Posts

What’s really behind the Takana against accepting new converts in Latin America? The answer will shock you.

Two days ago, I had a phone call from one of my contacts in Latin America, who tipped me off that I should look a little more closely into the reasons why the Jewish communities of Latin America instituted a total ban on ‘outsiders’ being accepted, married and buried in their midst.

My source told me that it was because in the 1920s, when the takana was first instituted, there was an enormous problem with non-Jewish p*ostitutes being brought into these communities by a large underworld organization of Jewish p*mps. (Words are starred to avoid my site being banned by filters and to try to maintain our sensitivity.)

These ladies then wanted to convert to join the Jewish community, and the Jewish community was up in arms about this, and so they instituted a very severe ban on any conversions being performed, or any converts being allowed to join the community. I was given the name of a book to try to track down with more details, called Diber Shaul, and that was that.

Whaddya know?

The next day, I turned on the pc to start looking for that book, and immediately came across THIS article, which was written the same day I’d been speaking to my contact. There are no coincidences. God clearly wants this information to get out there, and it’s clearly still very relevant to things that are happening today.

Very quickly, I started to learn some amazing things about the genesis of the Jewish communities in South America at the turn of the 20th century, which have had an enormous impact on understanding why this takana came about in the first place.

====

Before we continue, let’s just remind ourselves about what this takana actually is, and the problems it’s causing many thousands of Bnei Anousim, and also other people of Jewish descent, known as the Bnei Conversos, who are being prevented from having their Jewish roots, or orthodox Jewish conversions recognized by the communities they live in.

Here’s the starting point:

====

Latin American countries have had a takana, or agreement in place since the 1920s which was first introduced by the expat Syrian community in Argentina, that they won’t accept any new converts until ‘the End of Days’, whatever that is supposed to mean. This is making it very hard for potential converts to meet the requirement set out by the Israeli Rabbinate, that they have to have spent at least 9 months living in an active, orthodox Jewish. Their local communities are totally shunning them, so even though their conversion may be halachically valid, they can’t meet the requirements to have their conversion recognized by State of Israel.

The current position with the State of Israel’s Rabbinate is that they will not accept any orthodox conversion done in Latin America. The convert will either have to move for a year to the US and convert there, or try to move to Israel for a year and convert here. If you don’t have money and connections, clearly neither of these routes are really so viable.

Practically speaking, the poor Bnei Anousim and Bnei Conversos are being banned from entering communal institutions like synagogues, mikvas and schools, and are being refused burial in Jewish cemeteries, even if they’ve had an impeccable orthodox conversion and are observing mitzvoth 100%.

====

Dear reader, we’re about to hop down a massive bunny hole here, so prepare yourselves mentally.

Here’s a precis of the shocking things I’ve discovered about why this takana really came about in South America.

At the turn of the 20th century, Argentina was actually the 10th richest economy in the world. Its economy was booming, its ports were bustling, and many immigrants from Europe – mostly men – were arriving on its shores every day, to try to seek their fortune in the ‘New World’.

Of course, there were also many Jewish immigrants amongst them, and this is where the tale quickly becomes sordid.

At this point in time, historians estimated that there was as many as 10 men for every woman in South America’s big cities, so trafficking young girls and women from the Old Country to come and work in b*othels in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro became a very lucrative business. Jewish mobsters from Eastern Europe quickly spotted an opportunity to make some massive money – and so, the slave trade in young JEWISH women from impoverished shtetls in Poland began.

The first ship bearing these ‘Polacas’, as they came to be known, (which is Portuguese for ‘Polish Women’) landed in Brazil in 1867, and very quickly, the Jewish mobsters behind the trafficking of young Jewish p*rostitutes to the New World built up an international business worth some $50 million a year, in the 1890s.

====

By 1913, this human trafficking network was running 431 b*othels in Rio de Janeiro alone, with other operations in the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo, Salvador, Santos and Recife, plus a further 2,000 brothels in Argentina.

The Jewish mobsters had also expanded their operations to big cities in the US, including New York, and other countries including South Africa, China and India.

Not all of the girls they trafficked were Jewish, but at the height of their operations, they had between 15,000 and 30,000 Jewish women ‘working’ for them in their establishments, mostly from poor Polish shtetls.

So now, we get to the next part of the story: How did these gangsters, or ruffianos, to give them their Spanish names (and avoid filter problems….) manage to get these young women from observant Jewish homes into this most sordid of professions, in a distant land?

====

The most ‘successful’ and pernicious forms of evil always operates as much under the radar as possible, and likes to dress itself up in the cloak of ‘goodness’.

These Yiddish-speaking Jewish mobsters knew how desperately poor so many of the Jews in the Pale of Settlement were in Russia and Poland. Also, these communities had been under attack without via violent pogroms, and under attack within via the maskilim, or atheist-minded reforming Jews, for many decades.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, so many Jews were trying to flee to the New World in order to escape the violence, poverty and misery of the old. So, these mobsters set up a front called the “Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society”, and used this ‘charitable foundation’ as a respectable front for their illegal human trafficking activities.

Plus ca change.

Isabel Vincent wrote a book about three of these Jewish womenNot only that, they sent their expensively-dressed ruffianos to case the shtetls and recruit unsuspecting girls as ‘servants’ or in many instances, as wives. These girls were young, typically aged between 13-16, and they and their families were totally blown away by the opulent, sophisticated young men appearing in their midst who promised the young women a sparkling future in the New World.

The ruffianos also took out matrimonial ads in the Jewish papers, as part of their twisted recruitment strategies, and they also worked with unscrupulous matchmakers who were keen to get their cut of what was becoming a very lucrative market.

In one story I read, a Yiddish-speaking ruffiano ‘married’ as many as 30 girls on one recruitment trip, and the ‘wives’ only found out about it once they were onboard the ship taking them to their new lives – but by that point, it was too late. Their ‘husbands’ would inform the girls that they were destined to work in b*othels, and the ones who refused were treated brutally, assaulted, starved and locked-up in cages until they changed their minds.

Once they were in their ‘New World’, these young girls were totally shunned by the rest of the Jewish community, who were either part of the problem, or scandalized by what was going on and trying to shut the operation down, or (probably the majority) just trying to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t happening, as the ruffianos had a lot of money… and gave lavish donations to Jewish institutions… and supported Jewish theatrical productions and other communal events.

In other words, the new life these young women discovered was totally and utterly hellish. I read one account of one very young Jewish woman being forced to service well over 200 men, in her first two weeks in NYC … Once again, it was JEWISH gangsters who created this situation.

Plus ca change.

====

Here and there, some people did try to stand up to these Eastern European Jewish mobsters and ruffianos.

There were calls for the Jewish community to stop leasing them premises, and to stop calling them up for aliyot in shul (!), and efforts were made to bar them from attending the Jewish theatres in Buenos Aires, where they would often show up with a different young girl on their arm each night, to ‘showcase’ their products.

And finally, the ruffianos and the women who worked for them were barred from being buried in Jewish cemeteries.

All these actions against the ruffianos and their slave-‘workers’ form the basis of the takana that was instituted in Latin America, which today is still being applied to Bnei Anousim, Bnei Conversos, and other sincere people who want to convert to Judaism.

====

In the meantime, the takana barely made a dent in the mobsters’ operations, beyond forcing them to change the name of their organisation, and to buy up land to build their own synagogues and cemeteries. In 1906, the Polish ambassador to Argentina made a formal complaint requesting that the “Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society”, be forced to drop the ‘Warsaw’, as Poland wanted to be totally disassociated from its activities.

So, on May 7, 1906, the mobsters formally renamed their organization the ‘Zwi Migdal Association’, after one of its leaders, Luis Zvi Migdal. A little later on, Zwi Migdal split, and another of the leading mobsters named Simon Rubinstein renamed his part of the organization ‘Ashkenazum’. Once they received formal recognition as Jewish ‘charitable’ organisations, they both built Jewish cemeteries on the outskirts of Argentina, which by that point contained a Jewish community of around half a million souls.

====

Zwi Migdal’s human trafficking operation continued to grow and grow, reaching its peak in the 1920s.

It was untouchable, because so many of their customers were notable policemen, judges, politicians and businessmen, and almost everyone else was easily bought off with large bribes.

Plus ca change.

The woman who brought Zwi Migdal down was named Rachel Liberman, from Lodz, in Poland. She arrived in Buenos Aires at the age of 22, with her two small sons, planning to reunite with her husband who had moved there earlier. Rachel’s husband died within two months of her arriving in Argentina, leaving the young widow penniless, and without family in a foreign country.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened next. Some suggest she answered a fake ‘matrimonial ad’, others that she thought she was taking a job as a seamstress, others that she was tricked into p*ostitution by someone she believed she married as her second husband, but either way, Rachel ended up in the clutches of the Zwi Migdal mobsters.

She worked for them for 4 years, and managed to save enough money to set herself up in the furniture business and leave. But the Zwi Migdal gangsters didn’t want her setting an example for the rest of the Polacas, so they threatened and intimidated her until she returned.

So Rachel searched for a different route to freedom, and eventually, she ended up in the office of one of Buenos Aires’ few honest policemen, a man named Superintendent Julio Elsogray. Her testimony led to the arrest of over 350 ruffianos and mobsters, and then a trial which was presided over by one of Buenos Aires’ few remaining honest judges, named Dr. Rodriguez Ocampo.

When she was asked if she was willing to stand by her testimony, in the face of death threats from the mobsters, Rachel replied: “I can only die once. I’m standing by my testimony.” Clearly, a very brave woman.

====

4 Zwi Migdal gangstersThe trial ended in September 1930, with 108 men sentenced to prison.

Barely a year later, the Zwi Migdal gangsters had called in enough favors from the corrupt politicians and judiciary to see all but 3 of the sentences quashed, and the p*mps freed to set up a new life, and go back to their old, disgusting ways, in Brazil, Uruguay and other locations.

The outbreak of the war in 1939 effectively put an end to the Zwi Midgal organization as we know it….

…. But I can’t help but wonder what really became of all those gangsters, and who took over from Luis Migdal, Simon Rubinstein, and all the others.

====

But let’s get back to what all this means for the Bnei Anousim, and the takana in Latin America, which was basically instituted as a protest against the tens of thousands of Jewish women who had been brought to Argentina, Brazil, and other places to be forced to work in the oldest profession in the world.

The takana was first introduced by the Syrian Sephardi Jewish community in Argentina, as a way of keeping their Jewish community ‘pure’ against this influx of the worse immorality from the secular Ashkenazi world.

The trouble is, the origins of the takana have been forgotten because over the last few decades, the Jewish communities in both Argentina and Brazil have been doing an excellent job of whitewashing the human trafficking activities of the Zwi Migdal organization.

Many of the graves containing the Polaca women have had the names scrubbed off, at the behest of the Jewish community itself. You can kind of understand that – who wants to admit that their grandmother or great-grandmother worked in a b*othel? No-one.

But what disturbs me far, far more is that the evil, immoral criminals who profited from the human trafficking via their roles as ruffianos, madams and the gangster bosses also seem to have been totally whitewashed out of the history books.

Those people didn’t drop dead (sadly, at least not immediately…) They took their money, and they set up shop in other countries, and other Jewish communities all over the world. People like that don’t just retire, they keep engaging in human suffering and immorality until the very bitter end.

And if we knew more of their names, we could trace them, and their activities, and their descendants, and probably discover a lot of very interesting things about exactly why so many parts of the Jewish world looks as yucky as it does, today.

====

To sum up: the whole subject of the takana needs airing out and properly discussing, despite the ongoing sensitivities in the Latin American Jewish communities.

Hopefully, if more people start to understand the historical circumstances that brought it into being back in the 1920s, this conversation can start to move forward, and a way can be found to dismantle it, and enable more of the Jews in Latin America to be accepted by the official Jewish community.

And I hope that shocking as this story is, telling it over will play some small part in getting the whole subject of the takana in Latin America to be revisited, and reconsidered.

====

UPDATE:

After doing some more research, and in response to a comment, I found this. The plot thickens:

In reply to yaak.Thanks Yaak.

According to this PhD thesis by Victor Mirelman (link below), the Takana was first in Buenos Aires in 1927, instituted by the Chakham David Dabbah Shaul Setton, the rabbi of the Syrian community in Buenos Aires – and pretty much the only orthodox rabbi in Latin America at that time, who had a congregation still pious enough to listen to him. This Takana was then adopted throughout Latin America, as the state of the Jewish world was in complete disarray, with the Ashkenazi community’s main ‘rabbi’ in Buenos Aires being one Henry Joseph, who himself had married out and only did a ‘quickie’ conversion of his wife when he started acting as the defacto rabbi of the community. His own children married goyim in a church ceremony.

This meticulously sourced document brings a lot of eye-witness accounts of what was going on in Buenos Aires at the time, including Jews taking two of their friends as ‘witnesses’ to ‘convert’ non-Jewish women, then marry them – in a total mockery of the conversion process. This is also why Rav Kook in Israel, and other rabbis, supported this first Takana in Latin America, and why it spread to other communities there, beyond the Syrian community.

Then seperately in 1935. Rabbi Kassin instituted a similar Takana for the Syrian community in Brooklyn, which didn’t spread, wasn’t approved of other rabbis outside the community, and remains very controversial even today.

Here’s the link, check it out for yourself: https://digital.library.wayne.edu/item/wayne:WayneStateUniversityPress4448

====

You might also like these articles:

So many anusim, or lost Jews in Latin America are trying to return to their Jewish roots, but it’s really not easy.

Around four years ago, I got an email from someone who’d been Google translating some of the stuff I’d been writing on the Breslev.co.il website into Spanish. She lived in Latin America, and was going through a very hard time.

After we’d been corresponding for a while, I took the plunge and asked her:

“Are you Jewish?”

It took a while for the answer to ping back to me. She had Jewish roots that went back to the anusim, the hidden Jews of Spain. She was desperate to learn more about emuna, and the authentic, orthodox Jewish approach to serving God.

But no, she was not recognized as being officially Jewish.

I kept in touch with my Spanish-speaking pen-pal over the next few years, and I was astounded when I got an email from her, around 18 months ago, when she told me she’d totally turned her life around left her soul-destroying job, and undergone a full orthodox conversion.

====

I was seriously impressed.

Had I known more details of what was really taking place in my penpal’s life, I would have been far more impressed. Because while her conversion was carried out 100% according to halacha; and was performed by a chareidi rabbi in Israel who lives with his family in Bnei Brak.

This rabbi used to spend a lot of time in Latin America on business, and over the years, he’d taken a great interest in trying to build up the observant community there. But there was a fly in the ointment: the local Chief Rabbinate where my friend lives wasn’t recognizing her conversion.

Back then, I was still a little naïve. I had no idea what was really going on, so I didn’t press for too many details, and I figured it was just one of those technical things that eventually get sorted out.

Then a year ago, I got another bombshell email: my penpal had met someone who’d been learning full-time in yeshiva in Israel before moving back to Latin America to find a wife. They were getting married the next month, and even though they barely had a penny to their name, she was looking forward to a much happier future.

What can I tell you?

Hashem has been giving my penpal, and the community she belongs to, a lot of tests.

====

Last Summer, I invited her to come and spend a week with me here, in Jerusalem, to have a bit of a break from all the tremendous stress she was under at home, and to come and get acquainted with the holy city.

She spent 10 days in my house, and we went to a whole bunch of holy places together, including the Kotel, Kever Rochel and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron. When she was too tired to keep traipsing all over the city, my friend would spend hours on end in her room with her prayer book, either reciting the three standard prayer services or quietly whispering tehillim to herself.

In the middle of a blazing August summer, her level of tznius put mine to shame.

She was wearing her bullet-proof black tights, and her high collars, and her heavy beret, when the heat was peaking at well over 40 degrees. And we talked a lot about God’s plan for us, and what it really means to have emuna, and a few other things besides.

At one point, I felt I could now broach a topic that had puzzled me right from the beginning:

Why didn’t you convert with the local Chief Rabbinate where you live right from the start, and avoid all the problems you’re having with being barred from using the communal mikva? (Not to mention all the other issues that she’d only hinted at.)

She sighed a deep sigh, and told me:

I don’t want to talk any lashon hara.

But journalist that I am, I could tell there was a good story here.

I kept nudging her until she told me that the main problem boiled down to money: potential orthodox converts were being asked for thousands of dollars in ‘donations’ to convert in her part of the world and my friend – and the community she was part of – simply didn’t have the cash required.

Since last Summer, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Senior figures in the ‘official’ Jewish community there have been persecuting my friend and her husband for months, preventing them from finding a job. The non-Jews don’t want them, because they dress, behave and believe the same way as the sorts of Jews you see walking around the frummest neighborhoods in Israel.

And sadly, the ‘official’ Jewish community in their country also doesn’t want them.

Headline from Haaretz saying 23% of Latin Americans have Jewish roots

====

When I showed my friend this draft, ahead of posting it up here on the site, she asked me to add in the following:

“I want to add something so that people understand that it’s not just me and my immediate community of lost Jews who are being personally persecuted. There are many converts and potential converts across the whole of Latin America who are experiencing a lot of problems.

The “official communities” in a lot of these countries don’t want to deal with us, either because there is no correct, orthodox conversion procedure in place, or because we don’t have a lot of money we can ‘donate’ to join the Jewish community, persecution against us, or because they are worried that we are really just part of a xtian sect called the “Jewish messianists” (i.e. Jews for Yoshki).

Some of those messianists now also dress as Hasidic, or ’religious-looking’ Jews, and because of our background, we are suspected of being part of these sects.”

So my friend and her community have been falling through the gaps, stuck in a kind of no-mans-land where so many of them are literally struggling to put even basic food on the table, or to find the money to keep paying the rent.

They can’t move to Israel, as many of them would like to, as they aren’t formally recognized as being Jews.

====

The conversion committee in Israel keeps telling them to convert ‘officially’ with their local community, spend a year there, and then move to Israel. But of course, they can’t. I’ve heard rumors that the ‘donation’ new converts are being asked for is $10,000 a person – and these people can barely put food on the table.

Last month, when things hit a new low, I said to my friend:

Let’s tell your story. Let’s explain what’s happening to you and your community, in your own words. I think the Jewish world really needs to hear about your plight  – but also, the remarkable courage and emuna that my friend and her community are showing in the face of some really tough circumstances.

After a little bit of persuading, she agreed.

So here is her story, in her own words.

====

My father was the second child of a religiously “conservative” family of lost Jews.

His parents never openly spoke to him about Judaism, and in many ways, they acted like the other Christians around them – only much less ‘Christian’.

But my grandfather always told him: “You should always love Israel, you should always know that Israel is the world’s clock”.

My father grew up in a rural area, totally detached from material things, which were not abundant in any case, as he was sharing the house with 11 brothers.

During his childhood, my father’s family had certain “Jewish” practices. For example, if an animal drowned, they wouldn’t eat it. And all the meat they ate was always slaughtered in a particular way, and the animal’s blood was covered over with earth.

They were taught to be extremely respectful to adults, and the children didn’t participate in any festival that was dedicated to a Christian idol, nor did they join in with the religious ceremonies in school, and neither did they celebrate Christmas. In my father’s childhood home, it was totally forbidden to cause harm to any animal, or to make fun of other people.

My father was very spiritual, even as a child.

From seven years old, he was already longing to know more about God, and what God really expected from him, and he often had some very powerful dreams and premonitions. Throughout his childhood, he was teased and ostracized for not being part of the regular Christian world around him.

At around this time, news started to reach Latin America about the Shoah that was engulfing the Jews of Europe, so my father’s unexpressed yearning for Judaism was pushed even further underground.

====

My mother’s parents divorced when she was very young, so she was raised in what appeared to be a traditional Catholic house.

But from the age of 5, she decided that she was only going to talk and pray to God, and not to any images of people. Those idols scared and repulsed her.

After she married my father, they both started to think more about the spiritual side of life, and my mother decided to ask her mother about the family. My grandmother told her that her grandparents were Jewish. Her mother had died from pneumonia when my grandmother was 8 years old, and her father had then married a Catholic woman, who raised her and her brothers. And so, all the Jewish traditions the family had were totally lost.

When my parents were in their mid-thirties, Latin America was hit by a wave of self-styled ‘Orthodox Messianic’ movements.

People who called themselves ‘rabbis’ started coming to the country, and began conducting religious services and teaching people Hebrew. These ‘rabbis’ started to appoint leaders, and to form communities, and they had the money required to start bringing Jewish books and religious items into the country .

They’d sell these items – talissim, kippas, tefillin, siddurim, and even shofars – to the locals. At that stage, my parents decided they would convert their house to being ‘kosher’, and these moves were very cautiously welcomed by the more religious Jewish communities in our country. But then, the messianic ‘rabbis’ started trying to convince the lostJews who had started to adopt more Jewish laws and halachot to accept their Christian ‘messiah’.

Many people were very confused about what was happening, but as time went on, more and more people started to realise that there was something very wrong here, and that all this ‘messianic’ propaganda didn’t fit in with the Torah, or with halacha.

====

At that point, before they had formally converted to Judaism, the community came across the letter that Don Isaac Abarbanel wrote to the monarchs of Spain.

The letter was written at the time of the forced conversions and expulsion of the Spanish Jews. There he wrote:

“[A]s the last spokesman of Spanish Jewry… I will leave you with a parting message although you will like it not.

“The message is simple. The historical people of Israel, as it has traditionally constituted itself, is the final judge of Jesus and his claims to be the Messiah. As the Messiah was destined to save Israel, so it must be for Israel to decide when it has been saved.

“Our answer, the only answer that matters, is that Jesus was a false Messiah.

“As long as the people of Israel lives, as long as Jesus’ own people continue to reject him, your religion can never be validated as true. You can convert all the peoples and savages of the world, but as long as you have not converted the Jew, you have proved nothing except that you can persuade the uninformed.”

Sadly, even Don Isaac Abarbanel’s own brother converted to Catholicism, and when that happened, every church in the country rang its bells in celebration. But the Abarbanel dreamed of the day when all these lost Jews would return to their faith.”

My friend continues:

“After we found that letter, many of us became much more interested in our traditions, and we started spending a lot of time at the national archives in our country, where we started to learn more about our Sephardic heritage. Throughout this time, we were very isolated. For around 18 years, we didn’t really know what to do or where to turn, and in the meantime, the formal communities around us were refusing to even sell us matzahs for Pesach.

Then one day, a friend from the formal Jewish community told us about a rabbi who was spending a lot of time in Latin America on business, and suggested that he might be willing to us more about the Jewish traditions of our heritage.

We faced obstacles every step of the way.

====

Even from the age of six, I had decided that I didn’t like all the stories about Yoshki that always seemed so cruel, and so full of blood and death.

Instead, I started telling people that Moses was my hero. But that didn’t go down so well in the communities we were living in, and our non-Jewish family and friends started to push us away, and to accuse us of being ‘fanatics’ and ‘murderers’.

As soon as these people discovered we were lost Jews, they’d move away from our communities very quickly. Before we started our journey to Orthodox Judaism, we’d been a wealthy family, a wealthy community. But as the years passed, our businesses started to fail, as more and more people were ostracizing us, and the money dried up.

There were weeks when we struggled even to find the money to make food for Shabbat, and this continued for years. As our community has become poorer and poorer, sometimes, there hasn’t even been money to buy food. But we don’t complain about our poverty. Most of the converts we know had to face this test, and we’ve also seen such tremendous miracles.

Yes, there are some very difficult tests.

Some of the men who couldn’t find a Jewish woman have strayed, and the main Jewish congregations in our country have been told not to give us any access to their facilities, including the communal mikva, or to offer us any type of help or tzedaka.

Yet, I’ve also seen more kindness in these communities than I’ve seen anywhere else.

I’ve seen people share their small bag of flour with a friend, so their family can also have something to eat. I’ve seen people go without sleep, and walking many kilometres just to attend a religious service. I’ve seen people spend their own time and money just to teach others, and I’ve seen women recite so many tehillim for the people in need, and people who suffer hunger all week, because they refuse to work on Shabbat, or to buy non-kosher food.

I have seen people investing literally everything they have for the common good, and making so many sacrifices to help other lost Jewish souls out of the prison of Christianity.

====

None of the 200-300 people I know who have undergone an orthodox conversion have had it easy.

Some people have lost everything they had, even their families, and so many of us have had to deal with being rejected by our parents, our friends, our communities, and with being gossiped about and slandered.

And things are no easier on the Jewish side of the equation, either, where we continue to be rejected, and our conversion discredited, by the ‘traditional’ Jewish population. Sometimes the tests are so hard, people fall back into their old life. But I’ve also witnessed three generations in one family convert.

When I’ve asked some of the people in my community if it was worth it, after everything they’ve gone through, the majority of them say:

“I’m a Jew, how else could I live?”

Here and there, there have been some movements, meeting and groups to create a strong Torah community in the Latin American countries, but it seems that there is not enough “Jewish glue” among the Latin American converts and the lost Jews to really make it work. Some people have tried very hard to get our communities more organized and vocal, but it never really spreads very far.

It’s not easy to deal with people who have even spent 50-60-70 years as “good Christians”, and now you come along and suddenly tell them that everything they believed in is wrong, and that they must become some other sort of people. It’s like being told that you have lived someone else’s life by mistake.

Many people simply can’t accept it.

====

Many of us would like to move to Israel, but the anusim like us are just a statistic to the State of Israel.

Even though some of us converted 30 years ago, already, none of us have been invited to speak to the policy makers in Israel, although I know they listen to Arabs and other non-Jews on a regular basis. Yes, there are some ‘politically correct’ initiatives, but nothing that really leads to anything concrete.

I’ve never heard of an Israeli embassy running an initiative to try to get to know the anusim that exist, still half-hidden, in the countries where they are located. The only contact we have with Israel is via the letters written by our ‘official’ rabbinate, where the conversions that cost us so many tears, and so many prayers, and so many nights of study and effort, are falsely discredited.”

Why is that happening, I wanted to know? Why so much antagonism against the lost Jews?

My friend sighed, then continued:

“As happens everywhere, there are some people, some “anusim” who have been seeing all this as some sort of a “business”, and their actions have closed the doors for the rest of us more and more. Baruch Hashem, they are a minority, and they cannot dim the light of those who really want to live a Jewish life, even when our bad middot still get in the way.”

====

She continued:

“Today, the future does not seem so clear.

The people who have the ability and knowledge to help us move forward don’t want to. The people who could be sharing our story, and lighting our path back to teshuva and Hashem and Israel, continue to turn their backs on us.  But there is still something I am sure of:

This is only the beginning.

There is a Divine force driving all this, and while there are some people, some converts, who really don’t have such good intentions, there are hundreds and thousands of us who are being carried forward by our holy, pure desire to serve Hashem and keep His mitzvoth.

These are the people who are prevented from using a mikva in their own communities; people who can’t find a Jewish school to accept their children, people who are refused places to study in yeshiva, and refused permission to settle in Eretz Yisrael.

But even so, if you lift your heads and look around, you’ll see an amazing sight: There are thousands upon thousands of humble people, simple people, who are coming back to life. There are Jewish souls who were once considered to be dead, who are being reborn. Those dry bones have been covered by muscle and tendons.

“And we are living once again, as Torah-observant Jews.”

====

And so, her story ended.

Or really I should say, her story began. Last year, the small group of sincere converts that my friend belongs to, these Sephardic anusim, decided to try to move several families en masse to a rural part of the country, where the cost of living is far cheaper, and where there is some potential for the community to become self-sufficient.

They didn’t have any resources, or investment. All they had was some firm trust in Hashem and a little bit of charity money that was being sent in from outside. And even that is now dwindling, as the government has recently enacted a law limiting the amount of money that can be sent to their country via money transfer to just $500 a year.

Nevertheless, my friend and her community didn’t give up. They started trying to slowly buy a few more domesticated animals, and to start making a few more basic products to sell to the tourists that come to the area. But the crushing poverty began to take a huge toll on the community, and tragedy has continued to dog their heels.

A few weeks ago, my friend told me that all the animals a certain family had spent two years carefully raising all caught some freak illness, and died overnight. Then, there is another family where the father was caught up in an awful road accident last year, and was so ill he couldn’t work for months.

Just as he got back on his feet – last week – he was run over again.

This last problem fell like a thunder-clap on this close knit community of anusim, lost Jews who are trying to hard to return, and my friend was totally distraught about what was happening, with one problem and one challenge after another.

====

When I first wrote this piece, a couple of months ago, my friend and her community were planning to try to start a few businesses with a little bit of investment money, with an eye to building up a real community with it’s own mikva, synagogue and school.

Today, the plans are in a state of flux.

What’s clear is that this community still needs an awful lot of help to just start being able to put food on the table, pay rent, and to build a very basic mikvah. Until these basic things are taken care of, they can’t see any further ahead on the path they need to take.

But once that’s done, there is a pressing need for the community to get organized – and for the other communities of anusim to get organized – and to start figuring out the process of how they can be allowed to convert again, if necessary, in order to be given full rights as the orthodox Jews they really are.

I’d love to tell you there’s a plan, a process to give us the happy ending to the story, but right now, there isn’t. All I can really do for my friend at the moment is pray that God will open the door for them, and pray some more that they’ll have the ability to walk through it, when the time comes.

====

Almost 600 years ago, Don Isaac Abarbanel told the rulers of Spain:

“Woe unto you, authors of iniquity. For generations to come, it will be told and retold how unkind was your faith and how blind was your vision. But more than your acts of hatred and fanaticism, the courage of the people of Israel will be remembered for standing up to the might of imperial Spain, clinging to the religious inheritance of our fathers, and resisting your enticements and your untruths.”

All over Latin America, there are lost Jews still desperately trying to cling on against all the odds, and to return to their Jewish faith.

And I don’t know what we can really do, or how we can really help them, but one thing I do know:

We have to try.

====

If you think you can help, either with a financial donation or by making some introductions and opening some doors for this particular group of ‘lost Jews’ in Latin America, please get in touch. Who knows, maybe the time has come for this to finally start moving. I hope to be writing more about this subject of the lost Jews in the next few weeks.