Shavei Israel appoints new Latin American emissaries
Shavei Israel has appointed two new emissaries to work with Bnei Anousim communities in Latin America. This follows several “fact finding” visits to the region over the last year by Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund and Shavei’s Educational Director Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum (see our reports here and here). Rabbi Daniel Touitou is working with Bnei Anousim in El Salvador while Rabbi Rafael Zerajia is now in Chile supporting the Bnei Anousim community there.
Also known as Marranos, a derogatory term by which they are sometimes referred to by historians, Bnei Anousim fleeing the Inquisition first arrived in Latin America along with the Spanish explorers in the 16th century. However, the Inquisition followed them and most continued to keep their Jewish identity a secret. Today, increasing numbers of Bnei Anousim are reclaiming their Jewish roots.
Several hundred Bnei Anousim live in El Salvador, primarily in the capital, San Salvador. Rabbi Touitou, who will be posted to the country, was born in France in 1967 and speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, English and a bit of Italian, in addition to French, of course. He has used his multilingual expertise to work in both Israel and South America. He lived in Sao Paolo, Brazil from 2002-2008, where he established a kosher rabbinical court in the city as well as an educational project serving some 350 Jewish youngsters. He was also the head of a yeshiva high school in Sao Paolo during this time. Previously, he spent several years living in Tucaman, Argentina where he was a community rabbi and shochet (kosher ritual slaughterer).
In Israel, Rabbi Touitou has been working with Shavei Israel already for several years as an instructor in the Machon Miriam Institute for Conversion and Return. In addition, he was the rabbi of the “Amunah” conversion institute near Jerusalem until last year.
Rabbi Touitou received his rabbinic ordination in 1991 and later his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in History of Israel and Informatics from Bar Ilan University. More recently, he received his teaching certificate in Talmudic Literature from Lifshitz College in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Touitou has been interested in issues regarding the Bnei Anousim for some time now. In 2004, he participated in a Brazilian-produced documentary on the descendants of Marranos in Portugal and northwestern Brazil, and in 2005 he delivered a lecture at a conference in Sao Paolo on “Bnei Anousim: Conversion or Return.”
We have pictures of Rabbi Touitou and the Bnei Anousim community in El Salvador here.
The Bnei Anousim community in Chile is known as Kehilat Yosef Chaim; it consists of about 35 people in Santiago who have been practicing Judaism for over a decade. The group has its own synagogue, which is separate from the 15,000 strong mainstream Jewish community in Chile. Like Rabbi Touitou, Rabbi Zerajia was also born outside of Israel – in Argentina – where he has used his fluency in Spanish to build a 10-year career as an emissary (not connected to Shavei Israel) working in Buenos Aires and the surrounding areas. To get to that point, however, he first moved to Israel where he studied at the prestigious Beit Midrash HaSefaradi in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. He received his rabbinical ordination there in 2003.
Rabbi Zerajia has worked with Shavei Israel’s Rabbi Birnbaum through the “Ner Le’Elef” program, a division of the Ohr Torah Stone and Amiel institutions, which trains rabbis to work in Diaspora communities. Although he has spent much of his professional life in South America, this is his first posting to Chile.
Rabbi Zerajia has published a number of important learning materials in Spanish, including a Friday night prayer book in Hebrew and Spanish with phonetic transliteration; a prayer guide for the sick including Spanish transliterations of the appropriate psalms; a similar guide in Spanish for prayers said at a cemetery, including an explanation of all the rituals and customs used prior to burial; thoughts in Spanish on the Torah portion of the week; and a translation and expansion of the Hafetz Haim’s masterpiece on the Jewish laws regarding proper speech..While in Argentina, Rabbi Zerajia also produced a Spanish-language video commemorating the liberation of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Click here to view a gallery of recent photos of Rabbi Zerajia with the Bnei Anousim community in Chile.
Please join us in extending a warm welcome to both Rabbi Touitou and Rabbi Zerajia.