April 6: Sephardic roots

The Post's recent correspondence on genealogy was a classic example of Ashkenazim looking at matters from their community's standpoint only.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sephardi roots Sir, - Your recent correspondence on genealogy was a classic example of Ashkenazim looking at matters from their community's standpoint only ("What's in a name?" March 15). Today thousands of people from all over the Hispanic world who suspect they have Jewish roots are checking their origins, and in nearly every case their first questions involve family names traceable back many hundreds of years. Family names in Spain and Portugal go back at least 500 years. We are just now dealing with a family that has proudly carried with them the entitlement of Senior, the name of Ferdinand and Isabella's first minister, Abraham Senior, who stayed behind in Spain in 1492 and converted to Christianity. Some of his grandchildren fled to Holland two generations later, returning to the Jewish fold and carrying this name with them to many different parts of the world, down to the present day. My own husband can show descent from Rabbi Samuel Anijar, who left Majorca in 1391, to his mother, Rebecca Costa, granddaughter of Betsy Anijar Romain of London, cousin of Rabbi Jonathan Romain. This family has throughout the generations used the middle name of Anijar to show their lineage. Another branch of the family, in Mantua, Italy, was Samuel Aron Romanelli, after whom a Tel Aviv street is named. In 1435 the Jews of Majorca were given the ultimatum: "Convert to Christianity, or depart the Island." Those who stayed behind bore 15 family names - known as Chuetas - that have been passed down to this day. Up until 30 years ago no local priest would marry anyone with this name, however devoutly Catholic some of them had inevitably become, to a Catholic. Halachically these people are still Jews, and many are now searching for their roots. Many religious courts and rabbis, faced with appeals for "Return" certificates or conversion applications from Anusim (Crypto- or hidden Jews), are somewhat belatedly realizing the importance of data zealously collected and documented by organizations such as Casa Shalom, which are committed to helping Marranos-Anusim become aware of their often incredible history. GLORIA MOUND Casa Shalom, Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies Gan Yavneh Unfree in Israel Sir, - As we celebrate our redemption from the House of Bondage, we recall Jews gathering for Seders and prayers across the Soviet Empire, in the Arab world, and in Shoah Europe. Today, we are confident, declaring defiantly: "Slaves we were, but now we are free." Not so for some of our guests, humble servants in many a Jewish home. On April 1 a Filipino prayer gathering in Jerusalem was raided by police. With guns at their sides and name tags covered they demanded IDs from the terrified worshipers, carted off two who lacked the necessary papers and promised a replay next Sunday night. Pinch yourself before asking if this callous insensitivity is possible in Israel, in a Jewish society with freedoms guaranteed. Sunday is Easter, when Filipinos will gather to celebrate the Resurrection of their Savior, who could not be bound by the grave. This time, however, they themselves will be in terror of being bound up. JORGE RAMIREZ-CASSUTTO Jerusalem