The Right of Return (Part 3)
Last week we published a new part of the interview given by Shavei’s Chairman and Founder Michael Freund about the descendants of the forced converts of the Inquisition to the פנימה עלמה magazine. Here’s the next installment of this article.
A new world
Mexico has become the home of many Anousim who wandered to the shores of the New World in hope of staying away from the Inquisition. Miriam, or as she was known previously, Cindy Montiel Tapuz, is a member of such a family. Just two years ago, at the age of 42, Miriam immigrated to Israel with her husband, a former pastor, and their seven-year-old daughter Leah. Not long ago, they ended the conversion process and officially returned to Judaism.
“We came from a very cohesive family and many of them have been converted. Some of them have long been in Israel,” says Miriam. Her maternal grandmother was named Salome, a form of the name Shlomit, and her last name was Del Toro Valencia. Lineages from previous centuries show that these names are characteristic of Anousim. “My grandmother came to Mexico from Spain with her parents in 1912 when she was a baby. She married my grandfather, who was called Roberto Tapuz Mani. Mani is also a name associated with Anousim. Together they raised their 11 children.
“Grandma’s house had no statues or pictures, which is very rare in Mexico, where every house has statues and pictures of all kinds of Christian saints. She raised all her children in the faith in one G-d. When I was seven years old Grandma Salome taught us to pray, emphasizing that there was only one G-d we should believe in. All of these practices had no explanation. “
What other strange practices have aroused your curiosity?
“My grandmother’s house had a special dairy pot, and it was use for the dairy products to be cooked. All the other cooking utensils were intended for the meat. We did not hear or know about the Jewish kosher world. We knew that the day of rest was not Sunday, but rather that it started on Friday at sunset. Grandma also avoided celebrating the local and religious holidays. “
Miriam’s father came from a Catholic family, but her mother, who after the years also converted to Judaism, educated them on monotheism and not in Christian values. “My father did not interfere with my mother’s education, even though his family never accepted or understood us. As a child, I didn’t understand Christianity either – why should I turn to the son when I can speak directly to the Father? I always felt that there was nothing there that fulfilled my spiritual need. I found the meaning only later, in the Torah. “
When her grandmother passed away, an emotional and spiritual emptiness created a process of searching for a large part of the family. “There has always been a spiritual search in the family, and there has always been the question of why we don’t behave like Christians, like everyone around us. We knew it came from Grandma, but we didn’t know why and what the source of all these practices was. From where we come from almost no such discourse. Christianity in Mexico is very dominant and there were no answers to the questions we asked. We did not identify ourselves with the atmosphere and the local culture, and on the other hand there was no basis for the principles we were educated on. “
When Miriam was 12, the first change in the life of her family happened. “My aunt and her husband began to study Judaism. They converted 35 years ago and immediately immigrated to Israel. Through them I was exposed to Judaism, and my faith began to become clearer and clearer. I always wanted to understand why we have different family practices, and suddenly they came with clear knowledge and taught us exactly what Saturday is and about Maimonides’ 13 tenets of faith. During this time everything began to become clearer and more logical to me. “
From the church to the Beit Midrash
She met her husband, Daniel Fuentes, 45, as part of her work. Daniel, then known as Federico Fernando, was a devout Christian and even served as a pastor. They married about nine years ago, while Miriam continued to study Judaism. Four years after their marriage, in 2015, her husband also began to study Torah of his own volition, “He already knew what Saturday was and knew Judaism, but from afar.”
As time went on, both of them learned how to pray, keep Shabbos, and keep kosher. “We could have stayed in Mexico. I worked as a lawyer in a reputable place and we were in good financial situation. But the more we learned, the more we realized that we could not fulfill our full potential there. Our life in Mexico has been good, but living in Israel and especially in Jerusalem is filling me and making me feel like I have come home. Judaism gave me meaning. Although I knew my husband before and there was a love between us, our relationship became much more meaningful after we both started studying. Awareness of the need to maintain peace at home changes life. You see the change in the atmosphere at home – there is more holiness and calm. We also came to Israel because of Jewish education for our daughter,” Miriam admits. “Already 20 years ago, I realized that Judaism was the truth, but I did not move forward with it. “
Just two months ago, Miriam, Daniel, and their daughter Leah finally completed the conversion process. They are now living in Jerusalem and are awaiting official immigration status so they can settle permanently in the country. The Shavei Israel organization helped them along the way. “I have a lot of gratitude for the people in the organization who have supported us,” she notes excitedly.
Knowing that you are Bnei Anousim has influenced you?
“Knowing that I have Jewish roots further strengthens my connection to Judaism, strengthens me in the worship of G-d and the knowledge that Moses is true and his teachings are true. The fact that somehow our family has succeeded in transmitting so many ancient customs, originating from the suffering of the Inquisition, underscores the power of the Jewish spirit – the burning bush and lack of food – and the dedication of the Jews in the most difficult conditions. “
What are the major challenges you are facing today?
“The language. Although we very much want to learn Hebrew, it is not simple. Of course, there is also the economic situation that cannot be ignored. Israel is a much more expensive country than Mexico, and we still have no income. My main concern lies with our Leah, that she will easily adapt to the new situation.”
“Many times I feel lost,” Miriam admits, “but at the same time, I know that all the challenges are temporary and that the land of Israel is bought in suffering and with the help of G-d easier times will come. Knowing that my family and I are in the Holy Land, that we are part of a community, that I have a place to pray, that everything around me is kosher and that there are good people here – that is a blessing for me. I thank G-d that granted me a chance to make this step.”