I have been interested in the history and indeed the plight of the Bnei Anusim, descendents of the Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity (conversos) in Spain and Portugal and were then hounded by the Inquisition. Many of them fled at one time or another away from Iberia and took refuge in the many Spanish and Portuguese colonies around the world, in the Azores, the Canary Islands, Holland, Florida, and South America. We know that today there are millions of the descendents of these “marranos” or Bnei Anusim, but most of them have little idea of their origins. People are sceptical that there are any who could remember their Jewish origins or even return to them after hundreds of years. But, there are some cases.
I have described the cases of a few such people, for example Genie Milgrom, whose book “My fifteen grandmothers” I read recently (see blog, Dec 31, 2013 ). Here is another true story. A young man in Britain (who shall be nameless), like Genie, found himself, providentially or not, socializing with Jews. He had been brought up as an Anglican and had no particular reason to be attracted to Jews, but as a free thinker he had no particular reason to be prejudiced against them either. As a result of a love affair with a young Jewish girl, he became attracted to the idea of the kibbutz. With an idealistic tendency he found the idea of communal living both novel and romantic. So he decided to join up and try living on a kibbutz for a while. In order to do so he was advised by his madrich (mentor) to put himself down as “Jewish”, which he did, since it made no real difference to him. During his stay on the kibbutz he fell in love with another one of the girls of the group (garin) and they were married. Now he found himself living in Israel and on a kibbutz, without being Jewish and without any interest in converting to Judaism.
After a few years on the kibbutz they became disillusioned and moved to a town in Israel, where they had two sons. Since their mother was Jewish so were the boys and so having a father who was a non-Jew presented no immediate difficulty. Both sons joined the IDF and fought in Israel’s wars and both survived, although not without difficulty. Years went by and the sons, perhaps partly as a result of their war experiences, became ultra-Orthodox (haredi). They each married and had children and now these children are coming to a marriageable age. Now he realized that his grandchildren’s marriage prospects could be affected in the haredi circles in which they live by having a non-Jewish grandfather around.
Meanwhile his wife died, and he re-married. He had been born in S. America and had grown up there when his father, like his grandfather, was stationed there by a British insurance company. Although he considered himself thoroughly British, his second wife was interested in his S. American background, since it turned out that his grandfather had actually married a local Chilean woman. He told her that his family had a tradition of never eating milk and meat together, an unusual tradition for Catholics. She also investigated his grandmother’s origins and wIth the help of Gloria Mound at Casa Shalom they were able to find in the archives that her maiden name was Mendez, a typically Jewish Spanish surname. Since his maternal line was evidently Jewish, after living nearly 60 years in Israel as a non-Jew he suddenly found that he was in fact Jewish! Naturally his haredi family are delighted.