(photo credit: )
An elderly Colombian couple who claim to have Jewish roots and who have been living in Israel for five years are being pressured by the Interior Ministry to leave the country immediately, The Jerusalem Post learned on Monday.
The husband, 70, and his wife, 68, who asked not to be named, were arrested six weeks ago by immigration police, despite the fact that they had filed a petition to the High Court of Justice to be allowed to stay here, based on the fact they are descendants of Spanish or Portuguese Jews forced to convert to Christianity some 600 years ago.
Often known as Marranos, although also referred to as Anusim, Conversos, Islanders, Chuetas or Cryptos, these Jews were forced throughout the centuries to hide their Judaism from the outside world, but many managed to hold on to certain aspects of their Jewish culture and practice.
"This situation is very sad," said V., the couple's 42-year-old daughter, who moved to Israel 10 years ago and was asked to convert to Judaism by both the secular and religious authorities. "There are many Jews around the world who do not care at all about their Judaism, but we are Jews in our hearts and we grew up keeping Shabbat and eating kosher, so why are we not allowed to be here freely?"
V. said her parents only eat kosher food and attend synagogue regularly. They originally moved to Israel because both she and her brother were living here, she said.
"Four years ago my parents told me that they wanted to move here to be closer to us," explained V. "I went to the Interior Ministry and asked them what the official process was. They [the clerks] said my parents should sell everything in Colombia and move here in order to apply. I was not sure that they should be applying for citizenship from here or from there, but this is what the Interior Ministry told me to do."
In 2005, the couple followed Interior Ministry instructions, sold their house and other belongings in Colombia and moved here. They have been fighting for citizenship ever since.
"Every time I applied for citizenship or permanent residency or even temporary residency I was turned down," said V., who was married here in a ceremony performed by an Orthodox rabbi. "I have been very naÃ¯ve."
"The Interior Ministry does not like the Anusim," said attorney Isaac Mazuz, who on August 3 filed a petition with the High Court on behalf of the family. "It does everything to stop these people from coming into Israel."
Mazuz told the Post that he planned to argue the family's case on the basis of their Jewish heritage, despite the fact that they do not have standard documentation.
"The mainly Ashkenazi haredim who run this country treat these people like goyim," he continued, pointing out that at least one of Israel's chief rabbis has ruled that the Anusim should be viewed as Jews.
With a court hearing set for October 22, Mazuz said he was equally concerned that the immigration police's arrest of the couple, which he claims was ordered by the Interior Ministry, was illegal.
"I don't know why they are harassing these people," Mazuz said. "Why does the state accept the Jewish testimony of Reform Jews, but clearly discriminate against the Anusim?"
Gloria Mound, founder and director of Casa Shalom, a non-profit organization dedicated to Marrano-Anusim Studies, said the main problem stemmed from "lack of education among those in power."
"These people maintained their Jewish practices and married among themselves for centuries; they see themselves as Jews," she said. "However, there is too much bureaucracy here and those at the Interior Ministry are not educated enough to understand that the situation of the Anusim is different [from the mainstream]."
Mound, who has spent 30 years researching hidden Jews who fled Spain, added: "The situation is changing somewhat, people are beginning to learn more, but there really needs to be an active change among those in power."
The Interior Ministry did not respond to queries from The Jerusalem Post.