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Helping a Puerto Rican family

The day after the new Casa Shalom Library was opened, January 27th. 2005,  I received  from Jerusalem  calls from a family of husband, wife and four young children who were in an Emergency situation. They had seen our web-site and were earnestly praying that we, as a last resort, could help them. I suggested that they came down to Casa Shalom that day and when they arrived they told me this story.

Six years previously they had  suddenly discovered that they were both of Jewish lineage. The wife had been born in Cuba, but at the start of the Castro Revolution the family had departed for Puerto Rico. The husband's  family, who likewise were conscious of their Spanish origins, had a long history of living in Puerto Rico. Upon discovering their Jewish Heritage they made the resolution to henceforth live a practicing Jewish life. Certainly no easy matter, up in the rural heartlands of  Puerto Rico where they farmed land. Nevertheless they sent to Florida for Kosher food and lead for the next four years an exceptionally Orthodox Jewish life, which was nevertheless  very isolated. Whilst their respective families did not discourage them in their new longings and life style , neither did they encourage them .

The family then decided that they wished to come on holiday to Israel. After  ten very happy days vacation, they decided to return  home, sell up everything, leave their families  and come permanently to live in  Eretz Israel.

They went to their  nearest Aliyah office, in Miami  Florida, but as is so often the case in these matters, this  administration had no idea how to handle applications from Marranos - Anusim, without papers who kept to a lifestyle purely on the Oral traditions of their elders and what they had read. This is a sorry situation that Casa Shalom has for years be-moaned and  has sadly lost Israel  many Olim.

I am happy to say that this situation is about to alter, thanks to Casa Shalom's constant representations on this issue  to the Jewish Agency. The sorely needed remedy by educating, with our advice, the Agency's representatives  (Shalichim) abroad ,on  the  unique background(s) and history appertaining, and how  to handle these  applicants, plus  the sources  for obtaining the necessary information so that such applications can go forward. To do this ,searches have to be made in Genealogy and family customs, ways forward that in this past years yielded amazing results from the Casa Shalom Data Base.

But, our little family were not deterred by the indifference of the Jewish Agency office and independently arrived in Israel on a three months Tourist Visas, but intending to stay.  They were perfectly willing to undergo a Conversion procedure, but having arrived on Tourist tickets, nobody would assist  them to gain the recognition that they so desperately sought . At the time of contacting Casa Shalom they were already some months overdue for departure and  horrifyingly within hours of Deportation.

Upon hearing their story we immediately contacted one of our Members, Isaac Mamouz, an Attorney, who at that time was just beginning to familiarize  himself with the plight of Annusim, a cause which since he has taken up with gusto and is now the Institute's Honorary Lawyer.  Isaac  quickly obtained  the family a stay of  the Deportation  Order and set to work with the Casa Shalom office to present their case .

We wrote to all our members who had any connections with Puerto Rico or Cuba to ask what was  known within their families about the Jewishness of this aplicants  family's Genealogy.  As previously mentioned, whilst their respective families did not discourage them in their new longings and life style, neither had they encouraged them, but now  a  much stronger quizzing went on to each of them about every scrap of Jewish customs any of them remembered from their parents and grandparents. Such is the wonderful rapport amongst our big world-wide Casa Shalom family, we  in the office were amazed at the wealth of information that came forward both from practicing and non-practicing Jews. 

Slowly and surely from books, archives and family memories etc. a picture emerged . All the details were  carefully collated and written down. For example, the wife's mother decided to visit  Israel and see her grandchildren. She only then divulged that her own Mother had kept the Jewish Laws of Family purity and Mikva, something, so important that we felt the Rabbis could not ignore.

Finally our numerous applications bore some fruit and one year later, on January 4th 2006 this lovely little family, were summoned to appear before the Chief Rabbinate Court in Jerusalem. Together  with Isaac Mamouz and myself and a few friends, we waited a very long morning for our case to be heard which was the last on the List. We were shown into a room where three of the highest Rabbis in the Land presided, assisted by their Clerk, were in Session. We presented our evidence and were closely quizzed by the Rabbis. Both the parents being also asked about their lifestylye and  history. Our only pleas were that the family should be permitted to stay on in Israel and to be allowed to attend Conversion classes. After about one hour of such questioning we were all asked to retire from the Court Room whilst the Sages deliberated on the case. Eventually we were called back and informed as follows:

The Rabbis had reached the conclusion that our evidence had showed without any doubt that this family were in their joint findings already Jews and therefore in their learned opinion no Conversion Ceremony was necessary. All they demanded was a token ceremony be arranged for Mikva and Circumcision. The Rabbis final act that day was to call the children to the stand and each were in turn asked to recite the Shema. The last child, being the only  daughter, three year old Hannah, who delighted everybody by singing it in such a beautiful way that everybody had tears in their eyes.

A few weeks later the fourteen year old eldest son who was already  attending Yeshiva had his Barmitzvah. This was followed shortly after by the re-marriage of the Parents, this time under  the Chupah and I was most honoured to be asked to stand there as the traditional  Sponsor.

Today this  very happy family after living the year in Jerusalem, are getting ready to live and farm in the Negev, where their exceptional previous  Agricultural knowledge will enhance the  Israeli Government's longtime aims to make the Desert Bloom Again, something  they are certainly more than capable of.

Gloria Mound

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