A shared heritage: Chaya and Eliav’s journey back to Jewish roots

Organizations like Shavei Israel provide support to individuals seeking to reconnect with their Jewish roots.

In an unforeseen turn of events, Chaya from Mexico and Eliav from Cuba found their individual paths to rediscover their Jewish heritage converging in an extraordinary way. This shared journey didn’t just reconnect them with their past; it also serendipitously forged a bond of love, leading to marriage.

“Our story starts when Eliav reached out to undergo conversion in Israel…we are crypto-Jews or conversos,” Chaya explained.

The term “crypto-Jews” or “conversos” refers to individuals or communities of Jewish ancestry who, due to forced conversions (under penalty of death), were forced to hide their faith and assimilate. 

During the Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century, Jews in Spain faced intense persecution. They were presented with a stark choice: convert to Christianity, leave the country, or face expulsion or death. Many Jews, unable or unwilling to leave their homeland, opted to convert to Christianity, at least publicly, to escape persecution.

However, conversion did not guarantee safety. The Inquisition, established to enforce religious orthodoxy, actively sought out those suspected of secretly practicing Judaism. Conversos were subjected to intense scrutiny and faced severe consequences if found guilty of practicing their ancestral faith.

As a result, many conversos continued to practice Judaism in secret, often within their own homes, forming crypto-Jewish communities. These communities developed unique strategies to maintain their Jewish customs and traditions, often blending them with Christian practices to avoid detection.

“In my family, we used to keep certain customs like separating milk from meat and having specific pots for milk and meat. These practices piqued my interest and curiosity,” Eliav explained.

Over centuries, these crypto-Jewish communities evolved distinct customs shaped by local traditions and the necessities of discretion. Both Mexico and Cuba became refuges for conversos fleeing Spain, where they perpetuated their secret Jewish practices.

“I learned about our Jewish heritage from my mother, but it wasn’t until I converted in Israel that I truly comprehended the depth of this connection,” Chaya said.

Chaya and Eliav’s connection ignited when Eliav contacted Shavei Israel to commence his conversion. His interest in Judaism, fostered over years of research, resonated with Chaya’s similar journey of exploration.

Their individual journeys intertwined, and their shared experiences as crypto-Jews brought them closer. 

It took Eliav eight years to finally arrive in Israel. “At first, I had my own questions, like why do I want to go there, why do I want to keep the mitzvot… It was a gradual process,” Eliav shared.

Organizations like Shavei Israel and their Bnei Anousim Department provide support to individuals seeking to reconnect with their Jewish roots. They offer educational programs, resources, and assistance with conversion, helping them navigate the complex path of rediscovery.

Eliav reflected, “The Jewish people suffered a lot in many nations in the world. It’s crucial to raise awareness about this awakening within crypto-Jewish communities that’s happening today.”

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