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

How did the communities that Shavei Israel supports celebrate Passover this year? Last week, we told you about the historic, first-ever community Pesach Seder being held in Kaifeng, China. Here’s a look at what’s happening with our emissaries in Poland, and with the Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal, Italy and South America.

Shavei emissary to Poland Rabbi Avi Baumol reviews new t-shirt for Krakow JCC

Shavei emissary to Poland Rabbi Avi Baumol reviews new t-shirt for Krakow JCC


Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis led a communal Seder for the Polish Jewish community in Katowice. Rabbi Avi Baumol did the same in Krakow at the JCC there. 120 people attended. Leading up to Pesach, Rabbi Baumol also held a number of “Pesach prep” events including one called “Ask the Rabbi about Pesach.” The dough may not have been rising, but the questions certainly did!

Over in Wroclaw, 150 people attended a community Seder. They certainly came prepared: in the week before the holiday, Rabbi Tyson Herberger ran a series of “model Seders” based on a “chocolate” theme: chocolate-covered wafers instead of matzah, bitter chocolate as maror (bitter herbs) and Nutella chocolate spread filling in as a substitute for charoset (which itself symbolizes the mortar the Israelite slaves used in their Egyptian building projects). Matzah was also distributed during the events, which were held in the towns of Zary and Walbrzych, and in two Jewish schools in Wroclaw.

Then, just prior to the holiday, on Saturday night, Polish Jews were invited to a melave malka with two Israeli emissaries in the area to learn the melodies used for the Seder, and then on Sunday night, to meet up in a local pub for one final “sip” of chametz in the form of a pre-Pesach beer.

A new Torah comes to Colombia

A new Torah comes to Colombia


Rabbi Shimon Yehoshua headed up a Seder for 80 Bnei Anousim in the city of Cali. Eighteen people from neighboring Ecuador joined the Seder, which took place in a hotel that Rabbi Yehoshua made kosher especially for the holiday.


There were two Seders in Portugal – one in Belmonte with Shavei Israel’s emissary Rabbi Elisha Salas, and another in Trancoso with Genie Milgrom, who we’ve written about here, as special guest. Before Shabbat, Migrom told her remarkable story of proving her Jewish roots and, on Sunday, led a hands-on genealogy workshop based on her methodology.


Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham’s students in the Spanish city of Granada held a community Seder at the home of Jose Manuel Romero Camarero. Eleven people attended – three families including four children. In Alicante, a group of 10 people made Seder together at the home of Yaakov Hernandez.


The students of Rabbi Pinchas Punturello held a community Seder in Palermo, Sicily. The Seder included four young Bnei Anousim who were in Israel recently – we’ll have a report on their trip in a coming issue.

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

Speakers at El Salvador congress

Speakers at El Salvador congress (including, from right, Eliyahu Franco, Rabbi Aboud, Miquel Segura)

It was a star-studded event – or at least one filled with honored guests and international emissaries. But no one could plan for the most surprising guest of honor: an infant born exactly 8 days before who celebrated his brit mila (ritual circumcision) amidst a congregation of new friends.

The occasion was a special “congress” held on Sunday, February 15, 2014, and organized by Beit Israel, the Bnei Anousim community in San Salvador. (We’ve written about Beit Israel previously.) The three-hour evening was an opportunity for Bnei Anousim from around El Salvador to mingle and meet, as well as a chance for the community to present a plaque of appreciation to the Israeli ambassador to El Salvador, Shmulik Bass, for making an introduction to Shavei Israel last year.

That introduction led to the appointment of a Shavei Israel’s first ever emissary to El Salvador, Rabbi Daniel Touitou; the establishment of a new mikveh in the capital city; and a series of events all meant to strengthen the Bnei Anousim community in the country, such as February’s congress.

Ambassador Bass wasn’t the only “star” in attendance. Miquel Segura, a well-known chueta from Palma de Mallorca, flew in from his home in Spain to share his inspirational tale of how he discovered his Jewish roots, spent 12 long years gathering information about his heritage, and then presented it to a beit din (Rabbinical court) which, in an extraordinary move, issued him a formal certificate of returning to the faith of his ancestors. (We’ve written about Segura previously.) His message to the Bnei Anousim of El Salvador: if I can do it, so can you.

Segura’s wife Margalit, who wasn’t born Jewish, converted last December in Israel. The two were then married in a ceremony attended by Shavei Israel staff in Jerusalem. Here are some pictures.

Also speaking at the congress was Rabbi Yitzhak Aboud from Mexico, who spent 10 days in El Salvador prior to the congress, visiting the 300 Bnei Anousim who live in several communities spread out in various parts of El Salvador. At the congress, he taught classes on Jewish Law, emuna (faith) and Mishnah.

Eliyahu Franco, president of the Beit Israel community and co-founder of FESOSAL (the Federation Sephardi Orthodox of El Salvador), writes that this was the first congress put on by the organization, but more are planned, including a weekend Shabbaton coming up later this year.

As for the brit mila, Franco writes “it was a very happy coincidence,” but one that gave participants the opportunity to join in a seudat mitzvah – the festive meal commanded after such a ceremony. It was especially joyous for Franco: he had the honor of being the Sandak (godfather) for the proud new parents.

Here are some pictures from the event:

And here are some pictures from the brit milah ceremony:

Shavei Israel publishes new Purim booklet in Spanish

Cover of the new Purim booklet in Spanish

Cover of the new Purim booklet in Spanish

Purim is coming and Shavei Israel has just published a new booklet on the holiday for Spanish-speaking Bnei Anousim.

The new guide is an updated version of one that Shavei produced in Polish last year. Distribution will be broad: Shavei Israel emissary Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham will give the booklet to his students in Spain, our representatives to the Bnei Anousim in El Salvador and Colombia will print their own copies for distribution, and students at Shavei Israel’s Machon Miriam Institute for Conversion and Return in Jerusalem will receive the guide as well. There is no charge for the booklet and an entirely “e-version” will be available for download from the web at no cost.

The new guide includes articles about the holiday and its laws written by Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, Shavei Israel’s Educational Director, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, Rabbi Ben-Avraham in Spain, and Tzivia Kusminsky, Shavei Israel’s Jerusalem-based coordinator for the Bnei Anousim.

The centerpiece of the booklet is the full Megilat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, that is read in synagogue during the holiday, translated into Spanish with a complete phonetic transliteration for those who don’t yet read Hebrew. The original Hebrew text also appears on facing pages.

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´