This week I received an article "Coming Home after 500 Years" (by Dr. Yvette
Alt Miller, Ami Magazine, 15 Cheshvan 5780/November 13, 2019). It bears on
The first few paragraphs of the article are available online but no more
without a subscription.
It describes the experience of a Cuban Catholic girl who felt drawn to
Judaism and underwent an Orthodox conversion.
She is now known as Genie MILGROM (married surname).
She was convinced she had a lost Jewish heritage and after an intense
15-year search she was so successful that she reports the beit din hagadol
in Israel ruled "there should never again be a question that I was born
Jewish. They said that all those who are descended >from me are Jews."
The article reports that the Inquisition "lasted >from 1478 until 1834 and
was enforced in all of Spain's colonies - the smallest Jewish practice could
result in a sentence of death."
The article further states that "historians estimate there are 50 million
people around the world who have roots in the Jewish community of Spain."
It was implied that this number consists of anusim who have been lost to
Anecdotally Ms. Milgrom's ancestral town is Fermoselle, a small town in
western Spain across a river >from Portugal.
In her search she found two mikvah baths in the town and the remains of an
ancient synagogue just outside the town. On the wall of the town's 15th
century church was a small inscription containing a cross with 12 balls at
its foot, a menorah, a sword, and the tetragrammaton in Hebrew.
Despite this she could only trace to a 16th century Catholic heritage in
On a hunch she looked across the river in Portugal and immediately found
numerous records of Jewish relatives including Inquisition victims who had
been brought up on charges with some relatives killed.
"Perhaps most moving" was learning about a grassy field outside Fermoselle
that residents called El Humilladero, "the humiliator". It was said to be a
place where animals used to be slaughtered, but that does not explain the
name. There is an annual ritual connected to the place in which residents
of Mogadouro, Portugal, across the river come and lay stones on the field.
"'My blood froze,' Genie recalls. Could this be a spot where Jews were
humiliated - tried by the Inquisition and burned at the stake?" Her feeling
rings true but it is hard to believe a quaint little village could have been
such a place of horror.
Ms. Milgrom documents unusual customs and accoutrements unique to her
Catholic family but not to others in their community:
1. Taking some dough when baking bread, wrapping it in foil, and placing it
the back of the oven to burn.
2. Checking eggs for blood spots and discarding any having them.
3. Checking vegetables carefully for bugs using a light.
4. Marrying cousins.
5. Rushing forward just before the moment a bride and groom were to be
married to pin white shawls to their shoulders.
6. A grandmother who was visibly upset at Genie's conversion. "'She kept
telling me it was dangerous to be a Jew.'"
7. Two items bequeathed to Genie by her grandmother after the latter's death
and without explanation, a tiny gold earring with a Star of David in the
center and a hand-shaped hamsa "of the type believed by some Mizrachi Jews
to ward off the ayin hara".
Also documented were practices that could bring one before an Inquisition
1. Not eating pork.
2. Changing the sheets on a Friday.
3. Cleaning one's home on Friday.
4. Not cleaning house on Shabbat.
5. Wearing a clean shirt on Shabbat. [A variation I have heard is donning a
clean white shirt on Friday afternoon.]
It is appalling that simply being reported as doing any one of these five
things could warrant a death sentence.
This sort of religious terrorism could account for there being 50 million
persons around the globe who are lost to Judaism.