Response: The Jewish link to the Canaries

When Isleneos Anusim have asked to be accepted as part of the Jewish people, unfortunately, far too many rabbis have rejected them.

Jonathan Beck's recent article in The Jerusalem Post ("In warm Tenerife, far from the madding crowd," February 1) was charming to read, but what a pity that no mention was made of the most important Jewish connection to the Canary Isles. We have important documentation compiled by the late Lucian Wolf (published by the Jewish Historical Society of England in 1926) which shows that during the Spanish Inquisition trials there in the 16th and 17th centuries, Jews from Spain lived and and practiced their religion in this region in considerable numbers. There is even a village named Sinagoga (or "synagogue" in English), where important remains of the Jewish community were uncovered, then sadly neglected and destroyed by fire just a few years ago. More recent discoveries reveal how these Atlantic islands and the nearby ones of Cape Verde and Maderia provided a haven and stopover for the Marranos-Annusim fleeing the Inquisition to the New World, when all too often their small frail craft could not make the whole journey. Most amazing of all, though, is that these Jews maintained a kind of far-flung brotherhood for hundreds of years among themselves. Those who came out through the Canary Islands were known as the Islaneos. In an era of no phones and faxes, they succeeded in astonishing communication and liaisons over long distances, carrying on important Jewish traditions and group associations which continue to be practiced to this very day! Despite the distances between them, great emphasis was placed on arranging marriages for their children and conducting international business ventures. They established an almost unbroken network from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the north to the islands of the Caribbean and New Orleans in the south, sometimes stretching to Brazil and Colombia too. Sadly, many valuable documents were lost in Hurricane Katrina, when the New Orleans Isleneos Museum was badly damaged. Still, throughout these areas today, you come across Anusim who may not initially admit to strangers they are of Jewish origin, because they are an exceptionally insular people A most telling clue is the number of them who speak Ladino (Judeo-Espanol), the language which those leaving Spain carried with them. In addition, the Isleneos have a wonderful knowledge of Ladino music and folk songs. When Isleneos Anusim have asked to be accepted as part of the Jewish people, unfortunately, far too many rabbis have rejected them instead of helping to resolve their difficult conversion/identity issues. The writer is executive director of the Casa Shalom Institute for Marrano-Annusim Studies at Gan Yavne.