One organization in Israel is on a mission to identify millions of Crypto-Jews living around the world and help reconnect them to their Jewish heritage.
Shavei Israel, an Israel-based organization that boasts the largest outreach towards Crypo-Jews in the world, recently launched a 109-page Portugese language e-book titled “Você tem raízes judaicas?” (Do You Have Jewish Roots?).
Distributed free of charge, the e-book is a practical guide intended to assist millions of people of Iberian ancestry who may be descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted in Spain and Portugal by the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisition in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Shavei Israel’s latest initiative follows the release of the organization’s Spanish edition of the e-book, which was published in August. The e-book quickly went viral, with over 10,000 downloads in the first week alone.
Michael Freund, founder and director of Shavei Israel, collaborated on the e-book with the organization’s educational director, Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum. Paper copies are being distributed by Shavei Israel emissaries and staff around the world.
“Our mission is to support anyone who is in search of their Jewish ancestry and we are thrilled with the outpouring of interest, especially at a time when we are witnessing a resurgence in European anti-Semitism,” said Freund.
Historically, Crypto-Jews, known as Bnei Anousim in Hebrew, were often mistakenly referred to as Marranos, which is a derogatory expression meaning pig. Many Bnei Anousim continued to observe Jewish customs and laws in secrecy, and often entire communities were made up of hidden Jews.
Genetic and DNA studies have determined that 20 percent of men in the Iberian Peninsula have Jewish genetic ancestry, and in Brazil alone there are an estimated 5-10 million people descend from this background. Returning the Bnei Anousim to Judaism could potentially double the number of Jews in the world.
Freund feels strongly that the Bnei Anousim add a unique and powerful chapter to the story of the Jewish people. “The history of the Jewish people has involved perseverance in the face of persecution over centuries,” he explained. “There are millions of non-Jews with Jewish ancestry. In many cases, their ancestors were torn away from us against their will, yet they bravely sought to preserve a connection to the Jewish people. We owe it to them and to their ancestors to re-engage them and strengthen their bond with our people.”
This particularly sad chapter in Jewish history has generated a worldwide reaction recently. Spain and Portugal have begun to correct this historic injustice by offering citizenship to the descendants of Jews who were expelled during the Inquisition. In Israel, the government has organized a massive effort to reconnect with their lost brethren.
On November 30, at an official ceremony in Madrid’s Royal Palace, Spain’s King Felipe VI addressed Jewish guests whose ancestors had been expelled from Spain during the Inquisition 522 years ago.
“How we’ve missed you…I want to tell you today that you’ve come back home – your own home forever,” the king said. “Dear Sephardim (Jews of Spanish descent), thank you for your loyalty. Thank you for having kept like a precious treasure your language and your customs. They are ours too. Thank you too for making love prevail over rancor and for teaching your children to love this country.”