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Out of Hiding

by Aharon Granot, Spain

For hundreds of years, they lived in fear, practicing remnants of a lost tradition in cramped cellars and dark corners. Their ancestors were tortured to death in the dungeons of the Inquisition; some were burned alive at the stake. Yet over the past two decades, many have come back to reclaim their heritage in broad daylight. Rabbi Nissan Ben Avraham, the first “Marrano” to be an Israeli-ordained rabbi, took us on a surprising tour of these reawakening Spanish kehillos.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

havdalaFrom the top of Spain’s Alhambra Castle, the breathtaking panorama ofGranadaunfolds before us, igniting our imagination. This city was once the capital of the southern provinces, and theAlhambraserved as the royal residence, citadel, and fortress of the Muslim rulers in the 13th and 14th centuries, before they surrendered to Catholic rulers King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the fateful year of 1492 — at the peak of the Spanish Inquisition.

Granada(Spanish for “pomegranate”) is named for the pomegranate trees that are ubiquitous throughout the city. Today the name is additionally significant: Our Sages teach that Jews are “filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate,” and we’re here together with a dozen visitors who have recently discovered their own ancestors were Jewish — Anusim [forced converts to Christianity] who lived double lives of fear during the Inquisition. They have organized here inGranada, where they spend long days studying Torah in anticipation of rejoining the Jewish People. Their footsteps echo with courage and a historic sense that they are finally avenging the blood of their forebears — who were either exiled, burned at the stake, or forced to convert. “We have returned, and we are coming back to keep the mitzvos right here, inGranada, next to your palace and your graves,” they whisper over the tombs of the Catholic monarchs buried here.

“Even the decree of expulsion was named after this city, the Edicto de Granada,” explains our guide Rabbi Nissan Ben Avraham, an emissary to the Bnei Anusim community inSpainand the first “Maranno” convert to be ordained by the Israeli rabbinate. Rabbi Ben Avraham, resident of the Shomron town ofShiloand father of 12, accompanies us into the Hall of the Ambassadors, the largest hall in the castle and the crowning glory ofAlhambra. But not before he notes the name of the threshold we’ve just passed over: “Gate of Justice.”

The hall, which once served as the center of political and diplomatic life in the kingdom, is majestic in its beauty, but that can’t hide the evil perpetrated within its walls: It was here that the Catholic royal couple signed the decree calling for the expulsion of the Jews of Spain — to take place Erev Tisha B’Av, 1492.

  

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