"So, where is the next great Aliyah to Israel going to come from?"
Without hesitation I responded, "The Anusim. The secret Jews."
I am no expert on this subject. I staggered across this amazing and hidden drama of Jewish history by accident.
While browsing through the shelves of a Barnes & Noble bookstore during a vacation stopover in Florida, I picked up a tantalisingly entitled book. It was called "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean." I thought it would be a light chuckle of an easy holiday read while we fittingly sailed through the Caribbean on a cruise to Panama. It was written by Ed Kritzler, and it turned out to be an amazing read. It had little to do with swashbuckling antics, a la Johnny Depp. Instead, it was a profound study of Spanish Jews who were hounded by a cruel and dogmatic Catholic Church that tortured, expelled, and burnt Jews to death in public exhibitions of massacre if they failed to convert to the Christian faith. This persecution chased them across four continents. The death toll was enormous. Jews who could not escape adopted an overt Christianity, while many risked death by overtly maintaining Jewish rituals at home. A large number ensured their heritage by marrying people of the faith who also outwardly appeared to be members of the Catholic faith.
I assumed that these Jews were long lost to Christianity until fate brought me back to this intriguing topic. I helped a client to find a new home in Netanya. Gloria Mound had made the move from Gan Yavne in the south of Israel to be close to the Netanya Academic College who had contracted to receive her 40 year old archives on the Anusim, the forgotten Jews of Spain and Portugal. She, and her husband, had sent decades investigating, researching, and recording the history of this people. They came across many who admitted, in deepest confidence, that they were Jewish but did not want this information to become public. They lived in a society to this day as secret Jews and felt concerned should this knowledge be known to their neighbours, friends, and the general society in which they lived and worked, which was exclusively and outwardly Christian as it has been for centuries. Buried underground, they were hesitant to announce their core faith. Even today, they are the closet Jews.
But there are signs of an awakening. The Jerusalem Post of July 12, 2011 had an article "Chuetas of Majorca recognized as Jewish." The article displayed a member of the newly announced Jewish community in Palma de Majorca dancing with a Torah at the Shavei Israel's seminary for Bnei Anusim. In may of this year there had been a memorial service in Palma, commemorating the execution of 37 Chueta Jews for practicing Judaism in secret. They, including Rabbi Raffi Valla, who was the secret rabbi of the Anusim, were burned alive.
The grave injustice done to the Jews has been blotted out of Spanish history. This shameful chapter has been kept secret from Spaniards but, increasingly Spanish authorities are being asked to open their archives so that researchers can study official records that had not been seen for centuries.
DNA tests done on Portugal reveal that as many as six million Portuguese have some degree of Jewish blood in their veins. Secret Jews inhabit the Caribbean, Central and South America. Slowly, inevitably, people are becoming curious in discovering their roots. They volunteer their names and details to researchers who examine family trees, name and location associations, in order to establish a more detailed record of the Anusim.
Israel is witnessing the early signs of a return to open Judaism. This is increasingly linked with a desire to start a new life, with their new pride in their identity, in Israel.
There are a number of organisations who have outreach programs to these secret Jews. They include the Shavei Israel organisation, and the International Institute for Secret Jews (Anusim) Studies which includes the Casa Shalom Library, at the Netanya Academic College.
I am proposing setting up a special Facebook group for Anusim. This group will have information published in English and Spanish. Anyone interested in helping with this research, or have information, should contact me and I will pass you over to the right person. We are aware that many people may be curious as to their roots, yet not ready to make any public disclosure. Concerns for confidentiality will be strictly observed.
Many people who are involved with this yet to be fully discovered section of Judaism, feel like I do. That these people, when the awakening becomes public and larger in numbers, will become the next huge wave of Aliyah to Israel, which is the only place they can truly enjoy the freedom to openly celebrate and appreciate their faith.