Page 182 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Elkin
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Spain. The quincentenary year made a start at remedying miscon­
ceptions concerning this period by, for example, clarifying that the
Inquisition held jurisdiction over conversos but not over Jews.
Some ancestral myths and prejudices were challenged, starting
with the notion that all converts remained Jews at heart, the same
assumption the Inquisitors made. A mark of progress in revising
traditional ideas was the perceived change in vocabulary from
“marrano,” with its echoes of martyrdom, to the neutral “conver­
so,” allowing space for a range of responses to conversion, includ­
ing the ambiguous identity that is becoming visible in the
American Southwest.
The quickening of interest in Sephardic culture among Ash-
kenazim (even if only in the introduction of Sephardic foods to the
Ashkenazic dinner table) implies potential for breaking down the
communications barrier that historically has divided the two com­
munities from one another. This process has scarcely begun, and
will require the goodwill of all partners if it is to be brought to fru­
ition.
Sephardim whose origins lay in the Balkans were impelled by
the quincentenary into a year of mourning for their ancestral com­
munities which had survived the expulsion from Spain but were de­
stroyed 450 years later in the Holocaust. These communities were
overwhelmed by memories of destruction and the existential issue
of their own personal survival. All this was compounded by the de­
struction currently taking place in former Yugoslavia, symbolized
by the “temporary cancellation” of a Sephardic festival in Sarajevo.
The impact of the Sephardic “coming out” seems to have been
negligible among U.S. Catholic Hispanics and those who work
with Hispanics. Anecdotal evidence from the American Southwest
indicates that families of converso descent still hesitate to reveal
their origins to their neighbors for fear of social ostracism. Hispan­
ic students on the University of Michigan campus did not respond
to events that were perceived as Jewish, not Hispanic; for many,
the concept “Hispanic” does not include a Jewish component.38At
the opposite end of the scale, the emergence of information about
early Sephardic (converso) colonization of Latin America may in