lunes, 31 de diciembre de 2018

Genie Milgrom: Pyre to Fire


 ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What are some symbols that conversos etched on their houses as a way of communicating with other Crypto-Jews?

Genie Milgrom was born in Havana, Cuba, into a practicing Roman Catholic family of Spanish ancestry. From a young age, she felt unusually attracted to Judaism. After going through a formal conversion, she began to research her family’s history and was able to document her unbroken maternal lineage going back six centuries to pre-Inquisition Spain and Portugal, proving that she is, in fact, a descendent of forced converts. Her research led her to write the books My 15 Grandmothers, and How I found My 15 Grandmothers, A Step By Step Guide. The books were both winners of the 2015 Latino Author Book Awards.
Genie has travelled extensively to Fermoselle, the village of her ancestors in the Zamora region of Spain, while doing field research on the town’s Jewish past. Her new book, Pyre to Fire, is a captivating historical novel that juxtaposes the story of a Jewish family living in Fermoselle at the time of the Inquisition and her own fascinating autobiography.

Listen HERE

viernes, 7 de diciembre de 2018

A Jewish Path in Zamora

by Jesús Jambrina*, Special for The Jerusalem Post, March 23, 2016

On March 6 I gave a presentation titled “Uncovering Jewish Zamora” at the La Crosse Synagogue in Wisconsin. When in 2010 I began to look into the subject of a Jewish presence in this Spanish city of the rocky northwest, crossed by the Duero River an close to the border with Portugal, I never dreamed of the results that my curiosity would lead to. 

My first Google search on the subject of the Jewish legacy of Zamora, turned up only two results. The first was a reference to the well-known Concilio de Zamora of 1313, in which many of the prohibitions regarding the Jews that had been stipulated at the Council of  Elvira at the beginning of the fourth century were repeated. The second search result was related to the case of the “Niño de la Guardia,” a 1491 blood libel set in Toledo, in which a Zamoran Jew named Abenamías had allegedly participated. This accusation was disproved over half a century ago by Yitzak Baer, and shown to be one of many anti-Semitic fictions created by members of the infamous “Santa Inquisition” of the 15th century. [The 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia states that the entire episode is “one of the most notable and disastrous lies of history.”]

Apart from these two references which are to be found in most medieval history books which mention the subject of the Jews, there was not much more available at first glance on the Internet. This lack of information surprised me, as I personally already knew of at least one essay – dated 1992 – signed by the then-director of the Provincial Archive of Zamora, Florián Ferrero, in which bibliographies related to the Jews of Zamora are mentioned.

A few weeks later I read two books which I now consider to be classics on the subject: Juderías de Castilla y León (1988) (“Jewish Quarters in Castilla and Leon”), by Guadalupe Ramos de Castro, which has a section dedicated to the city, and El pasado judío de Zamora, (1992) (“Zamora’s Jewish Past”), by Prof. María Fuencisla García Casar, which offers a historical chronicle of the Jewish presence in the provincial capital. It was through these works – which from my present vantage point I consider to be in need of editing to update the information and perspectives on the subject – that a picture began to emerge.
There are other authors which also lent substance to my research: the studies of the late Prof. Carlos Carrete Parrondo of Salamanca University, and of Julio Valdeón Baruque of Valladolid University. In his book, Judíos y Conversos en la Castilla Medieval, (“Jews and Converts in medieval Castille”) Valdeón Baruque presents an excellent study of Castilian and Leonese Jews. 

To this Spanish bibliography one would also have to add medievalist Manuel Fernández Ladero, who has published several notable articles about Zamora and the subject of Conversos, as well Prof. Yolanda Moreno Koch and Prof. Ricardo Izquierdo Benito who have compiled several conference proceedings on the subject of Jews of Spain.

A wider bibliograhy would be incomplete without authors like the late Benzion Netanyahu (father of the present prime minister), the late Haim Beinart, and Professor Abraham Gross of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, whose book on Abraham Saba is indispensable.

When I visited the city for the first time in 2010, I was shocked by the absence of references to anything Jewish. Since I have always been interested in Jewish literature and culture from Spain, and by then knew of something of Zamora’s prestigious position during medieval times, I was curious as to why this was the case. I asked a couple of colleagues and friends in the city, including a relative of mine, and some information immediately surfaced, along with various books and articles.

Following a fruitful conversation with Ferrero Ferrero I decided to write a paper on the subject. When I returned to the United States I started to research further and realized that I had stumbled upon something more complex and that I wanted to devote more time to delve into it. Additionally, the project was a good reason for me to return to Zamora, the birthplace of my paternal grandparents.

On that first trip I also met with Mario Saban, president of Tarbut Sefarad, in Barcelona, as well as the organization’s representatives in Madrid, José Manuel Laureiro and Anun Barriuso (descendants of Crypto Jews), who encouraged me to continue with the project and offered their help. I have to say that these three friends were originally somewhat skeptical about Zamora having a significant Jewish history. 
Located at the heart of Old Castile, this is a city known for its strong Catholic culture. Celebrations around saints’ days and the Virgin Mary are very common and dominate popular festivities all year long. More importantly, its 24 Romanesque churches (the largest number of any city in Europe) drive national and international tourism. So “Good luck with anything Jewish”, I can imagine my friends and local family members thinking back then. 

However, in 2013, together with colleagues Genie Milgrom (author of My 15 Grandmothers) I organized the first international congress on “Zamora Jewish Life: History and Re-encounters” which was covered by The Jerusalem Post and local media, and caused ripples in Zamoran society. The result of the congress was a promise by then-mayor Rosa Valdeón, to signpost several areas of Jewish interest in the city. This promise was kept at the end of the 2014 congress.
Five locations, crucial to the Jewish history of a city (which until 2013 barely appeared to have any at all) are now marked by metal pillars erected by the Zamora Municipality as a direct result of the interest evidenced through the presence of these congresses in Zamora. 

Illustration included in the Bible of Cervera (Castile, and Leon, 1300) used to identified Zamora Jewish Quarters signpostings
I never imagined, when I began my research six years ago, that my efforts would bear  fruit to the point of bringing together increased numbers of local and international students of and experts in Sephardi culture and history every year since.
Among the esteemed colleagues who have taken part in our congresses are the aforementioned Gross, New York University Prof. Jane Gerber, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Prof. Ruth Behar and Universidad de Lisboa Prof. Jorge Martins, as well as many other experts on the subject of Jews and Sephardim from Spain, Portugal, the United States and Israel.

Looking towards our fourth annual event this summer, I am pleased to note that writer Gregorio G. Olmos, author of the book Yucé, el sefardí, 2016 – winner of the XXXIV Novela Felipe Trigo prize – has agreed to be our key note speaker. We also hope to see the author of the prologues of Olmos’ book: author José Jiménez Lozano – who received the renowned Cervantes Prize in 2002 – at this year’s congress.

Towards the end of 2013, and riding on the success of the first congress, the Isaac Campantón Center was created as a Jewish research center for Zamora, named after the sage Isaac Campantón (1360-1463), known as “the gaon of Castille.” The name was chosen because Campantón, as author of Darche ha-Gemara, or Darche ha-Talmud (“A Methodology of the Talmud”) he represents the flowering of the Zamoran Jewish Community in which he carried out his educational labor during the last century before the exile of the Jews from Spain.

Campantón’s book was published in Constantinople (ca. 1520), Venice (1565), Mantua (1593), Amsterdam (1706, 1711 and 1754) Vienna (1891) and Jerusalem (1981). And yet, the present residents of Zamora had never heard about him until our first congress, so far-reaching was the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Spain following 1492.

Throughout the 15th century, Zamora had attracted the most brilliant thinkers in Spain and Portugal, with Campantón being the guide of a generation and clearly responsible for the later transmission of Jewish tradition to the Sephardi Diaspora.
Among his students were Samuel Valensí, Issac Abroab II, Isaac de León, Jacob Habid and his son Leví, Moshe Alaskhar, Isaac Arama, Joseph Hayyum, Abraham Saba and the well-known converso hebraista Alfonso de Zamora, among others. No other Castilian or Leonese city can count such a battery of sages among its rosta of Jewish personalities, whose influenced can be found from Amsterdam to Safed and Istambul, and from Portugal to as far away as the Americas. A large number of the visits we get on the Campanton Center webpage are from Lithuania and parts of Russia, where the work of the Zamoran sage is well-known.
All of these subjects are discussed at our congresses, which have now become real “Sephardi days” because in addition to academic presentations we have offer concerts, exhibitions and guided tours of the Jewish quarters, along with Shabbat dinners that are open to all the participants in the congress, as well as to residents of Zamora who are interested in knowing more about this celebration – so central to Judaism.
These meals, as well as others, which organized to introduce various Jewish holidays, are directed by Abraham Haim, president of the Sephardi and Oriental Communities of Jerusalem, a regular visitor to Zamora during the year.
Other frequent visitors to Zamora include Canadian ethnomusicologist Judith Cohen, who has given various concerts in Zamora. She studies the Sephardi musical tradtion in the Mediterranean Basin, including the Zamoran-Portuguese region of Tras Os Montes, especiallly the area of La Raya (“the line”), as the border with Portugal is known. 

Judith Cohen (center), Mara Aranda (right) and Guy Mendilow (left) during a concert of Jewish Sephardic Music at the Theatro Principal of Zamora, 2014.
The second congress, in 2014, was dedicated to this region in particular, where Crypto-Judaism is second nature in various rural communities, among them Carçao, Vimioso and Braganza (in Portugal), where thousands of Castilian and Leonese  Jews took refuge in 1492.

This year, in addition to the July congress, this time titled “The North of Sepharad: Perspectives and Definitions” which will take place in Zamora city, we will once again have a panel meeting at Centro Sefarad-Israel, in Madrid, on June 27 at 7 p.m. in which experts who will speak at the Congress will preview of their subjects and answer questions.

On June 29, there will be a guided tour of the Tierra del Vino (Land of Wine) area, where, according to historic documents, the Zamoran Jews had their vineyards, and which today produces Protected Designation of Origin quality wines.

On June 30 there will be the usual tour of the Old and New Jewish quarters: Another annual activity which attracts many locals.
The congress itself will be held July 1. This year’s preliminary events will conclude with a Shabbat dinner at the Trefacio Hotel, where, as in earlier years, we hope to reaffirm the commitment to continue working for the recovery and value of the Jewish legacy of the city of Zamora.

The Isaac Campantón Center, which organizes international presentations and is a repository of all my investigation thus far can be found online at 
*The writer, a Cuban American whose grandparents hail from Gema del Vino, a village in the province of Zamora, is a professor at Viterbo University, Wisconsin. In 2014 he was presented with Medal of the Four Sephardi Synagogues by the board of the Sephardi and Oriental Communities of Jerusalem for researching and publicizing Zamora’s Jewish past. His book The Jews of Zamora. An Annotated Chronology is scheduled to be published this year by Editorial Verbum in Madrid as part of the Hebrew Letters Collection. Jambrina can be contacted at

miércoles, 25 de julio de 2018

Jewish Zamora

Dr. Jesús Jambrina is an Associate Professor of Spanish and History at Viterbo University in Wisconsin. Dr. Jambrina has done extensive research into the Jewish history of Zamora. In part 1 of this series we spoke with him about his book, which is an annotated chronology of Jewish-related events that took place there, and also about Isaac ben Jacob Campanton, Rabbi of Zamora in the 14th to 15th centuries.
Dr. Jambrina was responsible for the establishment of the Centro Isaac Campantón in Zamora and also for the organization of six annual international conferences about Jewish history and presence in that region. In this program he is speaking with us about the history of the Jews in Zamora, and the Centro Campantón.

Listen here

martes, 24 de julio de 2018

And the award goes to... the Crypto-Jews

By Marion Fischel, The Jerusalem Post 

Earlier this month in Zamora, Spain, Miami resident Genie Milgrom – genealogist, author and lecturer – received The Medal of the Four Sephardic Synagogues of Jerusalem for her indefatigable labors in the promotion of the Iberian Peninsula’s Jewish legacy. 

Prof. Abraham Haim, president of the Council of Sephardi and Oriental Communities in Jerusalem, presented the award in the framework of the sixth International Sephardi Congress in Zamora, at which Milgrom was keynote speaker. The now-annual July congress was inaugurated in 2013 by Prof. Jesus Jambrina of Viterbo University, WI, who was honored with the medal in 2014. 

The award recognizes the decade-plus Milgrom spent recovering the Jewish roots of her Cuban Catholic family, and her continued efforts to assist the descendants of anusim – Jews who were forced to abandon Judaism against their will – in their search for their roots. 

Milgrom was able to retrace the footsteps of 22 generations in her family, back beyond 1492, to the village of Fermoselle in the hills of Zamora, and later to the cells of the Inquisition in Portugal. She recovered this genealogy using methods she describes in her book, How I Found My 15 Grandmothers, and uncovered the Jewish history not only of her own ancestral village, but also of many others along the Duero River that separates Spain from Portugal, deciphering the connections of the heretofore lost crypto-Jews of the region.

Milgrom is past president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami, as well as the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies. Two of her books, My 15 Grandmothers and Pyre to Fire have won the Latino Author Book Awards. 

She has written numerous articles on the subject and lectures internationally, encouraging and assisting others to retrace their ancestors’ footsteps. 

As director of the Converso Genealogy Project, Milgrom now manages the momentous assignment of digitizing all the Inquisition files around the world, flying to meetings with officials in various countries to convince them of the importance of making their dusty, untouched archives available. 

The project has the seal of approval of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy in Israel. 

Milgrom told The Jerusalem Post, “I have been working for so many years on recovering an era that was lost to Jewish history, yet I was completely surprised at receiving this very important and meaningful medal of recognition from Israel. I didn’t realize that others were watching and following my work to that extent. It is a true honor.”

viernes, 6 de julio de 2018

Prayers of Bragança

This publication (in Spanish) includes a Prayer Book used by a family in Bragança, Portugal, who practiced the Law of Moses in secret for more than 500 years. 

After 1492, the border between Spain & Portugal became a refuge for many Jewish families fleeing the inquisition in Spain. The topography of the area, specially around the Duero River, allows for easy crossing through hidden paths between both sides of the border. 

When the expulsion and forced conversions were imposed in Portugal in 1497, Crypto Jewish population even grew as many Portuguese families escaped to this, then, remote area in the northeast of the country, also known as Trás-os-Montes (Beyond the Mountains)

Inquisition officially arrived to Portugal in 1536 persecuting marranismo among New Christians  affecting well established secret Jewish communities in cities and towns like Bragança, Vimioso, Carçao, Miranda do Douro, Mogadouro and many others in La Raya, as the border between the two countries in called. 

Prayers of Bragança were transcribed from oral tradition in 1925 by Antonio Fernández's family (see picture) and along other archeological evidences it proves what investigators José Manuel Laureiro and Anun Barriuso have identified as a culture of resistance, meaning finding ways of maintaining the Jewish belief system alive in the context of forced conversions.

Prayers of Bragança (Editorial Verbum, 2018) was presented at Centro Sefarad Israel, Madrid, on June 27 and also at the 6th International Congress in Zamora on July 6.  

Antonio Fernández, whose family originated in Trabazos (Zamora) and later when to Bragança

From leaft to right: Anun Barriuso, José Manuel Laureiro, Antonio Fernández and Inés Nogueiro

jueves, 17 de mayo de 2018

6th International Congress “Jews in the Kingdom of León”, Zamora, Spain, July 5 & 6

Registration HERE, fee includes access to activities & events as well as congress sessions

Pre-congress activities and events

June 27, 19:00h, Centro Sefarad-Israel, calle Mayor 69, Madrid. Panel “Jews in the Kingdom of León”, Panelists: Margalit Matitiahu, Anun Barriuso, José Manuel Laureiro and Marciano Hervás.

Visits to historic Jewish Quarters

All Departures will be from NH Palacio del Duero in Zamora

July 2, 9:00, León
July 3, 9.00, Salamanca
July 4, 17:00, Fermoselle

La Hostería Real

July 3, 8:30 PM. Music of Sepharad, concert by Judith Cohen 


July 5

10:30, La Alhóndiga Palace, Film, Sefarad, caminos y vida: León reencuentro (90 minutos), director Jack Matitiahu. Q&A will follow.

14:00, Lunch

19:00. Keynote address: “Life and Path of a Zamoran Crypto-Jewish family”, Genie Milgrom, author of Pyre to Fire (2018), My 15 grandmothers (2012), and How I found my 15 Grandmothers (2014). Milgrom is also Board Member of the Jewish Genealogical Society in Miami.

20:00. “Spanish Citizenship and the Anusim. Restoring 15 generations family trees”, Abraham García, Institute for Sephardic, Crypto-Jewish and Anusim Studies, Netanya Academic College, Israel

21:00. Coctel

July 6

9:00 Opening Remarks.  

9:15. “Critical Approaches to the medieval Jewish population in León: the community of Castrum Iudeorum”, Mario Lozano Alonso, Historian

10:00. Jaime Einstein (1947-2015) in Memorian. Einstein was a Cuban-Israeli lawyer and writer, author of The Splendor (2008), a fictional biography of Mosé ben Sem Tob de León (1290-1305), and the unpublished novel The Island of Abraham, on the Jewish community of Cuba, Einstein’s country of origin. He was also a passionate scholar on the history of Sepharad (Jewish name for the Iberian Peninsula), particularly of the city of León, where he was an active participant in the efforts to recuperate city’s Jewish legacy.   

10:30. “On Leonés Language”, Alicia Valmaseda Merino, Linguist

11:00. Reading of Judeo Spanish poetry, Margalit Matitiahu, poet. She is the author of several books, among them, Kamino de tormento (2000), Vagabondo eternel (2001), Despertar el selencio (2004); Asiguiendo al esfuenio (2005) o Cantón de solombra (2005). Matitiahu has received numerous awards and recognitions in Israel and Spain for her literary work, including the Award of the Ateneo of Jaén (1996), and Israel Prize for Artistic Creation (1999)

12:00. Tribute to Abraham Haim for his 40 years of Intercultural Exchange between Spain and Israel. Presenters Leandro Rodrígues, Porfessor Emeritus from University of Ginebra, and Agustín Remesal, writer and for several decades RTVes correspondent in Jerusalem, Lisbon and New York.

13:30. Lunch.

16:00. The Judaizers in the scapulars of the Cathedral of Tuy: religious dissent, and social tension in the Miño Border”, Suso Vila, Historian

16:30. Panel on the book Crypto Judaism in La Raya (Northern border between Spain and Portugal). The prayers of Braganza, authors Anun Barriuso y José Manuel Laureiro, researchers at Centro Isaac Campanton, Antonio Fernandes, grandson of Eugenio Carvalho, who transcribed the prayers book from oral tradition to writing in 1925. Inés Nogueiro, researcher at the Instituto de Investigaçao em saúde-Universidad de Oporto.

17:30. “Jewish imaginary in history and narrative from Extremadura: The Blue Flame”, Marciano Hervás, Historian  

18:00. “Saint Christoph y the conversos”, Ramón Álvarez González, Historian

18:30. Closings

21:00. Teatro Principal, Sephardic Music Concert by María Salgado, among the most important singers in the musical tradition of Castile and León, including Judeo Spanish and La Raya repertoire.   

This is a Conference partially sponsored by

Zamora City Council
Council of Sephardic Communities of Jerusalem
Centro Sefarad-Israel, Madrid
Centro Isaac Campantón
Association Friends of Sephardic Cultures
Hotel NH Palacio del Duero
La Hostería Real de Zamora

Contact information

Phone: (34) 609 740 116

viernes, 12 de enero de 2018

Call for Papers: 6th International Congress on the Jewish Legacy of Zamora, Spain

Jews in the Kingdom of León
Zamora, July 5 & 6, 2018
NH Palacio del Duero
5/7, 19-23h, 5/6, 10-19h

We have reached the limits of presentations for this year's congress. Please, consider sending a proposal for next edition. You can yet register to attend our event by clicking Here.

Center Isaac Campanton invites proposals for the 6thInternational Congress on the Jewish Legacy of Zamora, Spain, this year with the title of Jews in the Kingdom of Leon, specifically from the 9thto the 15thcenturies. 

This congress is open to professors, students, and independent scholars working on Spanish & Portuguese Jewish Studies. Proposals on the following topics, but not limited to, are welcome: 

Place of Jews in the Fueros(regional code of laws) in the Kingdom of Leon
Life and functioning of the Jewish communities 
Relevant personalities, e.g. Moises de Leon, Abraham Zacuto and others 
Kabbalah in the Kingdom of Leon
Movements across La Raya (Portuguese border)
Crypto Jewish genealogy and memories 
Inquisition and chronicles from the expulsion 
Jews from Leon region in the Sephardic Diaspora
Museum narratives and new approaches to regional Jewish history  

Proposals should be 250 words, and include name, institution (or independent scholar), email, and technological needs. Academic committee can request changes to the proposal in order for this to be fully accepted.  

Deadline: June 1, 2018. Email:

Registration: 10 euros in person, online 15 euros