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Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Spaniards and Portuguese whose Jewish ancestor were forced to convert during the Inquisition join efforts to support Israel

May 26, 2009
- Press Release -
For further details contact: Arik Puder - Spokesman at ArikPuder@gmail.com
or +972 52 5820820

For the first time, Bnei Anousim in Europe
enlist to join Israel's Hasbara (Public Diplomacy) efforts

Dozens of participants, whose ancestors were forced to convert to
Catholicism during the Inquisition over 500 years ago, gathered this past
weekend in Barcelona for a special seminar run by Shavei Israel to train
them in making Israel's case to the media

Barcelona (25 May 2009) - Amid rising anti-Semitism and anti-Israel
sentiment throughout Europe, and especially in Spain, the Shavei Israel
organization convened a special seminar this past weekend in Barcelona (from
May 22 to 24, 2009) with the aim of training Bnei Anousim to become
effective advocates for Israel and its cause in their home countries.
A number of experts on Israel advocacy were brought in to take part,
including Dr. Raanan Gissin, a former spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon, and Ambassador Einat Kranz-Nieger, Israel's Deputy Ambassador
to Spain. Both conducted training sessions for the participants and provided
them with guidance and tools for defending the Jewish state in the local and
international media.
The seminar was held at the Jewish community center in Barcelona (known as
the CIB), and drew some 70 participants, mostly from Spain and Portugal, all
of whom are Bnei Anousim (whom historians refer to by the derogatory term
This marks the first time in the history of the State of Israel that Bnei
Anousim are actively volunteering to be part of Israel's hasbara efforts in
their own countries.
The idea behind the seminar arose several months ago, when dozens of Bnei
Anousim participated in a demonstration in support of Israel that was held
in front of the Israeli Embassy in Madrid during the recent conflict in
Gaza. Many had traveled for hours to Madrid for the sole purpose of
expressing their support for the State of Israel.
According to Shavei Israel Chairman, Michael Freund, there are tens of
thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands of Bnei Anosim in Spain and
Portugal who are conscious of their identity and their special relationship
with Israel and the Jewish People. "The fact that Bnei Anousim are taking
the initiative and expressing a desire to take part in Israel advocacy
efforts in their own countries is an exciting development," Freund noted.
"The Bnei Anousim can serve as a wonderful corps of goodwill ambassadors for
the Jewish state, and it behooves us to reach out to them and forge a
stronger relationship with them," he said.

About Shavei Israel
Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who
immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening
ties between the State of Israel and the Jewish people and descendants of
Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine
countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such
as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South
America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in
China, descendants of Jews living in Poland, and others.
Shavei Israel currently has emissaries working with Bnei Anousim in Palma de
Majorca, Spain; Porto, Portugal; and Recife, Brazil. In Jerusalem, Shavei
Israel operates the Spanish and Portuguese-language Machon Miriam Institute
for Return, where hundreds of Bnei Anousim have studied Judaism and prepared
for conversion or return by Israel's Chief Rabbinate.
For more information visit: www.shavei.org

For further details contact: Arik Puder - Spokesman at ArikPuder@gmail.com
or +972 52 5820820

Following is some historical background on the Bnai Anousim

Bnai Anousim in Spain
The Jewish community in Spain in the early Middle Ages was one of the oldest
and most successful Diaspora Jewish communities. Despite this, from 1391
onwards a series of terrible disturbances and great tribulations befell the
local Jewish community. One of the direct results was an unprecedented
wave of forced conversions. These events continued on through 1492, when
they reached their peak, and the remaining Jews were formally expelled from
Spain. Many of those who had been compelled to convert to Catholicism -
known by the Hebrew term Bnai Anousim - remained behind, where they
continued to preserve their Jewish identity and to practice Jewish tradition
covertly. As a result, this unique phenomenon is still evident even today,
even though the Inquisition invested enormous efforts over the centuries to
eradicate it.

Bnai Anousim in Portugal
In 1497, the Portuguese monarch forced the Jews of his kingdom to convert to
Catholicism. Despite this, these "New Christians" did their utmost to remain
loyal to their Jewish roots, secretly passing on their identities down
through the generations, despite the wrath of the Inquisition. Many of those
who were caught practicing Judaism in secret were made to pay a heavy price
by the Inquisition for their fidelity to the faith of their ancestors. One
of the most famous examples of Portuguese Bnai Anousim was the community of
Belmonte, in northern Portugal, which was discovered 80 years ago by a
visiting Jewish engineer. Two decades ago, the Bnai Anousim of Belmonte were
formally restored to the Jewish people by a rabbinical court sent from

Bnai Anousim in Brazil
When the doors of the New World swung open in the 16th century, Brazil came
to play an important role for those with initiative, opening new
opportunities for a better life. In addition, because of its geographical
distance from Portugal, many Bnai Anousim saw Brazil as a possible place of
refuge that might put them beyond the reach of the Inquisition. Nonetheless,
the long arm of the Church reached across the Atlantic, and continued to
pursue the Bnai Anousim. But many remained undeterred, and continued to
preserve Jewish rituals and traditions in secret, passing down their covert
Jewish identity from generation to generation.

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