On Thursday, Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization, hosted a historic Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the infamous Palace of the Inquisition, bringing light to a building which, for centuries, symbolized darkness for the Jewish people.
The event, which was organized together with the Beit Moshe Jewish community in Mexico City, was all the more powerful due to the participation of Bnei Anousim, descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Iberian Inquisition that began at the end of the 15th century. Many of the Bnei Anousim continued to practice Judaism in secret through the generations.
Rabbi Michael Freund, the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, led the candle-lighting ceremony. Participants included Rabbi Yitzhak Abud of Mexico City, Moshe Rivera Reyes, President of the Beit Moshe community, and Aaron Francisco Javier Perez, a leader of the Beit Moshe community.
The Palace of the Inquisition was long a symbol of the Catholic Church’s control over the Spanish colony of Mexico, then known as New Spain. It housed the local branch of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, founded in Spain, which operated from 1571 to 1820 and is notorious for having persecuted hundreds of people for secretly practicing Judaism, many of whom were tortured and executed. The majority of the victims in Mexico were descendants of forcibly-converted Jews from Spain and Portugal who had fled those countries’ inquisitions.
The building later housed a university and now is home to a museum.
“Centuries after the Palace of the Inquisition was used in an attempt to snuff out the light of Israel, we came here to show that the flame of Judaism can never be extinguished,” Freund said. “For centuries, Jews were tortured by the zealots of the Inquisition, and many were burned at the stake for secretly practicing Judaism. Where the darkness of the Inquisition once ruled, the light of our Chanukah candles now prevails.”
Beginning with its establishment in 2010 with 70 members, Mexico City’s Beit Moshe community has reconnected with Judaism and Jewish tradition. It has a synagogue, a Torah scroll and a mikvah (ritual bath). Shavei Israel emissaries have serviced the community since 2018, providing guidance on issues relating to Jewish life and helping members recover their lost Jewish identity.