The next aliyah?

Israel on its 67th birthday is strong because its human resources are strong.  The people who have come here in numerous aliyot (waves of immigration) since the 1880s have made Israel what it is today, a thriving, innovative, vibrant democracy.  We allow our people to develop their own abilities that leads to technological and industrial development.  They don’t sit around trying to figure out how to kill Arabs, they sit around trying to solve real problems.

Each wave of aliyah has brought with it its own contributions.  Notably the last major aliyah (1 million people) from the former Soviet Union (1989-2006) brought many musicians and artists and raised the cultural level of Israel tremendously. The question is, was that indeed the last wave of Jewish immigration to Israel or will there be more.  Perhaps the last source of immigrants could be from the Spanish-Portuguese world, the Bnei Anousim or descendants of the Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism from the 15th century.  Although that was 500 years ago there remained a great reluctance on the part of other so-called “Old Christians” to intermarry with the “New Christians” or conversos, as the Jewish converts were called.  Clearly this was a racial issue since the purity of blood became a serious issue for the Catholics of Spain and Portugal.

Also, many of the converted Jews retained some Jewish rituals and they kept close tabs on their children’s spouses to ensure that thru the generations they remained Jewish.  Many were detected and tortured by the Inquisition, but many  survived, particularly by fleeing from the Inquisition to the periphery of the Spanish/Portuguese colonial world.  Thus, many Bnei Anousim survived in Brazil, Central America, Mexico and North America (New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana).   It has been estimated that there are now ca. 20 million such descendants of formerly Jewish origin.  How many of them would choose to return to the Jewish people or even making aliyah to Israel is of course unknown, but even a small percentage could be many thousands of people.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful, if the remnants of the Jewish people who were forcibly converted to Christianity and persecuted by the Inquisition were able to finally return to their roots.

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4 thoughts on “The next aliyah?

  1. Hi Jack

    In the current or last issue of The Atlantic magazine is an article written by Jeffrey Goldberg “is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?” He says yes. Worth reading.

    Best

    Gene

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  2. Your words have me brimming with pride – these are my people. The Arabs should be honoured to have such amazing neighbours.

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  3. Gene and Ronnie thanks for that recommendation of The Atlantic magazine article, it is a very good, if lengthy, read. I’ve never heard of that magazine.

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  4. I am one of these bnei anousim. Thanks to Avi Gross, Shlomo Buzaglo, Yael Cohen, Alina Moryosef and you at the International Institute for Sefardi and Anousim Studies, I have a better understanding of the Diaspora after the Inquisition. Most importantly, I have a better understanding of the circumstances that have shaped my family’s trajectory over the past five hundred years in Puerto Rico.

    I am one of those bnei anousim who is seeking his way back home. That journey is not easy as there are many Jews who have no knowledge of our history. I have been led to understand that the challenges faced in Israel with other large Aliyahs may color how Israelis view the possibility of a new Aliyah particularly of a group that has been away from the full practice of Judaism for so many generations. This has been a view expressed by many of my Jewish colleagues in North America. For them, ours (the bnei anousim) is not a return home but rather the arrival of a new convert. The notion of a cohort of “returning Jews” is even more foreign. The children of Sephardic Jews who were forced to become new Christians in Spain and Portugal can return but only be welcomed as new conversos to Judaism. I have met few Jews who fully believe that my coming back to my Jewish roots is a RETURN.

    Trying to find a rabbi who is available to teach and prepare many of us to return is a challenge. Forget about the notion of a return. A simple inquiry of conversion is a challenge in itself.

    If we are to see the next wave of Aliyah in Israel, we must first address the lack of awareness of the bnei anousim and provide means by which we can return to our roots fully as brethren. It is a shame that one would need to suggest that rabbis be the first to be educated on these matters. I am forever grateful for the warmth and home I found at the Institute in Netanya. It is that experience and sense of “being home” which drives me forward in the quest to fully return. As you allude Jack, the percentage of those returning may be small. The barriers are many. Let’s work to tear them down and fully bring home those who, similar to another exile in the past, seek to come home.

    Thanks for your efforts in this regard Jack.

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