Monday, September 21, 2009

Crypto Jews & Yom Kippur

An article recently appeared in the Israeli newspaper “Ha’aretz” about the offspring of Portugal’s Crypto Jews and their burning desire to re-embrace Judaism. Since my late father was Austrian by birth but could trace our family’s roots back to the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion, the subject of Jews publicly claiming they are Christians but clandestinely practicing Judaism has always fascinated me. After reading the article I was prompted to find out if Crypto Jews have an unusual Yom Kippur custom. After all, they secretly light Sabbath candles in their bedroom. Instead of going to Church on Sunday they take their children out to parks and fields where they recount stories from the Bible. Maybe they have a different twist for Yom Kippur as well? Sure enough, they do. The women of Marrano families living in northern Portugal gather together and braid oil wicks while reciting 73 blessings. Mind you, this is not an original tradition. It is mentioned in the Shulhan Aruch, correlating to the fact that G-d has 73 different names. But do any of us practice it? Not at all. We use store-bought memorial candles and simply light them right before Yom Kippur sets in. Leave it to the Crypto Jews to continue this ancient custom.
Why am I bringing all of this up and what does it have to do with your classroom? The answer is simple: It’s detective time again. Your students don’t have to cross the Atlantic to find Crypto Jews. There are Crypto Jews in Texas and New Mexico, and perhaps other states. The rediscovery of their Jewish roots has been an exciting and eventful journey. Wouldn’t it be great to have your class find and contact kids their age who are the descendants of Crypto Jews? How can you do this? For starters, contact the B’nai Israel Synagogue in Albuquerque and ask them if they can help you out. I spent a Shabbat there and I’m pretty sure they will oblige. You might also want to try the Jewish Federation of New Mexico . Once you get some good leads point out to your students that the meaning of the Yom Kippur prayer “Kol Nidre” is “declaring a vow”. Suggest that now is the time for a new vow -- a promise made to Crypto Jewish children that they can trust you and share their secret practices with you.

May this Yom Kippur be a day of productive soul searching.
G’mar Khatima Tova…Tami

1 comment:

  1. Shlomit Blum from the Bureau of Jewish Education Peninsula Learning Resource Center in Los Altos, California has sent me a correction that I want to share with you:

    "You are writing in your blog (Monday, September 21, 2009): "the meaning of the Yom Kippur prayer “Kol Nidre” is “declaring a vow”."
    The "Kol Nidrey" is actually a a public declaration of voiding certain vows.
    This meaning is clearly emphasized in the traditional Sephardic voweling of KAL (ended, finished) instead of the more common KOL (all)."

    Thank you Shlomit...TLW

    G'mar Chatima Tova,