in 2008. Its current unemployment rate is over 22 percent, and a growing number of young people are emigrating from the country.

The prospect of forging anew a link with potentially millions of people of Sephardi ancestry, and the possible windfall that might ensue as a result of increased investment and tourism, was surely not lost on the decision-makers in Madrid when considering the citizenship bill.

In the wake of the Spanish decision, the Israeli government needs to embark on a new strategic approach and reach out to Bnei Anousim, the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were compelled to convert to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries.

At great risk to themselves and their families, many of the Bnei Anousim continued to practice Judaism covertly despite the Inquisition, carefully passing down their hidden identity from one generation to the next. Their descendants can be found in every corner of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world, and their numbers are estimated to be in the millions.

At Shavei Israel, the organization I chair, we have seen a huge increase in recent years in the number of Bnei Anousim looking to reaffirm or reclaim their Jewish identity, in places as far afield as northern Portugal, Chile, El Salvador, Sicily and Colombia.

The Bnei Anousim are our brethren and, through no fault of their own, their ancestors were torn away from us under duress. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to strengthen the bonds between us and bring back to the Jewish people as many of them as possible.

Steps should be taken to address the myriad bureaucratic and religious issues that stand in their way so that the door of return for the Bnei Anousim can finally swing open.

After all, if Spain, which cast their ancestors out, is seeking ways to reconcile with the descendants of Iberian Jewry, then isn’t it time for Israel to do the same?

This oped piece appeared originally in The Jewish Week.

Journalists turn to Shavei Israel for background on Spanish law

El Salvador Shabbaton unites Bnei Anousim communities

El Salvador Jew: “I am proud to be a part of the people of Israel”

Retracing Old Footsteps: Genie Milgrom

In search of lost Jews: Iberian Peninsula gives up its secrets

Bnei Anousim women bring Seder Amenim to Colombia

El Salvador to hold weekend Shabbaton with special guests Michael Freund and Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum

First in line for Portuguese citizenship: Jewish dreamers and fortune seekers

Belmonte Portugal welcomes new Hebrew teacher

Under the Radar, Shavei Israel Has Brought Back Thousands

From Sicily to Naples, Italian Crypto-Jews are Returning

Costumes and Cookies: Shavei Israel celebrates Purim around the world

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

Shavei Israel communities celebrate Tu B’Shvat 2015 around the world

Portugal offers dual citizenship to Bnei Anousim; time for Israel to make similar overtures

Shavei Israel marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Italy

Bnei Anousim mark Global Judaism Day in Portugal

Shavei Israel’s Hanukah round up 2014

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

Celebrating comings and goings in El Salvador

Happy Sukkot from Shavei Israel: is the biggest etrog in El Salvador?

Shavei Israel publishes Shabbat guide in Italian

Shavei Israel opens its first Internet radio station – in Portuguese

Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund wins “Lion of Zion” award

A chocolate Seder? Pesach activities for Bnei Anousim and “Hidden Jews” of Poland

El Salvador hosts star-studded “congress” for Bnei Anousim

Shavei Israel publishes new Purim booklet in Spanish

A new Torah for Cartagena, Colombia

From expulsion to expediency: Spain, the Jews and Israel

Modern day Exodus: the remarkable story of El Salvador’s Bnei Anousim community

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

Seminar for Chuetas takes place in Palma de Mallorca

Seminar for Italian Jews and Bnei Anousim in Israel

When in Rome, do as Jews do

Dozens attend panel on Chuetas in Palma de Mallorca

Grazia’s Mediterranean Lasagna

VIDEO: Gila and Ariel Arditi get married

Shavei Israel appoints new Latin American emissaries

Portuguese town gets first Torah in 500 years

A visit to the Belmonte Jewish community in Portugal

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

100 issues of “Roots”

All-Italy Jewish seminar invites Bnei Anousim for first time

Shavei Israel and WebYeshiva launch new online interactive classes

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

Ancient “kina” for Tisha B’Av discovered

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

Connecting with “Lost Jews” Throughout the World

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

Fundamentally Freund:The death of an Italian marrano

This Shavuot, you can help three brave women rejoin the Jewish people

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

In Majorca, Atoning for the Sins of 1691

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

In Toledo on Seder night, Antonio Lopez will mark Pessah alone, just as his ancestors did for centuries

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´