Category Archives: Israel: Culture

Rabbi Fohrman Aleph-Beta

What is an Atbash?

My life has been a journey of unknowns. Always moving toward a place that seems to always move.  I have questioned where I am, and where am I going, and what does it mean to find something that can not be seen.

One thing I know is that my heart and eyes cannot be trusted to guide along the way. But only by holding on to what my forefathers have to say. Where do they speak to me you might ask?

Well, they are words that have come from a long history pasted. Traditions that no other people have had. This is what has lead me to the future… and has connected me to the covenant that shall never past.

Choose to be chosen. Be Jewish.

Parashat Tezaveh Exodus 27 – 30 The Light and The Mishkan

Parashat Tezaveh “AND YOU”

Exodus 27 – 30
כ וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה ׀ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃
The words of Moshe Rabbenu still speaks to us today. “And you”. What kind of light and what kind of holiness can I bring to this world?

I once had a dream of changing the world, I could see myself, so clearly, accomplishing so many great things and making such a difference in this world. I could feel the greatest and the taste of joy from the many things that would be. The flash of lightning that lit up the road before me was so overwhelming. I could see every pitfall and turn in the way. My vision was so clear and there was nothing to detour me is what I would always say.

But then, life began to restrain me and restrict my way. I felt as if the road became narrower and confined my way. I could no longer even see a road. My life had grown overcast and gray. The light that once shined and lit the way before me had gone just like the day. What had happened? Why is life filled with dismay? Why is life so wasted and filled with decay?

“And You”, Moshe commanded us to take the pure olive oil. The oil that was meant for holiness and to burn in the menorah in the holy place.

Why does Hashem the light of the world need a menorah in the Temple or the Mishkan? 

Shemot 25:8(8) וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. 

Here we find two wordsמִקְדָּ֑שׁ” and “שָׁכַנְ” that are the clues to life. 

Rabbi Akiva Tatz in his lecture on Journey to the Self – Inspiration & Disappointment. speaks of two lights. A greater light and a lesser light. Rabbi Tatz says that this is the secret to happiness and the secret of life. If one does not understand these two lights and how they work in our lives then we are destined to find ourselves in the story above. Restained and restricted and never able to find our way.

The first light is free and it is given to us by Hashem. There is nothing we do, it is a gift. The second light we must shine. That is where the work begins!

The first commandment given to us was to sanctify time and to create this world a new. And then we were to make a space in this world for Hashem to dwell.

How are you doing? 

More to come on this subject…

 

Parashat Teruma

Parashat Teruma

Exodus 25 – 27

א וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃

ב דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃

ג וְזֹאת֙ הַתְּרוּמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּקְח֖וּ מֵאִתָּ֑ם זָהָ֥ב וָכֶ֖סֶף וּנְחֹֽשֶׁת׃

ד וּתְכֵ֧לֶת וְאַרְגָּמָ֛ן וְתוֹלַ֥עַת שָׁנִ֖י וְשֵׁ֥שׁ וְעִזִּֽים׃

דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי

Whos Heart Motivates Him

In the above pasuk the word for “motivate” is the Hebrew word יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ “נָדַב”  As you can see from the word יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ the nun is missing. 

Just like the NUN from Psalm 145, it is also missing the letter Nun. In Hebrew grammar sometimes the nun will drop from a word. Nun is the symbol of life and the word “Neshama” begins with the letter Nun. The Neshama is one of the five levels of our soul.

Neshama: The World of Creation

The word neshama has the same root in Hebrew (NShM) as the word for breath. This soul level is associated with higher awareness and angelic realms, it is a defining quality of human consciousness.

The Zohar describes the neshama as follows: “The nefesh and the ruach intertwine together, while the neshama resides in a person’s character. This is an abode which cannot be discovered or located. Should a person strive towards purity in life, he or she is aided by a holy neshama. But should the person not strive for righteousness and purity of life, this person is animated only by two grades: nefesh and ruach.”1

Whereas we all have the power to develop the neshama aspect of our souls, there is no assurance that we will do so. In some ways, this is analogous to a potter’s kiln. Some glazes require a specific temperature for a fixed length of time. If this temperature is not reached, the glaze will not set.

From a spiritual perspective, our life is fired by conscious action (fuel) and clean living (oxygen). We need a good mix of the two to get the temperature high enough to vitalize our higher soul potential. Once this is accomplished we have access to expanded realms of awareness.

Even though our power to nurture our highest soul level is not guaranteed, it is assumed that the purpose of human existence is to parent this lofty objective. The Zohar says: “At first a person has a nefesh. Then she or he is crowned by the grade that rests upon the nefesh, which is the ruach. After this, a superior grade that dominates the others, the neshama, takes up its abode, and the person becomes worthy of the world to come. Nefesh cannot exist without the help of ruach, and ruachin turn is sustained by neshama. The three form a unity.”1

Simply said, human life is not complete without the neshama.

The neshama emanates from an elevated source, while the ruach emanates from a somewhat lower origin. When these two sources unite, they shine with a celestial light and are called: “lamp.” This is found in Proverbs, where it says that “the lamp of God is the neshama of humankind.”1

In many ways, the neshama is an essential aspect of creation. As the neshama is an aspect of soul that is directly connected with the divine source of life, it is via the neshama, and the higher levels of soul, that we co-partner with God in the continuous unfolding of creation.

The neshama is pure in its essence. It cannot be blemished. When we die, it immediately returns to its source. (Rabbi David Cooper)

Who defines Hashem’s Words?

I was speaking with a friend of mine who is an attorney and he was doing some research on a Jewish subject and noticed that he had to literally go through hundreds of Christian sites to find a Jewish source on the subject. How could it be that if you want to know something Jewish today on the web you have Christians defining what Jewishness means? Our culture, our laws, our stories all have been changed to fit a narrative that our fathers did not know.

The Mishkan

In this weeks Torah portion I find much hope and comfort as our Hakham, Chazal, Sages and Rabbi’s have kept all our Temple services alive and well for us to know and do. Over fifty chapters of the Torah is dedicated to the Mishkan and as a Jew, I can still participate in all its functions.

The Torah is not something one just studies but it is something that one does. When one reads about tefillin, and kosher, and prayers and sacrifices and tzitzit and all the commandments of Torah we do them and not just study about them.   As a Jew, I am proud to know that you can search the web and find thousands of websites that tell you about Judaism but in this weeks Torah portion I find a promise that moves me and motivates me to be Jewish.

Bring A Gift

All the chapters on the Mishkan are not about learning how they really are speaking about “someone to come” as you will find on the web. (Just look it up and you will see what I mean. Everything is defined by those who are not Jewish.)

But it is about how I can keep the religion of my forefathers and pass this knowledge down to my children. How they can read about the Mishkan and live every word of it each day of there lives.  Our sages in their great wisdom incorporated all the rituals of the fifty chapters on the tabernacle in our Synogagues and our prayers and our homes and our daily lives so that I might live the Torah and keep Hashem’s covenant and His promise to us.

Hashem’s lives inside every Jew and every Human being

Okay, if Hashem lives inside of every human being, what tasks do the Jewish people have?

To live the Torah.

Shemot 25:8 And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in them. 

Here we see the wisdom and beauty of Judaism. Every part of our lives is fixed in time to be a sanctuary for Hashem. 

No other people in the world can make this claim. No other people have ever experienced what the Jewish people have experienced.

Just ask Hashem and He will tell you.

Devarim 4:32For ask now of the days past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from the one end of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? 33Did ever a people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? 34Or hath God assayed to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before thine eyes? 35Unto thee it was shown, that thou mightiest know that the LORD, He is God; there is none else beside Him. 36Out of heaven He made thee to hear His voice, that He might instruct thee; and upon earth He made thee to see His great fire; and thou didst hear His words out of the midst of the fire. 37And because He loved thy fathers, and chose their seed after them, and brought thee out with His presence, with His great power, out of Egypt, 38to drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day; 39know this day, and lay it to thy heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else. 40And thou shalt keep His statutes, and His commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.

Parashat Shemot

Parashat Shemot

Exodus 1 – 6

א וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַבָּאִ֖ים מִצְרָ֑יְמָה אֵ֣ת יַעֲקֹ֔ב אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵית֖וֹ בָּֽאוּ׃

ברְאוּבֵ֣ן שִׁמְע֔וֹן לֵוִ֖י וִיהוּדָֽה׃

ג יִשָּׂשכָ֥ר זְבוּלֻ֖ן וּבְנְיָמִֽן׃

ד דָּ֥ן וְנַפְתָּלִ֖י גָּ֥ד וְאָשֵֽׁר׃

 

My thoughts this week in the Torah Portion comes from a lecture I heard from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks where he states ”

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” said Moshe to God. “And how can I possibly get the Israelites out of Egypt?” On the surface the meaning is clear. Moshe is asking two things. The first: who am I, to be worthy of so great a mission? The second: how can I possibly succeed?

God never answered the first question. Perhaps in a strange way, Moshe answered himself. In Tanakh as a whole, the people who turn out to be the most worthy are the ones who deny they are worthy at all. Through a close examination of the text, we can understand Moshe’s question leading to a deeper exploration of worthiness and identity. ”

Who am I?

Seventeen years ago, I began a journey, and I still do not know where it will take me. As Rabbi Sacks spoke in his lecture on the question Moshe had, concerning, who was He/Moshe? I could identify with the book of Shemot, and I gathered a greater insight into my own question of, who am I? People often ask me, why do you care so much about where you come from? Why does it matter so much about your heritage? You were not born Jewish and you have lived as an Egyptian and a Midianite, in a place, so far away from Judaism.

Moses to was raised as a prince in Egypt, and removed from the Jewish people. Moshe was known as an Egyptian raised by an Egyptian princess in the palace of Pharoah. Moshe was also known as a Midianite, who was married to a Midianite priest’s daughter. Shemot 2:21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man; and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. 22 And she bore a son, and he called’ his name Gershom; for he said: ‘I have been as a stranger in a strange land.’

Moshe was never raised with the Jewish people. He never suffered or understood their thoughts and ways. Moshe did not even know if they would accept him as a Jew. I have the same question and experience.

Rabbi Sacks spoke of the similarities between Moshe and Ruth.  Just like Moshe and Ruth, I felt as a stranger in a place not my own. Just like Moshe, I was born a Jew, but I did not belong to the Jewish people. I looked like an Egyptian and acted like an Egyptian. I did not grow up Jewish, therefore, I did not belong to the Jewish people. Ruth was not Jewish by birth and therefore she did not belong to the Jewish people but both knew when they identified with the suffering and the hardship they saw and they could not walk away from the suffering of the Jewish people.

I constantly hear in Christian and Messianic chatter, that, the Jews are lacking what Christian and Messianics have. That, they have some insight given to them because of Yeshua or Jesus and the so-called New Testament. That the Jews are going to be fooled in the end and follow a false Messiah because of their lack of seeing what they see. That the Temple is a Synagogue of Satan or the Jews have the Temple mount in the wrong place. That the oral law is made up and can not be trusted.  Many of these people are Jewish or identify as Jews.  Yet, they still have this idea that because of their knowledge and belief in the Nazarean they have a superior knowledge over the Jewish sages and rabbis.

In last weeks Torah portion Parashat Va’yehi, one would be lost without the oral tradition. Genesis Chapter 49 Verse 1
(1) And Jacob called unto his sons and said: ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days. (2) Assemble yourselves, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; And hearken unto Israel your father. Just a straightforward reading of these two passages do not make sense without the irrevocable connection between the written and oral tradition. Ya’acov says nothing about what is going to happen to them and then gives them some obscure blessings, that really are not blessings at all if you look at them.

With that in mind, the oral traditions, and the plight of the Jewish people, the future redemption, the suffering and birth pangs to come. The Redeemer, the land of Israel, the proper understanding of the Tanach. Who is the Messiah? With all that said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land.’ Like Moshe, I could have been content living the life of an Egyptian/Midianite. Shemot 2:21  “And Moses was content to dwell with the man”.  Moshe could have lived the life of a prince in Egypt in the palace of Pharoah. Or stayed in the land of Midian. As Rabbi Sacks said, “that was where he was at, but that is not who he was”. But Moshe could not stay in either place after seeing the suffering of his people. I can no longer stay in the same place either after seeing such hatred for Jewish people.

But who was Moshe? He was not Jewish because he was not raised Jewish. He did not know the suffering of the Jew. He could not identify with their history. He was raised as an Egyptian Prince and lived forty years as an Egyptian.  Moshe spent forty years as a Midianite Shepherd and was content to live there. Moshe spent eighty years as someone other than a Jew. But, had he not been moved because of who he was who knows what his destiny might have been.

He asked Hashem “who am I”.

I too have been troubled by my own place in the Jewish world. Who am I? My grandfather is a Cohen from Mexico and I am the great-grandson of Moshe and Aaron. My mother told me, that her parents told her, not to tell anyone that they were Jewish. I am hated by my own family because I identify myself as Jewish. Moshe and Aaron, they are my grandfather’s, yet I do not know the slightest thing about the Jewish way of life and plight and suffering because I have not lived with them.

I just know that when Christians and Messianics find out, that I am Jewish, and do not believe the way they do. I can see the suffering of my people in their eyes. I can see the disdain, and pity, and feeling of sorrow they have toward the Jewish people.They believe that we are cut off from Hashem and His promises and that we are, as my cousin Messianic Rabbi Dr. Dennis Otero, says ” John 15;16  If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned “.  (see Jeremiah 11:16-17) He says that we are not part of the so-called new covenant. That we have no authority, what so ever, in Jewish law, and that, the “believers” took the place of Rabbis.

It was at the fire of the burning bush, that Moshe found his answer to, “who am I”? The burning bush is connected to Mount Sinai and there the Jewish people also found Hashem in the fire of the mountain. Hashem told Moshe, “they will know who sent you because “I will be with you”. (Not, I am, that I am” The Christian Bible misquotes the Hebrew every time in this passage)

Who I am, is where you will find, me. Shemot 2:11 “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren”.

In last weeks portion, Ya’acov told the sons of Israel to gather themselves as one man. As, in the Sephardi way, no reform, no Conservative, no Orthodox, just Jews. That is who I am.

I too am asking Hashem, “who am I to go”

Hashem has sent me to tell the Jewish people, to tell them,  stop the baseless hatred and the indifference for each other. I will not be around you because you are not Jewish enough. I am happy where I am and I don’t need anyone else outside those who think like me.

Hear what Ya’acov our forefather said, Ezekiel 37 : (18) And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying: Wilt thou not tell us what thou meanest by these? (19) say into them: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions; and I will put them unto him together with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in My hand. (20) And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thy hand before their eyes. (21) And say unto them: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; (22) and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all; (23) neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling-places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them; so shall they be My people, and I will be their God. (24) And My servant David shall be king over them, and they all shall have one shepherd; they shall also walk in Mine ordinances, and observe My statutes, and do them. (25) And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob My servant, wherein your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, they, and their children, and their children’s children, for ever; and David My servant shall be their prince for ever. (26) Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them—it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will establish them, and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for ever. (27) My dwelling-place also shall be over them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (28) And the nations shall know that I am the LORD that sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for ever.’

I will not stand with a people who claim, the Jews are blind, and they do not know the Messiah, and they are harlots, and teach an oral and written law that is man-made, and leads to destruction. The Torah is over and done. The New Testament is better. The Rabbi’s have no authority and we don’t follow men.

Yosef never spoke one word to his father about what his brothers did to him. Who is Messiah? 

Parashat Va’yeshev Genesis 37 – 40 וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב יַעֲקֹ֔ב

א  בְּאֶ֖רֶץ מְגוּרֵ֣י אָבִ֑יו בְּאֶ֖רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן׃ 
ב אֵ֣לֶּה ׀ תֹּלְד֣וֹת יַעֲקֹ֗ב יוֹסֵ֞ף בֶּן־שְׁבַֽע־עֶשְׂרֵ֤ה שָׁנָה֙ הָיָ֨ה רֹעֶ֤ה אֶת־אֶחָיו֙ בַּצֹּ֔אן וְה֣וּא נַ֗עַר אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י בִלְהָ֛ה וְאֶת־בְּנֵ֥י זִלְפָּ֖ה נְשֵׁ֣י אָבִ֑יו וַיָּבֵ֥א יוֹסֵ֛ף אֶת־דִּבָּתָ֥ם רָעָ֖ה אֶל־אֲבִיהֶֽם׃
Where is Chanukah in the Torah? (see commentary at the end of the article).
Why do Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi and all other Jews treat each other with such disdain?
Where is the Beit Hamikdash?
Is Yerushalayim the light to all nations?

And he (Israel) settled in the end. (וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב יַעֲקֹ֔ב)

The Torah is a blueprint for the cosmos and our world. With Chanukah just a week away. The question may be asked? Who will we be fighting in the future to free our spiritual lives? Yaakov wrestled with a man. (Himself)

Just as the Greeks tried to remove our spiritual connections to Hashem and His Torah. So, the world is busy trying to distract us from our heritage and culture as Jews.

How do we bring the light of Judaism to a world that is steeped in darkness when we as Jews continue to hate each other without a cause.

The story of Yosef is the axis for many of our pains as Jews. Today we fight between Ashkenazi and Sephardic and the many different sects within our Jewish communities.

Will our enemies ask us, when they try to destroy us, are your Sephardic or Haredi or Mizrachi, conservative or reform?

Please listen to the song “Echad”.

We, are Klal Israel, and we must make Tikkun in the end where our forefathers failed. We can not settle in the end, the way our Torah portion begins with baseless hatred for each other.

Jews must be that shining light to the nations and bring them close to Torah and Hashem. We must teach them, that, Torah is the only blueprint that Hashem has given to mankind to fix our lives.

We do not need some “heavenly escape plan” as some outside of Torah Judaism say, but we must see that our world can not survive with each one us only concerned about him or herself. We must stop this baseless hatred and bring the miracle of Or HaGanuz, “the hidden light.”

So, let us rededicate ourselves, to this hidden light, that was always there from the beginning. Let us light the light of Chanukah as we are told in Vayikra 24:”1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 2 ‘Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. 3 Without the veil of the testimony, in the tent of meeting, shall Aaron order it from evening to morning before the LORD continually; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations. 4 He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the LORD continually.

(By the way what festival comes after Sukkot? Chanukah)

Let us settle, Chanukah/Dedication, in the end with giving (אהבה). Love and Torah.

The Shabbat Project

The whole world is keeping Shabbat together. Will you join in this great event and bring joy to the heart of Hashem as all His children around the world celebrate this day that Hashem has made for rest, but not a rest that can be explained or spoken about but a day that can only be experienced. Come join us. The Shabbat Project Amarillo, Texas Esnoga Bet Hashoavah. 806-670-7136. Gavriel ben David

Sephardic and Crypto-Jews of New Mexico

https://www.geni.com/projects/Sephardic-and-Crypto-Jews-of-New-Mexico/18121

The Descendants of Sephardic, Anusim, Converso, and Crypto-Jews are welcome to add their Ancestors and/or their own profiles to this project.

 

 

My grandfather Luz Ramirez Diaz was from Nueva Leon Mexico and had a very secret life. On his death bed, he asked my mother to bury him within 24 hours. 

Luz is the acient name for Jerusalem and also light in Spanish. I did my uncle’s ,Yoseph Diaz DNA, because I had converted to Judaism and for some unexplained reason for all my life I never fit into religion and only after converting to Judaism did I find my way home.

My uncle supplied a key to all the questions I could never answer in my life. What are you waiting for?  Return home!

Jews of New Mexico

When most people think of the the “Jews of New Mexico”, they think of German/Ashkenazi Jews coming in the Santa Fe Trail in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s and setting up mercantile stores from Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and all points west, south, and north. Today the descendants of these first Ashkenazi families have taken their place in NM politics, government, education etc. The first Jewish synagogue in New Mexico was built in 1885 in Las Vegas NM; one of my uncles M.A. Otero according to Henry Tobias in “A History of the Jews of New Mexico” was a financial contributor to the building project.

Crypto-Sephardic-Anusim

But unknown to many people, Jews from Spain came to New Mexico in the 1500’s because of the Spanish Inquisition and the later Mexican Inquisition; they hid their Jewish blood and ways and assimilated into the Catholic Hispanic culture. The first ones to “convert” whether forced (anusim), of necessity, or of genuine faith- we today carry the DNA, genealogies, and the stories of a Jewish ancestry and past.

Dr. Denis Ismael Otero traces one of his several lines through his father and mothers lines to the Abraham HaLevi family of Spain. Many in New Mexico are doing DNA and genealogy studies and are coning up with the same results.

DNA Testing

If you have Jewish/Cohen DNA, Genealogy, and/or stories from your abuelos and primos- add your tree to this project

DNA Clears the Fog Over Latino Links to Judaism in New Mexico

Tests confirm what tradition and whispers have alluded to — a Sephardic community often unbeknownst to many of its members.

As a boy, Father William Sanchez sensed he was different. His Catholic family spun tops on Christmas, shunned pork and whispered of a past in medieval Spain. If anyone knew the secret, they weren’t telling, and Sanchez stopped asking.

Then three years ago, after watching a program on genealogy, Sanchez sent for a DNA kit that could help track a person’s background through genetic footprinting. He soon got a call from Bennett Greenspan, owner of the Houston-based testing company. “He said, ‘Did you know you were Jewish?’ ” Sanchez, 53, recalled. “He told me I was a Cohanim, a member of the priestly class descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses.” With the revelation that Sanchez was almost certainly one of New Mexico’s hidden or crypto-Jews, his family traditions made sense to him.

He launched a DNA project to test his relatives, along with some of the parishioners at Albuquerque’s St. Edwin’s Church, where he works. As word got out, others in the community began contacting him. So Sanchez expanded the effort to include Latinos throughout the state.

Of the 78 people tested, 30 are positive for the marker of the Cohanim, whose genetic line remains strong because they rarely married non-Jews throughout a history spanning up to 4,000 years.

Michael Hammer, a research professor at the University of Arizona and an expert on Jewish genetics, said that fewer than 1% of non-Jews possessed this marker. That fact — along with the traditions in many of these families — makes it likely that they are Jewish, he said.

“It makes their stories more consistent and believable,” Hammer said. It also explained practices that had baffled many folks here for years: the special knives used to butcher sheep in line with Jewish kosher tradition, the refusal to work on Saturdays to honor the Sabbath, the menorahs that had been hidden away. In some families, isolated rituals are all that remain of a once-vibrant religious tradition diluted by time and fears of persecution.

Norbert Sanchez, 66, recalled the “service of lights” on Friday nights in his hometown of Jareles, N.M., where some families would dine by candlelight.

“We always thought there was a Jewish background in our family, but we didn’t know for sure,” he said. “When I found out, it was like coming home for me.”

In 1492, Jews in Spain where given the choice of conversion to Catholicism or expulsion. Many fled, but others faked conversions while practicing their faith in secret. These crypto-Jews were hounded throughout the Spanish Inquisition.

“In the 1530s and 1540s, you began to see converted Jews coming to Mexico City, where some converted back to Judaism,” said Moshe Lazar, a professor of comparative literature at USC and an expert on Sephardic Jews, or those from Spain and Portugal. “The women preserved their tradition. They taught their daughters the religion. People began rediscovering their Jewishness, but remained Catholics.”

But in 1571, the Inquisition came to Mexico. Authorities were given lists to help identify crypto-Jews, Lazar said. People who didn’t eat pork, knelt imperfectly in church, rubbed water quickly off newly baptized babies or didn’t work on Saturday were suspect. If arrested, they were sometimes burned at the stake.

 Many fled to what is now northern New Mexico, and remained secretive even after the U.S. gained control of the area in 1848.

“Still, no one would come out and say: ‘I am a Jew.’ That didn’t happen until the 1970s,” said Stanley Hordes, a professor at the Latin American and Iberian Institute of the University of New Mexico who is writing a book on crypto-Jews. “The first few generations kept the secret because of danger of physical harm, and later they kept it because that was just what they did. The $64,000 question is: Why the secrecy today? Why are people keeping this information from their kids and grandkids?” Some haven’t.

“I found out when I was 13,” said Keith Chaves, 47, an engineer in Albuquerque. “My great-grandmother told me that we were Sepharditos.”

The family matriarch was a repository of knowledge — and the keeper of secrets. “She kept a kosher knife rolled up in a piece of leather that she would only use for killing,” Chaves said. “And she would kill the animal by cutting its throat in one motion. She abhorred the ways others killed animals.”

Born a Catholic, Chaves now attends an Orthodox synagogue in Albuquerque. He has made four documentaries on crypto-Jews and is working on a movie about his family history.

“When I found out about my roots, I went to the library and my world opened up. I started peeling what turned out to be a 500-year-old onion,” he said. “I have reclaimed my life. I live a Jewish life now. I think my great-grandmother told me because she expected me to do something fruitful with the information.” Others have sought the truth on their own.

Elisea Garcia was raised by a strong-willed grandmother with strange habits. “We would have a big dinner on Friday night with candles,” said Garcia, 66, who is awaiting the results of a DNA test done on her son to see if he has the Cohanim marker, which is found only in the Y chromosome. “She would butcher the animals then examine them inside out for any sign of impurity. On Saturday we weren’t even allowed to wash our hair.”

When her grandmother died, Garcia found a silver menorah hidden in her room. “I’m a curious person, but my uncle told me not to dig into things because they weren’t important,” she said.

Garcia, a Catholic, attends both synagogue and church . “It makes me aware of the whole concept of God,” she said. Greenspan, whose Family Tree DNA does the testing for Sanchez’s project, said there had been a surge of interest in genealogy among Latinos looking for Jewish connections.

“We believe a fairly high percentage of first families [arriving] in New Mexico were nominally Catholic, but their secret religion was Judaism,” he said. “We are finding between 10% and 15% of men living in New Mexico or south Texas or northern Mexico have a Y chromosome that tracks back to the Middle East.”

They are not all Cohanim, and there’s a slight chance some could be of African Muslim descent. But Greenspan said the DNA of the men is typical of Jews from the eastern Mediterranean.

Test participants scrape cells from the inside of their cheeks and mail samples to Greenspan, who has them analyzed by researchers at the University of Arizona. The process takes about a month, with costs ranging from $100 to $350 depending on the detail requested. Women, who do not possess the Y chromosome, must have a male relative take the test in order to participate.

Since discovering his past, Father Sanchez — who wears a Star of David around his neck — has traveled throughout the state giving talks on the history and genealogy of New Mexico. He also runs the Nuevo Mexico DNA Project and website that tells how people can take part.

Sanchez describes his Jewish history as “a beautiful thing” complementing, not conflicting with, his priestly life.

“I have always known I was Jewish; I can’t explain it, but it was woven into who I was,” he said.

After Mass one recent morning, a group of parishioners filed out of St. Edwin’s. None had a problem with their priest’s dueling religious traditions.

“He has taken us back to our roots,” Robert Montoya said. And Theresa Villagas smiled. “We are all children of God,” she said. “I think this just adds richness to our lives.” Source

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Links

Glossary:

Sephardic – Sepharad

“Sepharad” is the Biblical name for Spain as found in Obadiah 1:20 The exiles of this army, the sons of Israel, will have the Canaanites’ land as far as Zarephthah, while the exiles from Jerusalem now in Sepharad will have the cities of the Negeb.


Crypto-Jew –

A Jewish person who is catholic (or Moslem, etc.) outwardly but practices his Jewish faith in a hidden manner.

Anusim –

A “forced one”, someone who is forced into following the prevailing religion. Benai Anusim are the children/descendants of the original Anusim.

Converso –

A Jewish “convert” to the catholic faith through force, expediency, or genuine faith.


Marrano –

Literally a swine/pig, but also unclean or impure, Conversos were called “marranos” because they ate pig and other unclean meats.

Bibliography for “Jews of New Mexico

(Please add relevant publications)

  • To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico, Stanley M. Hordes, Published 2005, Columbia University Press, New York
  • A History of the Jews in New Mexico, Henry J. Tobias, Publisher: University of New Mexico Press (June 1, 1992) ISBN-10: 0826313906, ISBN-13: 978-0826313904