Crypto-Jews in Ireland

May 11, 2016 11:40
4 minute read.
Crypto Jews

A descendant of Crypto Jews who – after questioning his Catholic identity – embarked on a seven-year search. (photo credit: Courtesy)

INTEREST IN the history, conversion and crypto-Judaism of Sephardi Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th century has been growing ever since those two countries announced that they would restore citizen- ship to descendants of those expelled or killed in the Inquisition if they could prove their Jewish descent. Jews have always been a nomadic people, and those who were exiled from Spain and Portugal went in relatively large numbers to South America, Italy, France and the Philippines. What comes as somewhat of a surprise is that they also settled in Ireland, albeit not immediately after the expulsion. Gloria Mound , one of the leading experts on the history of Sephardic Jews, last week addressed the Israel branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England and spoke about the secret Jews of Ireland. The larger-than-usual gathering at Beit Avi Chai was indicative of the curiosity of regular attendees at such meetings, as well as that of Irish expats. Mound is the executive director and chair of the board of Casa Shalom, the Institute for Marrano Anusim Studies. She has been researching secret Jews for more than 40 years. She initially spoke about the beginnings of the Jewish community in Ireland in the 17th century and the opening of the first synagogue in 1656. The first Marranos, or crypto-Jews, went to Ireland from France, many of them disguised as Huguenots, she said, explaining that they had come to find refuge from French persecution against the Protestants. Mound presented several examples of families of secret Jews who settled in Ireland, along with the genealogy of their names. She also spoke about contemporary secret Jews whom she had met during her travels in Ireland, adding that she had even met such Jews in Israel. The lecture provoked many lively questions plus requests for similar lectures about secret Jews living in other countries.

IN THE early days of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, a number of the young diplomats were Holocaust survivors who, prior to entering the foreign service, had fought in the War of Independence. Every year, in addition to the central Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies held at Yad Vashem, there is one at the ministry, and a Holocaust survivor is invited to be among the torch lighters. The survivor chosen this year was former ambassador and chief of protocol Mordechai Palzur , who was born in Poland in 1929 and immigrated to Pales- tine in 1943. He fought as an officer in the War of Independence and was wounded. He served as a member of the General Staff during the 1967 Six Day War. While completing degrees in law, economics, international relations and political science at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Palzur joined the fledgling foreign service in 1950 and became one of Israel’s early diplomats. His first diplomatic appointment was to Helsinki as a junior diplomat. Quickly rising in rank over the years, he served in places such as Mexico, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Cyprus, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, Federation of St. Christopher and Nevis, Trinidad Tobago and Barbados. In 1986, as a native Polish speaker, he was sent to Poland to become Israel’s first ambassador there since 1967, when Poland, along with nearly all other Soviet bloc countries, severed relations with Israel. While in Poland, he also negotiated for Soviet Jews to travel through Poland en route to Israel. Though retired for the past 22 years, Palzur has been frequently sought out by the Foreign Ministry to assist in various projects. He has also been a member since its inception of the Jerusalem-headquartered Research Institute of the World Jewish Congress. He has served as chairman of the institute since 2008.

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IN SOME respects, British neurologist Dr. Geoffrey Walden was not unlike Israel’s own clinical, developmental and cognitive psychologist the late professor Reuven Feuerstein, who took on numerous “hopeless” cases of children whose learning potential he helped to develop, thereby enabling them to over - come obstacles that had impeded their intellectual development. He was the founder and director of the Jerusalem-based International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential. Walden believed that if infants do not make full use of their movement in play, it may affect the development of their understanding. Through regular, short but intensive exercise sessions, the Walden Approach aims to restart a cycle of move- ment and learning in order to reduce anxiety, increase motivation and adaptability and foster the growth of children’s general understanding. A grateful parent wrote: “We were lucky to have met Geoffrey Walden in 1970 when our son Robert was two years old and diagnosed as retarded, remote and with challenging behavior. We were advised that when he became too hard to handle, we should put him in a home and get on with our lives. Today, Robert lives independently with his wife and two lovely daughters and has a good job as a web developer.” Thanks to Walter Solomon , a recently arrived British immigrant, the Walden Approach is now available in Israel as a form of therapy for autistic children and those with developmental disabilities. Solomon has opened a Walden Center in Jerusalem.

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