300 El Salvadorian descendants of forced Spanish conversions return to Judaism

Some 300 El Salvadorian descendants of Spanish conversos observing Orthodox Judaism, dream of ‘Aliyah’, of living in Israel.

 

Hundreds of years after their forefathers fled Spain, some 300 descendants of Spanish conversos live in El Salvador as a thriving community, observing Orthodox Judaism, keeping the laws of the Sabbath, and dreaming of converting and immigrating to Israel as Jews.

Members of the El Salvadorian community pray in the synagogue in San Salvador – Photo: Shavei Israel

The community built a synagogue in the capital, San Salvador, and named it Beit Israel. Though the congregation is scattered across the city, a minyan (quorum) of worshippers gathers there three times each day for prayers, and on Friday, the eve of the Sabbath, they gather in the building that houses the synagogue and sleep in the main lobby so as to avoid desecrating the Sabbath.

They gather for the three Shabbat meals (one on Friday evening and two on Saturday). Since there is no kosher meat in El Salvador, they omit all meat from their diet. They know all the words to Israel’s national anthem by heart (in Hebrew) and they recently held a memorial service for the fallen soldiers in Israel’s wars.

The organization Shavei Israel (which reaches out to “lost” and “hidden” Jews around the world) has launched a program aimed at bolstering Jewish values within this community. As part of the program, Rabbi Yitzchak Aboud, Shavei Israel’s emissary in El Salvador, gives lessons in Judaism and Torah.

The founder and chairman of the organization, Michael Freund, recently visited the El Salvadorian community, accompanied by the rabbi and Educational Director of Shavei Israel, Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum. Freund was particularly impressed with what he witnessed, recounting how “young members of the community read from the Torah on Shabbat morning, recited the blessings and read from the Torah using the Torah tropes without making any mistakes, with a Spanish accent. Their prayer was extremely moving. They are fueled by identity. They have undergone a spiritual journey and reached the conclusion that Judaism is the truth and they want to live by its rules.”

The head of the El Salvadorian community, Eliyahu Franco, made similar remarks, saying, “I wanted to return to Judaism because I was looking for a way to connect with the creator and I found the Jewish commandments to be the best framework for me to do that. I am very proud to belong to the people of Israel. I hope to immigrate to Israel because that is the best place in the world to live a full, meaningful Jewish life.”

 

View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=25309

 

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