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Small Cadre of Puerto Ricans Starts Journey Toward Judaism

August 16, 2004
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A small group of Puerto Ricans has rejected Christianity in favor of Judaism, which they believe to be the religion of their ancestors. Calling themselves B’nei Anusim, or children of the coerced, the group comprises 30 descendants of marranos whose Jewish ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity.

“We form a part of a project whose final goal is to return to Judaism,” said Raul Rivera, a physical education teacher who acts as the group’s spokesman. “We study and use the Internet to get in contact with other people in the U.S. who are pursuing the same thing. It’s a new approach developed by a group of rabbis to help anusim return to Judaism.”

The cadre of Puerto Rican crypto-Jews, which lives in scattered in mountain towns south of San Juan, gathers every Friday night for Shabbat prayers at Bet Hakodesh, a makeshift synagogue in Aguas Buenas. Coming from nearby towns such as Caguas, Cayey and Cidra, many hav! e names like Rodriguez, Gomez and Cardoso.

The international anusim movement numbers in the thousands and is prevalent in Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean — anywhere the Inquisition forced Jews to practice their faith secretly. The movement has a Web site:

“Up to 90 percent of all Hispanics have some Jewish heritage,” says Rivera, 53, who along with his wife, Maria, and son, Danny, are studying halachah and the basic tenets of Orthodox Judaism with Rabbi Baruch Lande of New Jersey.

Relations between Bet Hakodesh and the island’s established Jewish community are weak, though Rivera and his fellow congregants receive spiritual advice and kosher food from Chabad-Lubavitch.

Asked what started him on his path to Judaism, Rivera said: “It’s impossible for us to accept the idea that the Messiah comes and dies without fulfilling the prophecies. We were all born and raised as Christians, so for ! many years, we lived believing in a false Messiah.”

Rivera said th at the anusim must undergo a formal conversion to Judaism “because our parents were Christians and we were in idolatry, so we have no way to prove we have Jewish roots.”

Eventually, he said, the entire Puerto Rican anusim community plans to relocate to a trailer park in north central Florida, along with some 40 like-minded Dominicans, Cubans and other Latin Americans.

Marshall Lopez, who left Puerto Rico 21 years ago and now goes by his Hebrew name, Moshe ben Levy, is already in Florida.

“Most of our people have a love for Israel, but they never understood why,” he said, adding that until recently, “nobody told us that our ancestors practiced Judaism.”

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