|December 4, 2010
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Regarding the Anousim in Portugal
By Rabbi Jules Harlow
Since 2005, my wife Navah and I have been meeting with and teaching a group of people in Lisbon, Portugal, for whom this phrase has deep meaning. Most of them are Conversos, descendants of Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity over 500 years ago. They are studying with us as part of their preparation to appear before the Masorti Beit Din in London, for halakhic conversion.
The Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs has been a participant in this adventure by providing some of them with tefillin. One of the recipients of “this wonderful gift” expressed his gratitude in this way, articulating his appreciation of being on his way to becoming part of am yisrael, something that most of us usually take for granted, as we often take for granted the gift of our sacred tradition:
“513 years after the forced conversions, persecution and terror of the Inquisition that lasted in Portugal for 300 years and resulted in a cultural genocide unprecedented in the Jewish and New Christian era, here's what I felt about receiving this gift at this very time that we're approaching Passover ---- a personal liberation, equal to that of the Hebrews in Egypt, I was released from chains that historically tied my ancestors to a hidden underground, many of them ignorant of tradition.
“Rabbi Jules and Navah have been our guides and “spiritual parents" to open up the path to the teachings of Judaism, illustrated with practical examples, including Mitzvot shebein adam LaMakom and Mitzvot shebein adam LehaverÛ. Jewish tradition teaches us values. It is the lighthouse that shows us how to become better human beings, and shows us the future of our lives. And in my particular case, I feel a greater responsibility now in this journey that I have begun with my classmates.
“Your gift of tefillin is fraught with meaning, not only because it reveals an enormous capacity "to love," but it also indicates "receive, transmit, learn and honor" an ancient heritage of more than three thousand years. This gift helps me to reaffirm my dedication on my way up to becoming part of the people Israel.”
With these words, our gifted student has become our teacher as well, emphasizing that we should not take for granted the values and the practices of our tradition.
The following words are excerpted from a statement made by a woman who is a member of Lisbon's Kehillat Beit Yisrael on the occasion of her conversion by the Masorti Beit Din in London.
“We are entering the month of Nissan, the month of freedom for the Jewish people. For us here today, this month is also a symbol of our personal freedom. We are finally freed from our anguish of thinking we would never make our return to Judaism.
“Of the seven who have just been before the Beit Din, five are anousim (Crypto Jews). For the anousim, or Marranos (and for me this word has no offensive meaning; in fact I am even proud to be a descendant of mar+anous, one of the “bitterly forced,” it is the end of the journey in which we managed to preserve our faith for over 500 years. It is our passage to a new life.”)
What does the future hold for this Masorti Kehillah in Lisbon? We are cautiously optimistic. Recognizing the fact that there are only 300 registered Jews in the capital city of Lisbon, we know that we will not grow by leaps and bounds. What we do know is that each time we return to Lisbon there are new faces at the table in our Beit Midrash. These are individuals including, most recently, a film director, a dentist, and a doctoral candidate in philosophy, who have found us through the Web Site maintained by our Kehillah, because they are “seeking their brothers,” seeking to return to their heritage, to become part of Jewish tradition. We approach this work on the basis of one individual at a time, and are cognizant of the enormous zekhut (privilege) that is ours to be participating in this moment of history.
This week's commentary was written by Rabbi Jules Harlow.
Rabbi Jules Harlow, together with his wife, Navah, has played a paramount role in the cause of the Bnei Anusim (descendents of crypto-Jews) in Lisbon, Portugal. Thanks to the Harlows' assistance in cooperation with Masorti Olami, the Bnei Anusim of Lisbon have been able to return to the Jewish faith, and a new congregation (Kehilat Beit Israel) has been founded in Lisbon, namely the first non-orthodox synagogue in the history of Portugal.
Rabbi Harlow was the editor in the groundbreaking Siddur Sim Shalom in 1985. Siddur Sim Shalom became the prototype for an entire family of later Conservative siddurim, including Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Yom Tov, Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays and Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom.
The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.
This week, 71 Masorti congregations around the globe have registered for the World Wide Wrap including congregations in Chile, Australia, Germany, India and Sweden. If you, dear reader, are a member of a Masorti/Conservative congregation make certain that your congreation participates and is registered. Last year fifty sets of tefillin were donated by participating congregations and distributed to Masorti congregations in Europe, Latin America, the FSU and Israel. We encourage you to assist us in the great mitzvah.
In a recent issue (maybe several) of the Unraveller, it concluded with, "Send us your Sefer Haftarah visit photos!" ŬIt didn't say where or to whom they should be sent, so I'm hoping you're the right guy.
This is not a recent photo, but it might be worth publishing. Framed in front of Temple Shaare Tefilah's (Norwood, MA) ark, it shows then-President Bob Braitman holding a Torah (with Shelly's cover) and then-NE Region President-elect Steve Baturin holding the FJMC Sefer Haftorah. ŬIt should be noted that the Torah that Bob Braitman is holding has since (earlier this year) been donated (without that cover, of course!) by Temple Shaare Tefilah to the Masorti congregation in Alicante, Spain.
This photo, from June, 2007, was taken weeks before Bob Braitman concluded his term as FJMC International President, and weeks before Steve Baturin began his two years as NE Region FJMC President.