(photo credit: Courtesy of NameYourRoots.com)
They were dispersed across the globe more than 500 years ago and took great
pains to hide their true identities, but now, thanks to a new online database,
Anusim, hidden Jews whose ancestors were forced to assimilate or convert during
the Spanish Inquisition, might be able to trace their Jewish past.
backing from a group of anonymous donors, NameYourRoots.com was launched last
week amidst little fanfare. Thanks to an extensive database of Sephardic Jewish
names and meanings, anyone who suspects that they might have links to Judaism
can begin their research by looking up the origins of their
“This website should be seen as a gateway; not everyone who
comes in will be able to find out if they are Jewish, and not everyone who comes
to this site means that they are Jewish,” Sylvie Sontag, who is responsible for
the content and outreach of the new website, told The Jerusalem
“The names are just an indicator in identifying someone’s Jewish
roots,” she continued, highlighting that there is little documented proof from
the time of the Spanish Inquisition, which started in the mid- 1400s. The main
government decrees forcing Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or leave
the country came in 1492 and 1501.
“Those who were expelled from Spain
and Portugal took great pains to hide their Jewish roots and used many aliases,”
said Sontag, continuing that “the issue of Anusim is very sensitive for a lot of
people and we did not want to raise too much attention to it.”
explained that in the past the Jews who left the region of Iberia during the
inquisition not only hid their identities, but were deeply fearful of being
exposed and that fear has been passed down for generations.
there is a fear that their present communities will disapprove of their Jewish
Now, thanks to the nonprofit organization, whose services online
are provided free of charge in English, Spanish and Portuguese, people who think
they might have Jewish ancestry can sit in the privacy of their own homes and
find out as much as possible about their past.
According to Sontag, the website, which allows visitors to
type in the names of their maternal and paternal families, relies on sources
compiled uniquely for the site with information drawn from museums, Spanish
communal archives and other references on the subject.
It also lists
certain geographical locations where people with Spanish Jewish names were
registered, includes Jewish names found in cemeteries and cites the names of
famous Spanish Jews.
As well as the name search, the website also
includes video clips with personal stories of Anusim that have successfully
traced their Jewish roots. There is also much information and numerous external
links to other organizations working with these people, also known as Marranos,
Conversos, Islanders, Chuetas and crypto-Jews.
lays out clear information on “Who is a Jew,” with a section explaining that,
“according to Jewish Law, only a child born to a Jewish mother or an adult who
has converted to Judaism is considered a Jew.”
The site also warns that
the Jewish religion forbids proselytizing and “any modern- day ‘Jewish
missionaries’ should be viewed with suspicion as they are not true
representatives of the Jewish faith.”
While those behind
NameYourRoots.com have been reluctant to promote the website since its launch
last Thursday, Sontag said that already a few thousand people have visited the site.
“It showed there was traffic from all over the world and makes
clear that there is obviously a need for something like this,” said Sontag,
adding that the number of descendants of the Anusim who are returning to their
Jewish roots is steadily growing in places such as South America, Spain,
Portugal and the southwestern US.