In a historic first, the Israeli government is moving forward with a plan to reconnect with tens of millions of people that apparently have Jewish ancestry. Such a project may not only drastically change the demographics of Israel but also bring about a prophecy in Obadiah suggesting that these people will fill up the Negev region in southern Israel, paving the way for the Messiah.
A committee appointed by Israel’s Diaspora Affairs ministry submitted a report on Sunday that said there are approximately 60 million people around the world with an unrecognized affinity to Judaism or Israel. The committee found that among them are communities that could be brought to Israel and converted to Judaism. The committee’s recommendations call for reaching out to these communities and introducing them to content related to Israel and Judaism.
“It is absolutely groundbreaking and will be a game changer for Israel,” Ashley Perry (Perez) told Breaking Israel News. “This is the first time the Israeli government is looking beyond the established Jewish world and towards those who are descended from Jewish communities that were forcibly converted or otherwise converted.”
Perry is President of Reconnectar, an organization that enables every person with Jewish ancestry to reconnect in any way they see fit. He heads the governmental caucus for the descendants of Jews of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities and was consulted by the new government committee as they prepared their report.
“Zionism was the most important social movement of the 20th century as the ingathering of the exiled Jews, but its next stage is to reach out to the descendants of the Jews who were forcibly converted,” Perry added.
Most of these people are descendants of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) referred to as “anousim (forced)” who were forcibly converted during the Spanish Inquisition.
“Almost every Jew today has an ancestor who was forcibly converted,” Perry noted. “The vast majority of the Jews lived in Spain and Portugal during the era of the Inquisitions, but even for those who didn’t, almost every country in the world at one point forcibly converted the Jews.”
“These people originally numbered in the hundreds of thousands,” he continued. “Their ancestors now number in the tens of millions if not more.”
Perry said that there are well over 100 million descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities. Of those, 14 million in some way self-identify in some way with Judaism. From the surveys and research his organization has performed, Perry believes that there may be over one million of these people who are interested in making aliyah (immigration to Israel, literally ‘rising up’. If this is accurate, this conforms to a prophecy written in the Book of Obadiah.
And that exiled force of Israelites [shall possess] what belongs to the Phoenicians as far as Zarephath, while the Jerusalemite exile community of Sepharad (Spain) shall possess the towns of the Negev. Obadiah 1:19
This prophecy was echoed by Rabbi Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel, a Portuguese Bible commentator and financier who personally experienced the Spanish Inquisition when he was expelled from Spain in 1492. In his book Maayanei Ha’Yeshua (the wellsprings of redemption), a commentary on the Book of Daniel, Rabbi Abrabarbanel stated that the Inquisition was the onset of hevlei ha’ mashiach (birth pangs of messiah). He wrote that when these Jews returned to Israel, it would be a sign that the Messiah’s arrival was imminent.
Perry emphasized that Reconnectar is not an organization focused on conversion as Jewish identity is one of peoplehood and not religion.
“We do not impose ourselves on how people choose to reconnect,” Perry said. “Judaism is returning to its natural status as a national identity. It was never a religion or faith. In the Bible and onward, Jews were referred to as a people.”
Many of the people who discover their ancestral roots elect not to rejoin their ancestral Jewish community. Yaffa Batya Da Costa, a descendant of forcibly converted Jews who founded Ezra L’Anousim (help to the forcibly converted), as an organization to provide education and aid for those “anousim” who do actually want to return to the Jewish people and begin practicing Judaism.
“Until recently, the only way for a descendant of Anousim to become Jewish was to do a full conversion. Now, Jews who provide evidences that their maternal ancestors were Jewish do not have to convert,” Da Costa told Breaking Israel News. “There is a process of return for the bnei anousim that allows them to rejoin the Jewish people and is not a conversion.”
Da Costa felt a personal objection to converting “anousim.” She underwent giyur l’chumra, a ceremony that is strictly symbolic, also called return.
“It is a symbolic or ceremonial conversion,” Da Costa said. “It is not, strictly speaking, the conversion of a Gentile. There is no change in the person’s status because the Rabbinic court has already accepted them as Jewish, based on the evidences they brought of their maternal Jewish ancestry. The person does not recite the blessing of a convert.”
“The Spanish forcibly converted my ancestors,” Da Costa said. “It is doubly wrong to force me to convert again.”
As the government becomes aware of the scale of this worldwide phenomenon of people discovering their ancestral Jewish roots, more organizations and methods are being developed to connect with people who have Jewish ancestry. The new project will not just affect Israel and the Jews. Perry noted that other countries will be affected by this new attachment to Israel experienced by their citizens. He noted that a significant percentage of Latino Americans are descended from anousim. Latinos are the fastest growing minority and fastest growing political class in America.
Perry said that this effort must come from the Jewish community and Israel.
“From their side of the ledger, many of these people are already seeking this connection with Israel,” Perry said. “From our side of the ledger, we are only now waking up and reaching out.”