I am what is known as Bnei Anousim (meaning “coerced” or “forced”).
Last month, I joined an esteemed panel of experts to make history at the annual AIPAC Conference in our nation’s capital. The panel’s topic was “Identifying Potential Allies Among 15 Million Americans With Significant Jewish Ancestry.” This was the first time that a major Jewish or pro-Israel organization held such a large and high-profile event on this subject.
I’m a suicide prevention grant manager at American Indian Health & Family Services in Southwest Detroit, executive director of Detroit Fashion Community, the managing director for USA- North Central for the Israeli based nonprofit Ezra L’Anousim and a founding partner, along with my husband, Marvin R. Fried, of Indijewness.
I am what is known as Bnei Anousim (meaning “coerced” or “forced”). In the 14th century, around 80% of world Jewry lived in Iberia. Spain’s Inquisition began in 1492, with Portugal’s Expulsion following in 1497. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were forcibly disconnected from Judaism, then violently converted to Catholicism. Many sailed with Christopher Columbus to North and Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Anousim are a multi-racial/ethnic people of African, indigenous and European admixture. Late last year, 50 universities conducted a massive genetic research study, discovering the identities and locations of their descendants. There are around 200 million Anousim in the Americas, with at least 15 million in the United States. There is a database with around 11,000 surnames, which anyone with interest can check for their own connection to the Inquisition.
In 2016, I received my mtDNA (maternal) full-sequence results from Family Tree DNA. Thanks to Ph.D. candidate Yehonatan Elazar-DeMota’s research, my mother’s family claim was scientifically substantiated. Some of my ancestral surnames are De La Rosa, Diaz, Lara, Mederos, Miranda, Monteiro, Portes, Valdes, Sanchez and Tejeda.
I had assumed my Jewish connection was from the Holocaust; however, with the examination of this diaspora’s migration, a different narrative emerged. Through wire-wrapped Swarovski Crystals made into rings attached to small bags, called ringlets, each named after a maternal grandmother, Indijewness became a platform to share my story. I’ve been fortunate to trace back six generations to date. My aim is to go back 15 generations, like Miami-based author and educator Genie Milgrom.
I was on the panel with Reconectar President Ashley Perry, adviser to Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister from April 2009 until May 2015 and director of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Communities during the last Knesset; Dr. Lorenzo Trujillo, affiliate professor of music and the director of the Metropolitan State University Mariachi Ensemble and the Mariachi Correcaminos; and former Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba and was chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 2011-2013.
During the hour-long conversation, attended by nearly 500 people, the panelists gave brief histories of their families and discussed their advocacy and unique insights into Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation state, and how these insights can leverage pro-Israel advocacy, outreach and support within these emerging communities. Also discussed was the potential implications at the polls, and how this can impact Hispanic/Latino turn-out with multiple-issue voting.
One exciting development was an invitation from Chad Martin, director of the northeast region at Israel Ministry of Tourism, to connect in developing heritage tours for Bnei Anousim.
I was personally gratified from participating on this panel, by the international community’s interest in the new diaspora’s emergence and being a spokeswoman for it. Shortly after my return from AIPAC to Michigan, Portugal’s Parliament designated March 31 as Memorial Day for victims of the Inquisition. END BOX
Elizabeth C. Kincaid is an Oakland County resident. She attends Keter Torah Synagogue.