The Jews that time forgot

A Cuban-American, brought up as a Catholic, discovered her Jewish ancestry after she had converted. Today she works tirelessly to assist the descendants of Anusim.

Genie Milgrom (third from right) at a melaveh malka with returning Anusim in the village of Belmonte, Portugal, last year (photo credit: Courtesy)
Genie Milgrom (third from right) at a melaveh malka with returning Anusim in the village of Belmonte, Portugal, last year
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When I initially started the search for my Crypto-Jewish ancestral roots in the Catholic archives of Spain and Portugal, the motivation was to do it for myself, my children and my family.
There was a burning need to know the truth about my own origins. A validation perhaps of what I had always instinctively known, having converted to Orthodox Judaism many years earlier – so the search was not for a spiritual need nor requirement.
Impossible to foresee was the discovery of 22 generations of grandmothers in my direct maternal lineage going back to 1405, in pre-Inquisition Portugal, and the unending source of strength and determination they would be for me. Through the dark veil that the generations had cast upon the truth hidden in my Catholic family, those grandmothers and their secrets propelled me to become a very public person to help others reach the goal as well.
As the findings about my family in the archives became clearer, I was able to understand what history had whitewashed, and started to blog and become active on social media. After writing a book about my personal quest (My 15 Grandmothers) another followed about how the genealogy work had been achieved (How I Found My 15 Grandmothers). The books can be bought on Amazon and all the proceeds go directly to assisting Anusim (such as providing them with matza for Passover).
Then I began to speak publicly in the hopes that others would be encouraged to not hide their secrets any longer. I was totally unprepared for the onslaught of people that contacted me, bearing their souls – thirsting for and trying to claw their way back to Judaism – night after night, in my email, on my private social media message accounts, my text messages, and by regular mail.
These people just want to come home, back to the Jewish People, and for the most part there is no ulterior motive of citizenship, money or status.
It is a true crying out of lost Jewish souls that have been shrouded in Catholic robes for generations. I feel blessed to have been given a role in this silent drama that is playing out on the world’s stage.
Looking around it became clear that Israel was not yet ready to extend a hand, and that authorized rabbinical courts that can carry out conversions do not take these descendants into consideration as real Jews.
One by one, I hold many hands, encouraging these old-new comers to read our history and learn about our holidays and culture.
My husband and I held Passover Seders in a small village in Portugal two years ago and made matza publicly for the first time in 500 years. We shared the experience with 50 descendants of the Anusim. Of those, some 20 have already converted and made aliya. The others are on their way. This year, I will host the Seders in my own home to over 30 of these descendants that come to me for guidance, genealogies and just to chat, knowing they are understood.
Trying to make a difference, I speak to emerging communities in Ecuador, Guatemala, Uruguay and across Latin America and at Chabad Houses which are the front line for Jewish information in small villages around the world, so that when these people approach them, they will know who we are: The Jews that time forgot .
I have never accepted money for my talks. I ask those that I help to just pay it forward, which has resulted in an interesting phenomenon. An underground railroad type of system has been set into motion where I have been able to send people to others privately around the world and those others are helping in many of the same ways, and each is paying forward. We are connected through the needs that arise and by the desire to return.
It was hard to understand why more of the world was not sitting up and taking notice of the mass exodus of souls coming out of Christianity and reaching towards their Jewish roots. The reason, it would seem, is because our people – the Spanish and Portuguese Jews – are returning as individuals, not as communities.
Genealogy aside, the awakening of the soul to this return is unique and not bound by blood. One by one out of each family, as was my case in my family. They contact me secretly because they are afraid to have their very Catholic spouses and parents find out.
It is not yet a massive migration towards Israel as happened with Soviet Jewry; it is a quiet and personal burning and yearning to return. This does not minimize the numbers; it just minimizes the effect at the moment. Because of this, it is harder for the Jewish world to see and act upon it. Some organizations have seen the need and are doing great work and have for many years.
The Society for Crypto Judaic Studies at Colorado State University – of which I am currently president – has been studying the Crypto Jews and their descendants for over 25 years in the US. Shavei Israel and its director, Michael Freund, is doing an incredible job. The Institute for Sephardi and Anusim Studies at Netanya Academic College [Editor’s Note: formerly associated with Gloria Mound’s Casa Shalom, The Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies] and Prof. Abraham Gross of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have held a myriad of conferences in and out of Israel, shedding light on the challenges of the descendants of the Anusim, and a new group, Reconectar, directed by Ashley Perry, is trying to connect the scattered to people like me that can help ease their way back.
There is much to be done and we need many more committed people to stand side by side with these descendants as they march slowly and bravely towards their ancestral people – losing their friends, families and loved ones in the process.
This is not an easy journey and I am certain that when the large Jewish organizations wake up and see the needs of their own people, they will do the right thing and react to help the descendants with their particular personal and family challenges.
Going forward, I am now involved in the Converso Genealogy Project – to be unveiled in August at the 36th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Seattle – with a team that spans many countries and will be documenting the genealogy and history of the diaspora of the Spanish Portuguese Jews.
This important project will tie up loose ends for the descendants, and offer valuable insight into our history, group together in one place many of the writings and sources that have been scattered in a myriad of countries and many languages for centuries.
Much work has been done and much is yet to be done. We are still in the infant stages.
The writer ( is president of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies and of Tarbut Sefarad-Fermoselle ( She can be contacted at