Jews of Spain, Portugal come out to support Israel

Prompted by recent rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, descendants of once-secret Bnei Anusim hold seminar.

israeli flag girl 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
israeli flag girl 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prompted by the recent rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment across Europe, particularly in Spain, dozens of descendants of Bnei Anusim (whom historians refer to by the derogatory term "Marranos") gathered at Barcelona's Jewish Community Center last weekend to participate in a seminar aimed at training them to be effective advocates for Israel. The seminar marked the first time since the creation of the state that Bnei Anusim - Jews from Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert to Catholicism in the 15th century but secretly retained their Jewish identities and/or traditions - had formally taken part in an effort to defend a positive image of the Jewish homeland. It was during Operation Cast Lead, when a group of Bnei Anusim, some of whom had traveled for hours, gathered in Madrid in support of Israel, that the idea for the seminar arose. Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, which ran the event, explained the desire of Bnei Anusim to advocate for Israel: "They are seeking to have a connection to the Jewish people, whether spiritually, culturally or intellectually." Among the experts brought in to help run the seminar were Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for former prime minister Ariel Sharon, and Deputy Ambassador to Spain Einat Kranz-Nieger. The participants were provided with the tools to advocate for Israel in the local and international media. According to Freund, whose organization reaches out to "lost Jews" to help them reconnect with their Jewish heritage and identity, there are tens and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Bnei Anusim spread throughout Spain and Portugal who are aware of their unique connection to the Jewish people. While a majority of Bnei Anusim are Catholic, Freund noted that many of those who decided to partake in the Shavei Israel seminar were from a group that has been more active in strengthening its Jewish identity, including some who are seeking conversion and becoming observant Jews. In the past three decades, as the societies of Spain and Portugal have opened up, Bnei Anusim have felt more comfortable revealing their connections with Judaism and Israel, he said. However, in some cases, those open connections have prompted harsh criticism and acts of hatred against them.