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Unveiled Spirits: The Shared Heritage of Latino Jews

Back Room Ritual by Diana BryerFor the first time in Portland's history, the Latino-Jewish dialogue is no longer silent. The Miracle Theater Group is proud to announce a ground-breaking new Spring 2003 Arts and Lectures Series, Unveiled Spirits: The Shared Heritage of Latino Jews. Produced in collaboration with the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, PSU's Chicano/Latino Studies and Jewish Studies Programs, U of Portland's School of English & Foreign Languages, and the American Jewish Committe, this series culminates in the world premiere of Spirits of the Ordinary - a play about nineteenth century Mexican Crytpo-Jews. The play is adapted from Northwest writer Kathleen Alcalá's novel which won the 1998 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Book Award and was the 1992 top summer pick of Alan Cheuse, host of NPR's All Things Considered. In addition to theatre, the series includes an evening of Ladino song and Sephardic poetry written during the Golden Age of Spain, various lectures on the Inquisition, Conversos and Crytpo-Jewry, and a photography exhibit on the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico.


Photographic Exhibit Testifies to Crypto-Judaism's Tenacious Survival
A Jewish Literary Flowering in Medieval Spain
Hispanic and Jewish Identities Converge at Crypto-Jewish Synagogue: An Interview with Rabbi Yosef Garcia  
An Interview with Ilan Stavans: Perceptions and Realities about the Jewish Experience in Latin America






"Photographic Exhibit Testifies to Crypto-Judaism's Tenacious Survival"
by Matthew Warshawsky

The "Unveiled Spirits" project is fortunate to include a photographic exhibit of crypto-Jews from New Mexico. "500 Years after the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions: What Remnants of Judaism Remain?", which runs at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center from the first through the 31st of May, is the work of New York-area portrait and art photographer Gloria Golden. The exhibit includes photographs of crypto-Jews living in New Mexico and of headstones in cemeteries in that state where persons of crypto-Jewish heritage are buried. Personal, autobiographical statements accompany each photograph. The following paragraphs provide a brief historical context with which to explain the paradoxical existence of Jewish identities among a small number of Hispanic Christians in the American Southwest.

The edict of expulsion issued by Ferdinand and Isabel, the Spanish king and queen, on March 31, 1492, presented the country's Jews with a stark choice: convert to Catholicism or leave Spain within three months. Up till the moment of the expulsion, Spanish Jews could legally practice their religion, despite increasing, often violent, pressure to accept baptism. With a few strokes of a pen, the monarchs hoped to rid Spain of the people whom they suspected of encouraging heretical, crypto-Jewish practices on the part of those Jews who had already become "New" Christians, or conversos. Never mind that Jews had lived on the Iberian Peninsula for at least a millennium and a half, that several held important advisory roles in the government of Ferdinand and Isabel, and that Ferdinand himself was a descendant of a converted Jew. The monarchs held firm, and by August 1, 1492, according to Jane Gerber, approximately 175,000 Jews had left Spain and another 100,000 had remained in the country as converts to Catholicism (The Jews of Spain 140).

Most of the Jews who left Spain that fateful summer found their way to Portugal, North Africa, the Netherlands, Italy, or the Ottoman lands of present-day Turkey and Greece. How then did crypto-Jewish communities become established in Spain's holdings in the Americas? In the years after 1492, New Christians traveled on Spanish expeditions across the Atlantic, hoping that in places so far from Spain they would be able to practice their ancestral faith. They may have done so with a certain degree of liberty during much of the sixteenth century until, in 1569, the Inquisition set up tribunals first in Mexico and then Peru. A series of highly publicized trials, one in the 1590s and the other in 1635, effectively reduced the number of crypto-Jewish, or Judaizing, New Christians in these places. Neither political office nor wealth protected the accused from the Inquisition's charges. For example, in 1590 a governor of Mexico, Luis de Carvajal, was forced to resign because of his family's crypto-Judaism; some of his relatives were imprisoned in convents and monasteries, while others were condemned to death. The deposed governor himself, while waiting to be returned to Spain, died of "undetermined causes" (Howard Sachar, Farewell España 340). History repeated itself a half century later with the arrest and trial of over 200 suspected Judaizers in Mexico, including a member of the Carvajal family who as a young woman had been punished in the first wave of persecution (Sachar 343-344; see also 338-346).

Those converts who tried to maintain their Jewish identity and who avoided prosecution as heretics were forced to flee to remote areas of Spain's vast American empire, principally in what is today northern Mexico and the American Southwest. Starting in the sixteenth century, Spanish-speaking Catholics in these areas preserved crypto-Judaism from generation to generation by incorporating certain vestigial rites of Judaism into their lives. Today, more than half a millennium after the expulsions of the Sephardim from Spain and Portugal, Jewish heritage plays an important role in the spiritual identity of some descendants of persons who fled persecution on the Iberian Peninsula and in the Americas. Reprinted with the permission of Gloria Golden, the following words of individuals whose photographs are part of the exhibit at the Jewish Community Center testify to the durability of crypto-Judaism.

Gerald Gonzalez:
Photo by Gloria GoldenSeveral years ago, as I was explaining my research and my suspicions to some first cousins, my youngest paternal aunt, who had been listening intently, broke in and said something like, "Yes, our family came here because they were being persecuted for being practicing Jews!" I later explored how she came to know this, and she reminded me that, as the youngest daughter, she had spent many hours listening to my grandfather talk about the family just before he died. During some of these conversations, he told her about our family's Jewish heritage. It probably explains the remark my grandfather once made to me when I had just begun to research our family history more intensely: "If I were not a Catholic, I would be a Jew."

Maria Apodaca:
Photo by Gloria GoldenAs a teenager in high school, we were studying the five great religions of the world. I chose to write about Judaism. After my father reviewed the work, he slowly put the paper down and told me something that I never would have guessed on my own. He told me this in a very secretive way. The three little words that my father used changed my life forever-"We were Jews." For years I have been searching for information about this history. It has been a difficult task, but I have had some important success. This past year I learned that my great-grandmother Petritia Chávez-Luna was a practicing Jew. She, her brother, and sister-in-law would get together on Saturdays, and were not to be disturbed [. . .] and that great-uncle Clemente even had a menorah in his home. I had no idea that my roots to Judaism were so close.

Gerber, Jane. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York: Macmillan, 1992.
Sachar, Howard. Farewell España: The World of the Sephardim Remembered. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Editor's note: We thank Gloria Golden for allowing us to reprint several of her photographs and portions of the statements of two individuals whom she photographed.

A Jewish Literary Flowering in Medieval Spain
by Matthew Warshawsky

The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 initiated a worldwide Sephardic diaspora, but it also ended the extraordinary contribution of Jews to the development of Spain during the Middle Ages. Almost one millennium ago, Jewish communities throughout Spain, and especially in the southern province of Andalusia, participated in a Golden Age of cultural expression. What circumstances created an environment favorable to such an outpouring, most notably in poetry and philosophy? Who were some of the principal contributors to this renaissance? Finally, why did this Golden Age disappear, and how can we explain the fact that it occurred at all, given anti-Semitism in Spain during subsequent centuries?

Jews may have lived on the Iberian Peninsula, or the part of southwestern Europe encompassing modern Spain and Portugal, since biblical times, because a group of them is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Obadiah as "the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad" (verse 20). From this reference to Sepharad comes the word Sephardic, used to refer to Jews of Spanish ancestry. Jewish settlement of the Iberian Peninsula increased as a result of the Roman Empire's domination of much of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East from the beginning of the Common Era into the fourth century (the 300s). During this time the Romans left Iberian Jews alone, most likely due to the importance of the latter to the development of Spain as a source of the Empire's economic wealth. This privileged status of Jews was not continued by the Visigoths, northern Europeans of German origin who occupied the Iberian Peninsula for almost 300 years starting in 412. The Christian Visigoths enacted anti-Jewish legislation such as forced conversions, initiating the practice of crypto-Judaism among converts unwilling to abandon their ancestral faith.

The year 711 was of great importance to Iberian Jews, because Muslim Berbers from North Africa invaded and quickly established their authority over all but the northern reaches of the Peninsula. The Berbers, or Moors, and the Arabs who joined them were more enlightened rulers than their Visigoth predecessors, and their love of literary expression allowed Jewish creative talents to prosper as well. Cities in Andalusia, such as Córdoba, Seville, Granada, and Málaga, became centers of great intellectual activity. Meanwhile, having retreated to the mountainous northern part of the Iberian Peninsula, the Christians began their reconquest of Spain. Their crusade took almost eight centuries of intermittent fighting, and was completed in 1492 with the surrender of the Moorish kingdom of Granada to the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. 1492 was fateful for two other reasons as well: in this year a royal decree was issued ordering Spanish Jews to become Christians or permanently leave Spain, while a few months later, Christopher Columbus encountered the Americas.

Rarely have the composition and recitation of poetry achieved the exalted status they enjoyed in the aforementioned Andalusian cities during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Jewish poets living amidst such creative ferment eagerly adapted characteristics of Arabic poetry to their own verses, which often were written in the Arabic language but with Hebrew characters. Much of the Hebrew poetry of Medieval Spain was composed in order to be read as entertainment at small literary gatherings for men of wealth and leisure, and it was both secular and religious in nature. While many of these poems are famous for describing idealized settings of natural beauty, in which the merits of wine and women are sung, in general the works show great variety. Some of the texts are exercises in flattery, praising the patrons whose wealth enabled the poets to exercise their vocation. Other poems discuss the impermanence of human existence, the sense of exile Jews felt in a land whose principal occupants were Muslims and Christians, and the longing to return to the Holy Land. Although there were many Hebrew poets of eleventh- and twelfth-century Spain, four in particular stand out: Samuel ibn Nagrela, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Moses ibn Ezra, and Judah Halevi.

No one more than Samuel ibn Nagrela exemplifies the multifaceted capabilities of these poets. Equally adept in and out of literary circles, ibn Nagrela achieved a position unheard of for a Jew in Islamic Spain when he was named grand vizier, or chief adviser, to the ruler of Granada in 1024. Part of a vizier's duties were military, and ibn Nagrela became famous for his exploits defending his kingdom against rival Muslim cities in Andalusia. Ibn Nagrela's poems are not limited to boasts of battlefield successes, but also incorporate odes to the pleasures of wine, laments about unfulfilled love, and reflections on the inevitability of death. So extensive were his political, military, and literary capabilities that among Jews of the time ibn Nagrela was known as the "nagid," or chief.

Solomon ibn Gabirol never reached the heights outside literature attained by ibn Nagrela. Made reclusive due to a skin condition, he spent much of his short life writing for various patrons. The themes and images of many of his poems tend to be dark and brooding, without the lightheartedness characteristic of his contemporaries. Ibn Gabirol was immensely talented, and showed the scope of his abilities in a group of poems similar to the biblical Song of Songs, in which God and Israel address each other as if they were male and female lovers, respectively. In direct contrast to ibn Gabirol stands Moses ibn Ezra, whose wealth enabled him to write poetry without worrying that such activity was the sole means of his income, as it was for ibn Gabirol. Before suddenly losing his money, ibn Ezra exhorted readers to enjoy the good life of drink and beautiful women. Having suffered material impoverishment and then frustration in love, the poet became introspective, as evidenced by the serious tone of his poems about death.

Judah Halevi, the last of the poets to be considered, distinguished himself from his predecessors because of what he believed was an obligation to move to the Holy Land. In addition to his poetic genius, he was wealthy, had experienced love, and attained success as a physician. Yet something of a spiritual void compelled Halevi to leave Spain and set sail for Alexandria and then the Holy Land. Ironically, no evidence shows that he ever reached his intended destination, and in Alexandria he may have lived in the kind of courtly environment similar to the one he had left behind in Iberia. Before departing Spain, Halevi excelled writing about wine and about lovers eager for their feelings to be requited. His later poems shun this so-called good life and ask Jews to consider their relationship with God and their responsibilities to the Holy Land.

Moises MaimonidesThe most outstanding Jewish figure in Medieval Spain was the legal scholar, philosopher, and physician Moses ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam (for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon). Were he to have achieved excellence in merely one of these areas, Maimonides would be considered an intellectual of great renown. The fact that he made innovative, even revolutionary contributions to so many disciplines explained why Jews in subsequent ages compared him with the biblical Moses by saying, "From Moses to Moses there was no one like Moses" (Gerber 80). Maimonides is considered a son of Córdoba, where he was born in 1135, even though he spent only the first thirteen years of his life there. Due to intolerant attitudes towards Jews on the part of a new group of Muslim rulers called the Almohades, his family left Córdoba and after a period of wandering, settled in Fez, Morocco. From Fez the family traveled to the Holy Land and then to Cairo, Egypt, where Maimonides spent the bulk of his life and wrote his most famous works. The Rambam died in 1204 and was buried in Tiberias, Israel.

Upon the death of his brother David, a dealer in gems whose income had supported his intellectual pursuits, Maimonides was forced to practice medicine for a living. He attained great fame in Egypt as the personal physician to the chief adviser of the Egyptian ruler and because of his teachings about the importance of a balanced life. Maimonides was a tireless worker, and "a profound paradox" of his life was his ability to maintain a grueling schedule of medical appointments while also producing legal and philosophical scholarship (Twersky 1). With the exception of the Mishneh Torah, which was written in Hebrew, Maimonides produced his major works in Arabic. Spanning fourteen books that organized and cataloged Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah became the authoritative legal text in Judaism for centuries. Written in a Hebrew accessible to many readers, this book leaves no stone unturned in its comprehensive explanations of statutes of Jewish law and their origin. For example, it discusses core beliefs of the Torah, or first five books of the Old Testament, explains proper conduct on the Sabbath, and suggests how a Jew could fulfill honorably the obligation to perform acts of charity.

Maimonides surpassed even these texts with his Guide for the Perplexed, in which he claimed that reason in addition to faith could address important philosophical questions of Judaism. Unlike the Mishneh Torah, the Guide was written for a more limited readership; in the introduction to part one of the work, Maimonides states that it was intended for "a religious man [. . .] perfect in his religion and character, [who has] studied the sciences of the philosophers and come to know what they signify" (Twersky 236). This work was especially important because it asserted that reason was compatible with religion. An example of this assertion comes at the end of the Guide, where Maimonides states that "true human perfection [. . .] consists in the acquisition of the rational virtues" (Twersky 355); he then claims that an individual achieves such perfection through knowledge of God.

The convivencia, or peaceful coexistence, between Jews and Muslims of Medieval Spain was always tenuous. An invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1147 by the Almohades, the fundamentalist, reactionary Muslims from North Africa who forced the family of Maimonides to leave Córdoba, rapidly ended the Hebrew Golden Age. Not unlike certain Muslim groups today, the Almohades wished to establish an austere form of Islam that precluded the right of Jews to live where they had prospered for hundreds of years. The Almohades killed some Jews and forced others to convert or seek shelter further north and east in Spain. The exiles settled in areas occupied by Christians advancing south towards Andalusia. History repeated itself 350 years later, when, under Christian rule, Jews once again found themselves useful but expendable. The persecutions they suffered during the century before 1492 were more violent than the hardships endured under Muslim rule, bad as those were. Jews were regarded as a threat to the integrity of the Christian reconquest, whereas they did not threaten Islamic hegemony in Spain. Muslims encouraged Jews to absorb their culture; Christians tried to exclude Jewish participation in theirs. As a result of these policies, Hebrew literature in Spain reached its zenith under Islam, while Spanish Jews after 1492 wrote as exiles.


Baer, Yitzhak. A History of the Jews in Christian Spain. Volume 1. Translated from the Hebrew by Louis Schoffman. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America 1992.
Gerber, Jane. The Jews of Spain. New York: Macmillan, 1992.
The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.

Sachar, Howard. Farewell España: The World of the Sephardim Remembered. New York: Random House, 1994.

Scheindlin, Raymond. Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Twersky, Isadore, ed. A Maimonides Reader. New York: Behrman House, Inc., 1972.

Hispanic and Jewish Identities Converge at Crypto-Jewish Synagogue: An Interview with Rabbi Yosef Garcia
By Matthew Warshawsky

A unique feature of Portland's Jewish community is Avdey Torah Hayah, a synagogue for crypto-Jews of Hispanic and Catholic heritage that, according to its rabbi, Yosef Garcia, is the only one of its kind in the United States. Rabbi Garcia founded the synagogue in 1997 to meet the spiritual needs of individuals such as himself who grew up in the Catholic Church of Latin American countries but who have a "feeling" or "knowing" that they are Jewish. Avdey Torah Hayah has been holding weekly Shabbat, or Sabbath, services since 1999, when Doug Bolt, pastor of Richmond Community Church, located at 3941 SE Division Street, offered the use of his building to Garcia. In a recent interview, the rabbi discussed how he came to realize and embrace his own Jewish identity, as well as what crypto-Judaism in the United States means today.

Garcia was raised in Panama, where he attended church and was instructed in the ways of Catholicism. When he reached adulthood, Garcia, who was living in the United States then, told his great-uncle that he believed their family was Jewish. The great-uncle confirmed this assertion, remarking to his grand-nephew that he had promised his own brother―Garcia's maternal grandfather―not to discuss the family's Jewish identity. However, as the grandfather had passed away by the time of this conversation, Garcia's great-uncle felt he did not have to maintain the secrecy of the family's Jewish identity. The revelation of his Jewish heritage profoundly affected Garcia, who had been "looking for God" by attending church and studying the Bible. Later, while visiting his mother in Panama, he met Chaim Levi, a rabbi from Colombia who offered to teach Garcia about Judaism.

After about two and a half years of study, Garcia started visiting synagogues in the Northwest, but said "something was missing." He met other Hispanic individuals who also "were not comfortable going to established synagogues," and in 1997 decided to form a study group in his North Portland house. By 1999 the group had grown, and Garcia began to look for a larger space in which to hold Shabbat services. He is grateful to Doug Bolt, pastor of Richmond Community Church, "who opened his doors" to Avdey Torah Hayah. Presently Avdey Torah Hayah, Hebrew for "Servants of the Living Word" ("Sirvientes de la palabra que vive"), has a membership of approximately 30 families.

While Garcia commented that anyone with "an open mind and a heart ready to study the word of God" is welcome at Avdey Torah Hayah, most of the congregants are Hispanic Jews descended from Jews of Mexico and Central and South America. Members of most Sephardic synagogues trace their lineage to Spanish- and/or Portuguese-speaking Jews who settled in other regions of Europe, as well as in North Africa and the Near East, after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in the late fifteenth century. However, the ancestors of many Hispanic Jews settled in the Americas during the centuries when Spain was a colonial power.

Garcia said that a big challenge for crypto-Jews is gaining the acceptance of Jews already affiliated with established synagogues. Gaining such acceptance of crypto-Jewish religious identity is a challenge, because "other Jews think we are Christians [who] are trying to change them." He believes this wariness towards crypto-Jews on the part of other Jews exists because "so many people have tried to change Jews." However, Garcia is pleased with interactions that are occurring between Avdey Torah Hayah and other synagogues in the Portland area. He said that Rabbi Daniel Isaak and Rabbi Emeritus Joshua Stampfer at Congregation Neveh Shalom, Rabbi David Rosenberg at Congregation Shaarie Torah, and Rabbi Aryel Hirshfield at Congregation P'Nai Or have all worked with his congregation. These synagogues offer programs not available at Avdey Torah Hayah, such as classes in Hebrew, how to keep a Kosher kitchen, and Talmud study. As well, they are optimal places for crypto-Jews to learn more about the Jewish community.

Regarding the future, Garcia believes the synagogue will continue to grow by helping individuals raised as Catholics become more comfortable with their Jewish identity. Much work remains to be done because, he asserted, in Latin America "there are many Jews who still go to church, but who practice Judaism on Saturdays and holidays." The "stranglehold" that the Catholic Church has over the religious life of many regions throughout Mexico and Central and South America explains why these individuals "are still hiding." Latin American countries are predominantly Catholic, and the Church is the principal means of religious expression. However, Garcia feels that Avdey Torah Hayah "is going to change" the difficulty of being Jewish, and he is proud that his congregation is "on the cutting edge, giving crypto-Jews a different avenue. We are the only ones offering crypto-Jews an alternative way of worship that is not with the established synagogues."

(Interviewer's note: Much of the information about Garcia's upbringing was reported previously by Deborah Seldner in "From Altar Boy to Rabbi: Story of a Crypto-Jew," an article that appeared in the April 1, 2002, edition of The Jewish Review. I thank Ms. Seldner for sharing this article with me, as well as "Crypto-Jewish Congregation Real Thing, Says Stampfer," which she also wrote for the newspaper at the same time. The second article provides a historical overview of crypto-Judaism and explains the work of Garcia and Joshua Stampfer, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Neveh Shalom and co-founder of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies.)

An Interview with Ilan Stavans: Perceptions and Realities about the Jewish Experience in Latin America
by Matthew Warshawsky

Ilan StavansIlan Stavans (Mexico, 1961) is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His books include The Hispanic Condition (1995), Art and Anger (1996), The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1998), On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language (2001), and The Scroll and the Cross: 1,000 Years of Jewish Hispanic Literature (2003). He has been a National Book Critics Circle Award nominee and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Latino Literature Prize, among many honors. His work has been translated into half a dozen languages. Although Professor Stavans is unable to come to Portland for the "Unveiled Spirits" project, as we had originally hoped, we are grateful for his enthusiastic participation in the following electronic interview. Stavans provides fascinating food for thought about how Latin American Jews are viewed by Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike, and he also clarifies misconceptions about Judaism in Hispanic cultures.

Matthew Warshawsky (MW): How much credence do you give to a theory mentioned in the introduction to Tropical Synagogues, according to which one reason for Spanish exploration to the New World was to find a haven for Jews expelled from Spain?

Ilan Stavans (IS): Life in Spain since the 13th century was oppressive for Jews. The presence of the Inquisition, the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X the Wise, and ultimately the Edict of Expulsion of 1492 forced many to convert, seek refuge elsewhere, and sometimes even defy the status quo. The arrival of scores of so-called New Christians to the Americas at the time of colonization, some of whom, like Luis de Carvajal the Younger, eventually "reconverted" to Judaism, suggests that the Americas were seen in the Iberian Peninsula as a safe haven where, at the very least, the reach of the Holy Office was less mighty.

On this issue, I recommend The Scroll and the Cross: 1,000 Years of Jewish-Hispanic Literature (Routledge).

MW: Is the persecution of Jews and New Christians in the New World by the Spanish Inquisition treated objectively in Latin American history books, or have there been efforts to whitewash or rationalize that period of history.

IS: In the region, textbooks don't pay the appropriate attention to the persecution of "judaizantes" [New Christians who practiced Jewish rites in secret] in the colonial period. On the other hand, since the 1970s a cadre of American historians that includes Seymour Liebman and Martin A. Cohen has sought to address this deficiency. Much remains to be done, though. Anti-Semitism is rampant in Latin America, although it often hides its ugly face behind different máscaras (masks).

MW: Likewise, do you think there are any misconceptions regarding Latin American Jews held by people elsewhere, and if so, what are they?

IS: Of course. An important misconception, for instance, is that most, if not all of, the Jews in the Americas are of Sephardic origin. There have been three immigration waves to the region: the crypto-Jews in colonial times; the Eastern European Ashkenazim from 1850 to 1930; and the "Ottoman" [Eastern Mediterranean] Jews from the 1950s onward. Numerically, the second was by far the largest wave.

MW: Could you summarize the reasons why the literature of Latin American Jews has remained relatively unknown in the United States? In other words, why were these writers excluded from the "boom" of works by non-Jewish authors such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, and Isabel Allende, to name a few?

IS: In the 20th century, Latin America, in ethnic, religious, and political terms, was promoted as a more or less monolithic continent. The result was a handful of sweeping assertions about its people. But the role of minorities is crucial in its metabolism: indigenous people, blacks, Europeans, Jews, Asians-the arrival of foreigners has dramatically changed the landscape. A more open, Melting Pot-like understanding of Latin America is emerging today. Finally the "literature of difference," present from 1492 but for all intents and purposes eclipsed since then, is receiving more attention.

MW: What factors explain the historical persistence of anti-Semitism in Latin America, especially given the small number of Jews living in most Hispanic countries?

IS: Iberian anti-Semitism and the role of the Church, first and foremost. Since the 10th century, misconceptions about Jews prevail in Spain. These misconceptions traveled across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492 and found fertile ground in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, the Caribbean basin, and elsewhere. Then, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the spread of a modernized anti-Semitism also found a home in Latin America. The Protocols of the Wise of Zion, for instance, is a perennial bestseller. It was prompted by several dictatorial regimes of the 1940s.

MW: How would you describe the cultural identity of most Latin American Jews today?

IS: Astonishingly rich, multifaceted, in constant mutation-the process of mestizaje turned inside out.

(Interviewer's note: These questions were based on readings of three works of Professor Stavans: selections of The Inveterate Dreamer: Essays and Conversations on Jewish Culture (2001), The Hispanic Condition: Reflections on Culture and Identity in America, and the introduction to Tropical Synagogues: Short Stories by Jewish-Latin American Writers (1994).


Calendar of Events

Out of Hiding:
Secrets of the Sephardim
Sephardic poetry and song
Wed, Feb 26 at 7 pm

Uncovering Latino-Jewish Culture
Panel discussion with
Richard Wattenberg ,
Matthew Warshawsky
Rabbi Yosef Garcia and Gerson Robboy

Wed, April 23 at 7pm
PSU Studio Theatre, Lincoln Hall

Spirits of the Ordinary
Play about 19th-century
Mexican Crypto-Jews

May 2- 31, 2003
Thur 7:30pm
Friday-Saturday 8 pm
Sunday 2 pm
Miracle Theatre
525 SE Stark

Page to Stage
Playwright and Dramaturge discuss adapting a novel to the stage
Sun, May 4 following performance
Miracle Theatre
525 SE Stark

Tropical Dialogues
Untold Stories of Latino Jews
Wed, May 14 at 7pm
Hollywood Theatre
4122 NE Sandy Blvd

The Struggle of Crypto-Jews
Lecture by Rabbi Joshua Stampfer
Sunday, May 18 at 4 pm
Mittleman Jewish Community Center
6651 SW Capitol Hwy

500 Years After the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions: What Remnants of Judaism Remain?
Photography exhibit by Gloria Golden
May 1-Saturday, 31
Mittleman Jewish Community Center
6651 SW Capitol Hwy

Funding for Spirits of the Ordinary and Unveiled Spirits has been provided by the
Allen Foundation for the Arts
Oregon Arts Commission - Arts Build Communities,
Oregon Council for Humanities
Portland Guadalajara Sister City Association
J. F. Smiekel Foundaion
El Hispanic News

Regional Arts & Culture Council.

Matthew Warshawsky teaches Spanish at the University of Portland. He earned a B.S. in Latin from Swarthmore College, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. n Spanish literature and culture from The Ohio State University, with a specialty n the Renaissance and Baroque eras. His research focuses on the experiences and literature of Spanish New Christians (Jewish converts to Christianity and ther descendants) in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries

Reading List 

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler
The Overlook Press, Woodstock & New York, 1998.

A History of the Jews in Christian Spain
by Yitzhak Baer
(2 volumes), Philadelphia: JPS, 1961-1966

A History of the Jewish People
by H.H. Ben Sasson(editor)
Cambridge, MA, 1976

A History of the Marranos
by Cecil Roth
Philadelphia: 1947

by Yehuda Halevi
abridged and translated in Three Jewish Philosophers, New York, 1960

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory
by Yosef H. Yerushalmi
University of Washington Press, 1982

The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse
by T. Carmi (editor and translator)

Support the Miracle. Purchase these and other books through the Powell's link below and we receive 10% of the proceeds. Follow the links below for books of interest



Ilan Stavans


Miracle Theatre Group

Mittleman Jewish Community Center

PSU Chicano/Latino Studies Program

PSU Jewish Studies Program

Univ of Portland
School of English & Foreign Languages

American Jewish Committee


José E. González, Artistic Director
Kathleen Alcalá, Playwright
Olga Sanchez, Playwright/Director
Karin Migaldi, Dramaturg
Richard Watternber, Speaker Series Director
Matthew Warshawsky, Education Outreach Director
Cindy Williams Gutierrez, Marketing Director
Kerry Silva, Project Coordinator

Mittleman Jewish Community Center
Flora Sussely

Mittleman Jewish Community Center is an 87 year old organization dedicated to the support of Jewish cultural expression.

Jewish community centers in the U.S. were a necessity for the many years during which Jews were banned from other athletic facilities and social clubs. Serving as a 'home' for Jewish music, art, theater, dance, literature and learning, Jewish Community Centers are now the gateway into Jewish artistic & ethnic diversity.


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