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Crypto-Jews: The Long Journey

Today, in the American Southwest and in parts of Latin America there is a movement to reclaim Jewish identity, and people are describing remnants of Jewish practice in their families. That has sparked interest in learning more about Sepharad, the Spain of the Jews, and the Diaspora of Spanish Jews and their cousins, the crypto-Jews.

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At one time Spain was the center of Jewish life in Europe. Most European Jews were Spanish Jews. The most important scholars and yeshivas were there. But, Spain turned against its Jews, who had been there for a 1,500 years or more, even before the Muslims and before the Christians. Medieval Catholicism snuffed out the light of the Jews, leaving only the flickering flames of Jews in hiding. Eventually even they left Spain for fear of their lives, and their descendants survived, still hiding, in remote colonies in the Americas.

For many in the United States, crypto-Judaism has been shrouded in memory, and for others it has become an imagined past that might have been, often with little information about the actual history or heritage. Today, in the American Southwest and in parts of Latin America there is a movement to reclaim Jewish identity, and people are describing remnants of Jewish practice in their families. That has sparked interest in learning more about Sepharad, the Spain of the Jews, and the Diaspora of Spanish Jews and their cousins, the crypto-Jews.

Myths have grown around the concept of Sepharad sometimes obscuring the realities of what it was. There was a “golden age” for Jews in Spain during the early Muslim period, but as the reconquest heated up and Christian rule replaced that of Muslims, the Jewish experience turned dark until the last light of the Jews was put out in Spain.

 

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