Monday, March 19, 2007

The Mishnah and the Masa of the Corn Tortilla

The Mishnah and the Masa of the Corn Tortilla
The Mishnah and the Masaof the Corn Tortillaby Gregory CuellarOriginally published in HaLapid, Winter 2004What Christians say about the ceremonials and Judaic precepts being dead and having expired is against one of their own Gospels, which says, "Noliteputare, Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets."Luis de CarvajalAmong the number of claimed crypto-Jewish practices, the most commonly noted are the lighting of candles on Friday night, ritual slaughter, salting meat, separating meat and milk, burning a small portion of the dough (hafrashot challah or the separation of priest's dough), and burying the dead in linen shrouds. Although, strictures of space and time preclude an exhaustive investigation of all these practices, one particular crypto-Jewish practice has beckoned both my suspicion and my curiosity. This is the burning of a small portion of the dough or the separation of priest's dough, as observed by crypto Jews. Two aspects require special attention in order to appreciate this unique Jewish ritual. First, it is crucial that we recognize this practice in connection with the Mishnah, Second Century Rabbinic Text. Second, because my focus is the crypto Jews of Texas, it is equally important that we consider the connection of the tortilla de maiz (corn tortilla) to the performance of this. Therefore, I will first speculate on the historical context of the crypto Jews in Texas and their use of the masa of corn tortillas in fulfilling the halachah (Jewish law) of the separation of priest's dough. Second, I will provide observations on how this practice compares to its mishnahic context.In his unpublished study Chicano Jews in South Texas, Dr. Carlos Larralde claims that in observing the separation of priest's dough, the first piece of the masa (dough) was thrown into the fire before making a batch of tortillas de maize (corn tortillas) or bread. For some people of South Texas Hispanic heritage, the thought of using masa of the corn tortilla in connection with an early rabbinic practice (hafrashat challah or the separation of priest's dough) may appear anomalous and awkward. The use of masa in the separtation of priest's dough would have distinguished the many crypto-Jews from the Christian community and indigenous groups. Nevertheless, how is it that these early crypto Jews in southern Texas come to use the masa of corn tortillas as viable substitute for fulfilling Jewish halacha? I concur with Schulamith C. Halevy that these practices did not derive from reading the Bible and were not shared by any non-Jew nor learned from Jews in the region, but most likely was a product of an unbroken tradition harking back to the Iberian Peninsula.Early Crypto Jews and MaizeJeffrey M. Pilcher, a researcher of Mexico's culinary history, states that "It was probably in the central highlands that some unknown woman conceived the culinary soul of Mesoamerica, the tortilla [de maize]." For all Mesoamerican peoples throughout the regions of the New World, maize was the very basis of settled life (Coe 1994). The Spaniards, who migrated to the New World, gave priority to the bread of the Iberian tradition, which was the use of wheat bread making. However, those of the crypto-Sephardic dispersion, who came to the New World, would become the beneficiaries of the infamous staple of Mesoamerican cuisine, the corn tortilla. During the early centuries of the Spanish Conquest, wheat farms served as the foundation for Spanish usurpation of Indian lands in Central Mexico. The love of wheat led to the displacement of several Indian cornfields. Spanish society concentrated in urban areas that could sustain a plentiful harvest of wheat, usually the central highlands. Therefore, just as corn was the basis for settled life for the Indian, wheat was a cultural and religious necessity for many Spaniards, which ultimately shaped the social and physical landscape of New World. In his book Food, Conquest, and Colonization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America, John C. Super comments on the Spaniards' dependence on wheat stating, "they demanded it wherever they went." Forced to forsake their lives in Spain, it is likely that the early crypto-Jews also preferred wheat to corn. Haim Beinart, a professor devoted to the study of the Jews of Spain, claims that every Sephardic Jewish community had butcher shops and baking ovens. Furthermore, every city had its own particular conditions regarding kosher slaughtering, the sale of meat, and the baking of bread. One may infer that for many of the early crypto Jews in southern Texas, the maize of the corn tortilla was not even an option in Jewish markets in Spain. Thus, the many Spanish and Portuguese crypto Jews who moved to southern Texas in the mid eighteenth century not only escaped the full strength of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Central Mexico, but also distanced themselves from the main region in which wheat was cultivated and sold. For it was in central Mexico that wheat had surplus production and only minimal production in small ranches in the valley stretching from Querétaro to Guadalajara by the end of the eighteenth century (Super 1988). Even the early priests living in southern Texas attest to the difficulty of attaining wheat during the early colonial period. Wheat remained a religious necessity because it was the only grain recognized by the Roman Catholic Church for the Holy Eucharist since the 11th century. Priests could substitute no other bread for the body of Christ. Thus, priests stationed in the northern Spanish territories frequently complained of their inability to say Mass for lack of altar bread. Compounding the priest's problem was also their inability to grow crops in arid soil, thus relying heavily on the Indian technology. Many of the Canary Islanders, who are considered the early crypto Jews in southern Texas, had insufficient number of employees to work the land, which would have resulted in little wheat yielding crop. Thus with the inability to cultivate wheat, it would seem logical that they would have used maize in observing a common Sephardic practice of the separation of priest's dough. Unlike the early priests, modifying a papal edict was not an option when it came to substituting maize for wheat for the Eucharist. Conversely, the early crypto Jews did not allow their new context to hinder the practicing of an ancient tradition. In the end, they chose to be creative with the rabbinic tradition in order to sustain their Jewish heritage. Therefore, I will now turn to the Mishnah and the separation of priest's dough. The Mishnah and the Masa of the Corn TortillaThe Mishnah-Tractate Challah Chapter 1 Mishnah 1 states that "five kinds are liable to the priest's share of the dough, wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye." The Mishnah also gives a list of specific varieties not liable to the separation of priest's dough, which includes rice, sorghum, poppy, sesame, and pulse. Clearly, the masa of the corn tortilla is not mentioned in either list. Therefore, how is it that the early crypto Jews in southern Texas came to use the masa of the corn tortilla in the separation of priest's dough? According to rabbinic tradition, it is the capacity for leavening that determines dough to be liable to this practice. Culinary expert Plicher states that the masa of the corn tortilla could not be kept for more than a day because it would begin to ferment. It is plausible to think that part of the reason for using the masa was because the preparers were too far north from where wheat flourished; on the other hand, they were in a location where maize production was plentiful. However, I would also like to think that these early crypto Jews were fully aware of the rabbinic tradition, and they knew that only grains that leaven produce dough liable to separation of priest's dough. For them, this included masa. Furthermore, according to Mishanic tradition, dough is liable to dough-offering only if it is prepared in the manner that is normal for bread. In other words, dough for dough's sake is not liable. It is dough that will become a loaf of bread that becomes liable. Thus, Dr. Larralde's statement is accurate that "a first piece of the masa (dough) was thrown into the fire before making a batch of tortillas de maize (corn tortillas)." The makers knew that it was not just the masa that was liable, but the masa prepared in the context of making a round tortilla that became liable for the separation of priest's dough. In other words, when the masa prepared was done for the purpose of making corn tortilla, which could be thought of as a bread, then it was liable to separation of priest's dough. ConclusionAccording to Nuesner, the essence of the ancient rabbinic tradition of the separation of priest's dough concerns the idea that the transformation of grain into bread is a life process of fermentation and God lays claim to a share. Therefore, for the early crypto-Jewish settlers in southern Texas during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, maintaining the essence of this practice necessitated an acute familiarity with Rabbinic law and an ingenious ability to expand meaning in order to survive as Jews in their New World context. The practice of separation of priest's dough evolved because of their confrontation with altered circumstances in the New World. I would like to think that this type of Judaism; the ability to innovate and change in order to deal with the problems of their time is the Judaism that many of their latter descendants are in search of. A Judaism that is persistent and unwavering in their devotion to God and to themselves.Gregory Lee Cuellar is a third year PhD student of the Hebrew Bible/Rabbinic Literature at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth.. A crypto-Jewish descendent from Cuero, TX, he plans to teach the Hebrew Bible. His dissertation topic intends to deal with an interpretation of Psalm 122 that takes into account the Sephardic liturgical tradition.
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HERITAGE THEIR ANCESTORS WERE FORCED TO CONCEAL TO SURVIVEby Laurel OrnishReprinted from HaLapid Fall 1997When Dallasite David Sifuentes Jimenez, 40, signed up to take a class at the Jewish Community Center about the medieval Spanish-based language, Ladino, he thought he was merely adding to his storehouse of knowledge of linguistics, his hobby. He had no idea the class would lead him on a voyage of self-discovery.Jimenez grew up in a middle-class family in Harlingen. His father's family was from San Luis Potosi, northern Mexico, and his parents' marriage had been arranged. He was sent to parochial Roman Catholic schools and was raised Roman Catholic. In college, he got a double masters in finance and accounting and today works as a manager in business services at Parkland Hospital. Through an incredible series of coincidences, which some might see as no less than the hand of God at work, Jimenez learned a year ago that his family heritage is not what he believed it to be, that it had been kept a secret from him. Not only that, he also found out that hundreds of others in the U.S. and northern Mexico have the same secret: that their family was actually descended from the Jews of fifteenth-century Spain, and that their lineage has been preserved for over 500 years, to present times.Every schoolchild knows that Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain sent Christopher Columbus on his history-making voyage in 1492 to the New World. What is not in most textbooks, however, is that a few months earlier, the same Spanish monarchs—fresh from driving the Islamic Moors out of Spain-- issued a notorious "Edict of Expulsion," which required all of the estimated two-million Jewish citizens to either convert to Catholicism, under penalty of death, or leave Spain within 30 days with only the possessions they could carry on their backs. An estimated half went into exile to friendlier countries in Europe, north Africa, or the Ottoman Empire (today's Turkey), whose sultan welcomed the banished creme de la creme of Spanish society-- merchants, physicians, educators. Others stayed behind and either converted or pretended to convert, while continuing to practice Judaism secretly.These "Marranos" (literally "pigs") or "conversos" or "crypto-Jews" came under intense scrutiny by the Inquisition. Many later fled to "Nueva España," the Spanish territories in the New World, sometimes accompanying to northern and central Mexico the conquistadors, some of whom were Crypto-Jews themselves. One of the greatest, Luis Carvajál, admiral in the Spanish navy, founded Nuevo León, including the cities of Tampico and Monterrey. His land grant extended from Tampico west to the Pacific and north to present-day San Antonio. He was later accused of harboring "Judaizers" and died in an Inquisition prison. Other family members were burned at the stake. When the long arm of the Inquisition established itself in Mexico City, some even fled with Don Juan de Oñate in 1598 and established the first colony in what is today New Mexico.No matter in which part of the world they ended up, these Spaniards in-exile fiercely clung to their dual Jewish and Spanish heritages, whether openly or in secret. They maintained their Jewish customs and traditions to modern times, and even their Spanish language, which became known as "Ladino."When David Jimenez took the Ladino course taught by Rachel Amado Bortnick, a native of Turkey, and descendant of Spanish Jews herself, some light bulbs started going off in his head. He knew that the Spanish spoken in his home had not been the Spanish that was taught in school.In Ladino, or "Jewish-Spanish," he learned, the Spanish word adiós is adio, because the Jews wanted to emphasize the fact there is only one God. "My mom," he says, "uses that word two or three times a day. I looked it up in three pretty hefty Spanish dictionaries, and it never showed up."I noticed the way Rachel pronounced other words and phrased certain things also were very much like my mother." The more he learned in the class about Spanish-Jewish customs, other things clicked: Every spring around Easter, his mother makes a special, unleavened bread pudding called capirutada for what she called the "Passover" of Christ, rather than the "passion."No one in his family has any typically Hispanic, Christian names like "Maria or "Jesús;" they're either Greek names or Hebrew, Old Testament names. "My mother's name is Elia, the female version of Elias, my uncle is Salamon, my cousin on my father's side is Rachel. My parent's grew fig trees and lemon trees; no one else in Harlingen grew them. My sister, a physician who moved to Florida, also was growing fig trees right on the oceanfront. I thought it was a little bizarre, until I found out these are all common practices in Sephardic culture."The clincher came when he brought in a photo of his sister's wedding, a Catholic wedding in which she had insisted on getting married with the couple draped in a large prayer shawl, explaining that it was a Spanish custom. When he found out that it was actually a Spanish-Jewish custom, he confronted his sister about it, and she revealed that she had been practicing Judaism secretly for many years.The oldest daughter, she had been the only one of the nine children who had been told of the family's true heritage, a common practice for 500 years."It turns out that usually the mother would pass the information to only one or two offspring," Jimenez learned. "Parents not only were afraid they would be turned over to the Inquisition, but that children might accidentally be indiscreet and give information to neighbors or strangers, who would then turn them in. It's a whole culture of secrecy."When he asked his mother why all the secrecy, she said very plainly, "I've never told you, and no one ever asked."How did he feel when he found out? "To be honest with you, I was shocked! I had been sent to Roman Catholic schools, although we were anti-clerical. I felt a great sense growing up that we were part of the Hispanics of south Texas, but we were not like the rest of them. My entire family felt that way: not that we were better than them, but we were apart and different. I've since talked to a lot of people who are descended from Crypto-Jews, and there's always the sense that you are set apart."As astounding as Jimenez story sounds, it is not unique, even in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Juan Marcos Gutierrez, 24, an electrical engineer with ADI, International, was born in 1972 after his parents moved to Dallas from Monterrey in 1967, where his paternal grandmother's family had been for several hundred years. His mother's family came from a small town an hour from Monterrey, Garza-Gonzales, where everyone deliberately intermarried within the community. His father as a child would question why the family was different, such as why he and his brothers had been circumcised, a practice that is not widespread in Latin America even today, even as a medical procedure. They had other strange customs, such as covering mirrors when people died and strictly cleaning the house around Easter. He got the answer from his aunt, who on her deathbed took out a Bible and told him he only had to worry about the first half of the Bible, the Old Testament, because they were Jews.Gutierrez's mother as a child overhead her grandmother saying a non traditional prayer after her husband died. She was praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They covered mirrors, as well, and were very meticulous about any type of blood with meat or eggs, as prescribed by the Jewish dietary laws. Although his mother grew up in a Protestant family, others in the village where she grew up called them "esos judios."Gutierrez himself was raised Assembly of God, Evangelical. "But in the midst of that, my father would tell me that we came from Jews. He told me that Jews were God's chosen people, and I was always to pray for Israel. When I turned 13, in our limited understanding, he sat down and told me I was responsible to the instruction that God had given to us. In a sense that was, you could say, my Bar Mitzvah. It had been done with him, as well."Frank Longoria, 59, of Arlington, found out as an 8-year-old child shortly before his father's death from liver cancer that his family was descended from Spanish Jews on both sides. One ancestor came to Nuevo León around 1620 and married Ana Rodriguez, a Crypto-Jew descended from the original settlers who came over with Carvajál. Later ancestors founded Camargo in south Texas and the first ranches in south Texas. Until 1820, Longoria points out, it was a crime to be other than Catholic, and those who practiced Judaism did so at the risk of their lives, although some did, to a degree.His father was born in south Texas, but he moved to San Luis Potosí , where Longoria was born in 1937. "We were pseudo-Catholics," Longoria recalls. "We kept up a public appearance, we went to church a couple of times a year, but in our homes we really didn't. Most people who knew they were descendants of Jews kept it way in the background. There were no synagogues, no contact with other Jews to keep the rituals alive. My father kept ties as much as he could, but I don't think he had a dream of returning to Judaism. "In our home, we didn't have any statues of saints or pictures of Jesus or the Virgin, which was very strange, because everybody else had them. Also, even though we didn't observe Shabbat, we ate meat on Friday, which was against the Catholic tradition in those days. When my mother cracked an egg, she would make sure there was no blood. She would go berserk if a maid had cracked an egg directly into the frying pan. She always insisted we wash our hands, more as a ritual. When my father died, they covered the mirrors. My father refused to have a priest when he was dying. He was a freemason, and I found out later that in the lodge he had observed Passover."With his U.S. citizenship, Longoria came to the U.S. in 1952, was in the army, and later got a job with the U.S. government, for which he worked until his retirement in 1995. A genealogy buff, he has traced his ancestors to Spain to the late 1400's, some to prominent Jewish families. Because of the land grants, there are also records at the University of Texas. When he confirmed his Jewish heritage, it also confirmed that everything his relatives had told him was true.RESPONSES TO LEARNING THE TRUTHFor Longoria, Jimenez, and Gutierrez, each man's response to dealing with the truth of his Jewish ancestry has been profound and personal-- and each has been different.Rachel Amado Bortnick, in whose Ladino class David Jimenez discovered his Jewish heritage, has been instrumental in helping many descendants of Crypto-Jews in the Dallas-Fort Worth area wrestle with their new identities. She says the reactions vary. "Some are not ready to declare they are of Jewish background. Some feel a kind of pride for being associated with this history, but they are not ready to become Jews again."Many Christians who come from Jewish background are very secretive even today, sometimes without even knowing why, because the fear of being discovered by the Inquisition almost has become part of their culture. It's a very difficult thing. They come from Christian culture, sometimes tinged heavily with anti-Semitism. They don't really know where they belong, so there are a lot of ambivalent feelings. But the fact is, whether or not they become Jewish, just knowing that these people are descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forced to convert, and we are their cousins, we're from the same stock, this in itself is very exciting and should be open and shared."Amado Bortnick, who was raised as a Sephardic Jew in Turkey speaking Ladino, came to the U.S. as a college student, married a U.S. citizen, and stayed. She herself faced a huge culture shock coming here to the U.S., where most Jews are "Ashkenazic"(descended from Jews of Germany, eastern Europe, and Russia), rather than Sephardic (from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sefarad.) Many Jews she encountered here couldn't believe she knew nothing of gefilte fish and bagels, spoke Ladino, and knew no Yiddish. She, on the other hand, was shocked that U.S. Jews knew little of their own Spanish heritage, especially because the Sephardim-- even those who came to the U.S.-- considered themselves the aristocrats among the Jewish people. Today she is also president of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society.For her, it is exquisitely ironic and touching that 500 years after the Edict of Expulsion tore families apart, their descendants are now coming forward and discovering each other. "I feel very privileged that I'm here to re-establish contact with them, and I find it a very emotional and touching experience. In 1492, families and friends were split. Some chose to stay and convert or practice Judaism in secret, others-- like my family-- left and went east and went through a different kind of hardship: exile from the motherland of Spain. Still others went west and came to this hemisphere, hounded by the Inquisition in Spain and continued to be pursued by it here.''Now, 500 years later, we are meeting each other here together, the descendants of these families who were split apart. It's a phenomenal event, sort of like cousins coming full circle and meeting again. " The reaction from the Jewish community has been mixed. So far, there is no formal outreach program. Some who learn of their heritage wish to return to Judaism and have done so, but even they face controversy as to whether or not they need to go through a formal conversion process, Amado Bortnick says. "Some of these people say, 'My family has never mixed with people who were not of this background, even in 500 years, so why should I have to convert? I'm already a Jew.' I think it's a difficult position. They really need counseling and don't get it. You are not who you thought you were, and after you discovered who you really are, the people from that group don't accept you."Seven years ago, the former state historian of New Mexico, Stanley Hordes, now a private archivist, started the Society for Crypto-Judac Studies. Hordes had researched the colonists who first settled New Mexico and discovered they probably were Jews fleeing with Carvajál's lieutenant governor after Carvajál was arrested by the Inquisition.After Hordes published his research and received publicity, people would come into his office, close the door, look around, and say, "'My grandfather never ate pork, all the boys in my family were circumcised, and this family across the street from us would always light candles on Friday night." Hordes began putting two and two together and traced their lineage as much as possible, discovering there were still descendants of these early settlers who were practicing Judaism. In many cases, they had passed the information to their descendants; in others, just certain practices and rituals.Today, the society is mainly academic, but through it, people are finding each other. At the society's fifth annual meeting in Albuquerque last year, presentations were given both by scholars and Crypto-Jews themselves. "We found there are many more than we originally thought," says the society's Arthur Benveniste of Los Angeles, himself a descendant of Spanish Jews. "At first we thought there might be 1,500, but now it's quite a bit more like several thousand. It's difficult to say how many are in Mexico, where the state of Nuevo León was settled by Jews and there were originally tens of thousands. I just got back from Brazil, where there is an organization that so far has received 2,000 inquiries." Benveniste says those who are contacting the organization are, for the most part, returning to Judaism. "Several are the only members of their family doing so. We also have members who want to remain Catholic or Protestant but still be affiliated with us."A separate organization is being formed made up of Crypto-Jews themselves. Why now, 500 years later, is this phenomenon occurring? For one thing, it is only in this generation that many Crypto-Jewish families have mixed with other people. Until now, those of Crypto-Jewish background, not even knowing why, did not mix or marry with others. "The world is changing, and the old traditions are dying out," Benveniste points out. "These people talk about customs their grandparents did, such as slaughtering animals in the kosher way. Of course, today they go to the supermarket. As the traditions are dying with the old generation, the young want to preserve at least the knowledge of it. It's also part of our culture in the U.S. to come out and acknowledge who you are, what your roots are. And with world-wide communications, with the Internet, it's becoming easier to do so."Since David Jimenez learned of his Jewish heritage a year and a half ago, he has made contact with people throughout the U.S. and researched the Jimenez family genealogy. Even the name, Jimenez, he learned, is a Sephardic name, literally son of Simon. Jimen, he says, is the old Ladino pronunciation for Simeon. In Ladino, the "j" is pronounced 'Ez' and stands for son of." He also is proactively learning more about Judaism, including taking Hebrew and reading Jewish theology and learning the liturgy of the festivals and synagogue services. "It doesn't feel uncomfortable. I grew up going to Catholic school and a Catholic university. Our liturgy, and so much of what Catholics do, is based on Judaism. People don't know that. I wouldn't say it's been traumatic for me, but it was difficult reconciling with my 40 years of Christianity. If I convert, it's going to be to orthodox. If you do it, you should do it right. Both Catholicism and orthodox Judaism demand a lot of their laity." Jimenez, who is single, says he gets support from his Jewish sister, although his younger brothers and sisters-- whom he calls the "MTV generation"-- are secular towards all religion. His mother, he says, is happy he knows, although her own set of beliefs is somewhat fused between Catholicism and Judaism. "Even though we live in America and there's freedom of religion, among Hispanic Catholics, finally coming out and admitting we're of Jewish background for most is very traumatic. Three months ago," he says, "I was at a little 'hole-in-the-wall Central American restaurant' on Garland Road in east Dallas. For some bizarre reason, they had a painting of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, and right next to it they had a Star of David. They were very secretive, and the proprietor didn't want to talk about it. Just by her not wanting to talk about it, you know what's going on. So it's even bigger than I even imagined. It's not strange or unique, as I first thought it was."Juan Marcos Guitierrez and his family are members of the so-called "Messianic" congregation, Baruch Ha-Shem ("Praise the Lord"). The congregation, which is an anathema to the Jewish community, has the outward appearance of a normal synagogue, but its members are Christians who believe in Jesus, but who outwardly practice Jewish rituals. Most see it is merely a church in Jewish drag, whose primary agenda is to provide a place where Jews can feel outwardly comfortable enough to turn over their Jewish souls to Jesus. It was strongly criticized for proselytizing among newly-arrived Jews from the Soviet Union, many of whom mistakenly took it to be a synagogue.For Gutierrez-- raised in the Assembly of God Evangelical Protestant church-- Baruch Ha- Shem has been a sort of "halfway house." He also regularly attends services at two orthodox Jewish synagogues, Tiferet Israel, and Young Israel, where services are closer to the Sephardic tradition. Like David Jimenez, he's tried the more reform brands of Judaism, but didn't feel comfortable. "My definition of a Jew," he says, "is more something that is completely related to Torah and the covenantal relationship that God established with Israel, rather than as someone who doesn't believe in Jesus."He's also traveled to Mexico City to view the Inquisition's quemadora, and he plans to discuss the issue more with his uncles, aunts, and cousins. "I think it's something they need to be confronted with. What choices they make after that are obviously theirs. I think they have to face the ghosts of the past. That fear has to be laid to rest. Our ancestors certainly determine quite a bit of who we are, and I think it's something they need to realize."Gutierrez says he doesn't feel he needs to convert, and wouldn't, on principle. "Because in the U.S. it's mainly an Ashkenazic-dominated community, I have to struggle with the Sephardic issue, then after that I struggle with the converso issue. Yet I know what path I have to take for myself. Meeting other people, I see they face the same problems."He also has a catalogue from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and hopes some day to embark on some historical studies there. "I've gotten fairly proficient in midrashim (Jewish biblical commentaries). It's open to anyone of any affiliation. That's something I'm still debating. We'll see what happens."For Frank Longoria, discovering his Jewish heritage led to a full return to Judaism in 1981. After his genealogical research had verified for him that he was, in fact, of Jewish ancestry, he started visiting with his distant cousin, Magda Hinojosa, who had converted back to Judaism and married a Jew. "She encouraged me to find out more about Judaism. She was like my mentor and guided me through the process to various readings and rabbis. There is no outreach program. The Jews in Mexico don't bother, because they're worried it may be held against them, but here in the U.S., I was fortunate."He read about Carvajál circumcising himself, "and it gave me courage to seek out a physician and undergo the ritual operation. I said, 'Carvajál did it; I should be able to do it.' I know some conversos take the position that they're just as much a Jew as you are, but I don't agree. I felt if I were going to do it, I was going to do it right. I lost all this, and I want to gain it back. I had a Bar Mitzvah, too, last April."His wife Charlene, who is not Hispanic, also converted and is very active in Arlington's Beth Shalom synagogue. One of Longoria's sons, age 30, and his wife also are in the process of converting. "He read some of my books and went to the synagogue and liked the people there and the rabbi, so he decided to convert, of which I'm glad. My grandchildren are going to Hebrew school and are being brought up Jews. I have two daughters. They may some day come around, but I don't want to force them."Longoria strongly wishes to say to others that even though they may have lost their heritage, they can find their roots and hopefully can go back. "Once upon a time, we were forcibly converted to something we didn't believe in, and all these hundreds of years we've been in limbo. Some of us have been granted the blessing of returning to

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