Texan rabbi on the trail after the Jewish history of El Paso

How the painful trauma of the Spanish Inquisition shaped the Jewish communities in Texas and Mexico.

Ysleta Del Sur church, La Mision de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur. Historic Rio Grande community just south of El Paso (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Ysleta Del Sur church, La Mision de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur. Historic Rio Grande community just south of El Paso
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
El Paso Times (Tribune News Service) - Rabbi Stephen Leon, who has helped about 70 families return to their Jewish heritage over the years, is planning the 15th annual Anusim Conference from Friday through Sunday.
The conference will be at Congregation B’nai Zion in El Paso, Texas.
"Anusim," in Hebrew and in the crypto-Judaism tradition, refers to people of Spanish descent who returned to Judaism after their ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition.
Leon, who wrote a book about his work with crypto-Jews [The Third Commandment and the Return of the Anusim], said he has learned that "many people of Hispanic heritage who came to El Paso or Juárez [a city in Mexico] centuries ago and settled in this part of North America are descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Jews who were tortured, forcibly converted, burned alive at the stake and ultimately expelled from Spain and later Portugal."
Authors, professors and scholars on the subject of the Spanish Inquisition estimate that there are about 100,000 to 200,000 non-Jewish people today in the world who have Jewish roots and might not even know it, he added.
Leon said that more than likely, 10 percent to 20 percent of the non-Jewish population of El Paso and Juárez have Sephardic Jewish ancestry.
The conference is an opportunity to learn more about the history of these people, attend a panel discussion on the impact of the Holocaust on the Latino community, and share new research on the topic.
"It is a forum for people of different religions, races, ethnicity, and backgrounds to be unified in a common bond of mutual understanding and friendship," Leon said.
Leon hopes the panel discussion will open bridges of communication so people can challenge some of the hatred and intolerance evident today.
"It can serve to teach all of those who attend to be more tolerant, more respectful and more loving to one another," he said.
Christian Acevedo, Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission based in Austin, said there is much to learn even for himself.
"Having taken Spanish and Latin American civilization courses (as an undergraduate), I do not remember ever learning about the after effects on the Jews of the Spanish Inquisition, just that Spain reclaimed its territory over the Iberian Peninsula," he said.
"I look forward to understanding and gaining more insight on what the panel plans to discuss."
The public is invited to all sessions. A donation to the Anusim Center or Congregation B'Nai Zion is encouraged.

(c) 2018, El Paso Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


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