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Director Report 14-15
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Helping Puerto Rican Anusim

Casa Shalom assists Puerto Rican Anusim family

On January 27, 2005, when Casa Shalom was still in Gan Yavne, I received urgent calls from a family of husband, wife and four young children in Jerusalem. They had seen our website and were earnestly praying that we, as a last resort, could help them. I suggested that they come down to Casa Shalom that day, and when they arrived they told me this story.

Six years previously they had discovered that both the husband and wife were 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 their lives as practicing Jews. Certainly no easy matter up in the rural heartlands of Puerto Rico, where they farmed land.

Nevertheless, they had kosher food sent to them from Florida, and for the next four years lead an exceptionally Orthodox, although very isolated, Jewish life. Whilst their respective families did not discourage them in their new longings and lifestyle, 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 everything, leave their families, and settle 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 based 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 sadly, Israel has lost many olim because of it.

But, our little family were not deterred by the indifference of the Jewish Agency office, and independently arrived in Israel on a three month tourist visa, 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. By the time they had contacted Casa Shalom, they were already some months overdue for departure and, horrifyingly, within hours of being deported from Israel.

 

This family's situation, I am happy to say, had a different ending than most, thanks to Casa Shalom's constant representations on their behalf to the Jewish Agency. We supplied the sorely needed remedy—educating the Agency's representatives (Shalichim) on the unique background(s) and history pertaining to these applicants, plus the sources for obtaining the necessary information so that such applications can go forward. To do this, research must be done in genealogy and family customs, which in these past years has yielded amazing results for the Casa Shalom data base.

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 Anusim (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 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 these applicants'  family genealogies.  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. The rapport amongst our world-wide Casa Shalom family is wonderful, and 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, 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 mikvah, something so important that we felt the rabbis could not ignore it.

Finally our numerous applications bore some fruit, and one year later, on January 4, 2006, this lovely little family was summoned to appear before the Chief Rabbinate Court in Jerusalem. They, Isaac Mamouz and myself and a few friends 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 were also asked about their lifestyle and history. Our only request was that the family should be permitted to stay in Israel and be allowed to attend conversion classes. After about an hour of questioning, we were all asked to retire from the courtroom whilst the sages deliberated on the case.

When we eventually were called back, we were informed that based on our evidence, the rabbis had reached the conclusion that without any doubt that this family was already Jews and therefore no conversion ceremony was necessary. All they demanded was a token ceremony be arranged for mikvah and circumcision. The rabbis' final act that day was to call the children to the stand, where each in turn was asked to recite the Shema. The last child, being the only daughter, three-year- old Hannah, delighted everybody by singing it in such a beautiful way that it brought tears to the eyes of us all.

A few weeks later, the fourteen-year-old eldest son, who was already attending yeshiva, had his bar mitzvah. This was followed shortly after by the re-marriage of the parents, this time under the chuppah. I was most honoured to be asked to stand there as the traditional sponsor.

This family's saga is an exemplar of Casa Shalom's unceasing work to assist the descendents of secret Jews to recover their heritage. I ask you to show your support of our endeavors by becoming a member of Casa Shalom, and sharing in this mitzvah.

Gloria Mound
Executive Director
 
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