How I came to teach a class at Congregation Kol Beramah in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a story which kind of spans 400 years, but more personally, the past few years of my life. I’ve written elsewhere about the Converso phenomenon, and of my connection to it, which tells part of the story.
See, some of the conversos resettled in New Spain, or Mexico, hoping that the distance from Spain would mean goodbye to the Inquisition and hello to no more discrimination. Of course, they still couldn’t observe Judaism openly, but at least this way they wouldn’t be scrutinized, allowing those who wished to secretly observe Torah the opportunity to do so. Well, the Inquisition did follow them, burning some at the stake. That prompted others to move to the periphery of the the Spanish territory, namely to the area that would one day become the U.S. state of New Mexico.
Today, there are people in N.M. that claim Jewish ancestry, some of whom joined my Facebook support group, Children of the Inquisition. So when I decided to take a road-trip with my dad through Arizona and New Mexico in June 2013, I set out to connect with them during my travels.
That brought me to the small Orthodox Jewish community of Santa Fe, N.M., named Congregation Kol Beramah. It is a community committed to the study of Torah and to Tefillah and they warmly welcomed me to give a shiur on the day that I came to town. While the congregation is not made of up Conversos, Conversos is a topic of interest in that part of the world. And so I spoke on the subject of Conversos and several of my Facebook friends showed up, even traveling in from their homes in other parts of the state, like from the city of Albuquerque. I spoke about the Converso origins of my community in New York, Shearith Israel, and about some of the halakhic literature produced in Amsterdam (its mother community), concerning the phenomenon of Converso returnees.
I had a great time and really enjoyed meeting the pillars of that community, Daniel and Naomi Israel, who not only made the arrangements for my talk, but also fed me a delicious dinner and invited me to stay in their lovely adobe home.
As I discovered, even in unexpected places like in the Southwest of the United States, you can find a part of the story of Spanish Jewry. Surely, this was a trip and a lesson I won’t soon forget!
To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico by Stanley Hordes