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The Spanish Inquisition of 1481 established by Ferdinand and Isabella (Spanish monarchs during Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World) initiates the emergence of bureaucratic supremacy and racial idiosyncrasy against Jewish spiritual beliefs, African cultural ancestry and Indian zodiacal mysticism. This ecclesiastical court order instigated the horrifying acts of genocide all across America, the neutral attitude of Italy towards the outside world as portrayed through the cultural events of the Quattrocento (the artistic transition between the International Gothic period and the age of European Renaissance) and the sociopolitical upheaval of the French Revolution which successfully dissociated both men and women from an absolute monarchy of aristocrats who voted against the principles of enlightenment, democracy, individualism and citizenship.
Quattrocento Manifestation

Quattrocento lay at the storefront of what was to become the Italian Renaissance. Its international manifesto resembles a happening of cultural and artistic events during the 15th century which embraced the artistic styles of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance: a forefront collection of high-end individualism in the arts to promote the presence of a scientific, cultural, social and economic revolution in hope of preserving the Monarchy through Christianity.
Taboo & Exile

Christopher Columbus departure to discover the New World on August 3, 1492, marks the day on which Ferdinand and Isabella proclaim that the Jews of Spain either had to convert to Catholicism, depart from the country, or face death for defiance of the Monarch. In the coming years, Jews settled in the new Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Caribbean, where they believed that they would be safe from the Inquisition. Some took part in the conquest of the New World and Bernal Díaz del Castillo describes a number of executions of soldiers in Hernán Cortés's forces during the Conquest of Mexico because they were Jews. By the sixteenth century, fully functioning Jewish communities had organized in Brazil, Suriname, Curaçao, Jamaica, and Barbados. In addition, there were unorganized communities of Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese territories, where the Inquisition was active, including Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico, however, these Jews generally concealed their identity from the authorities.

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Comment by yahshua ben Yacov on January 23, 2009 at 6:07pm
San Juan, Puerto Rico (special) -- Harry A. Ezratty, lawyer, lecturer and author of 500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean, says there is a strange ambivalence toward American Jews in Puerto Rico: As Jews, they are well accepted, whereas there is an undercurrent of political resentment towards mainland Americans.
Ezratty, whose concise book recites the history of Jews on all Caribbean islands, not just those in Puerto Rico, recently took Nancy and me on a tour of San Juan, giving special emphasis to the Jewish sites. We also met his wife, Barbara, a restaurant critic and publisher of Tables Magazine, at their home before returning to the cruise ship, MV Olympic Voyager.


"I have lived in a lot of places: Baltimore, New York and St. Louis, and I have been around all over the world, and this is the place with the least prejudice about
SHAARE TZEDEK EXTERIOR -- Converted from
a beautiful home, Shaare Tzedek, a Conservative
synagogue, is secluded behind an iron gate.
religion," he said. "Even though it is a highly Catholic place, no one bothers you with religion here. There is no anti-Semitism."

There are two established Jewish congregations in San Juan, as well as a new Chabad House, which Ezratty reports is still at the stage of working hard to ensure a minyan. What religious controversies there are in Puerto Rico seem to be those dividing the Jewish community itself.
Puerto Rico generally was avoided by Jews while it was under Spanish rule--one of the legacies of the Spanish Inquisition. But after Puerto Rico became an American territory in 1898, Jews representing mainland companies settled on the Caribbean island, where they were later joined by refugees from Eastern and Western Europe.

Following World War II, the Jewish population was large enough to merit a permanent synagogue. A large home on beautiful grounds surrounded by a wrought iron fence was purchased in 1953 and became Shaare Tzedek Synagogue, which
BETH SHALOM EXTERIOR-- This Reform synagogue was
created out of a warren of buildingss which once included the
Tenth Inning, a sports bar owned by former Washington
Senator pitcher Rudy Hernandez.
is affiliated with the Conservative movement. in the main are descended from immigrants from Eastern Europe and follow the Ashkenazic rites, Ezratty said.

Eventually, the desire for more egalitarian practices led to the creation in 1967 of a Reform Congregation, Temple Beth Shalom, which initially rented quarters in a house across the street from Shaare Tzedek. Later the congregation purchased a warren of buildings, including one that had been the "Tenth Inning Lounge," a sports bar owned by a former pitcher for the old Washington Senators, Rudy Hernandez. The structures were converted into a sanctuary, social hall and educational center complex.
Although members of Shaare Tzedek and Beth Shalom serve together on the board of the United Jewish Appeal, and such organizations as Hadassah, there are factors inhibiting close cooperation, according to Ezratty. In general, he said, traditionalist members of the Spanish-speaking Conservative congregation disapprove of the Reform Movement's "patrilineal decision" by which it accepted as Jews children with Christian mothers and Jewish fathers, provided they are raised with a knowledge of the Jewish religion. Because of this, Ezratty said, many Shaare Tzedek parents discourage their children from socializing with those of Beth Shalom.
AUTHOR AND CANTOR -- Harry Ezratty, author
of 500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean, and Amy
Dattner, a cantorial soloist, stand inside social hall
of Temple Beth Shalom of San Juan, Puerto Rico,
following a program to send off a humanitarian
mission to bring pharmaceuticals to Cuba.
Language was also a barrier between the two synagogues, with the Reform congregation utilizing English and Hebrew and the Conservative congregation speaking Hebrew and Spanish. Ezratty estimated that there are 70 family units at the Reform congregation, compared to between 150 and 175 such units in the Conservative congregation.

Differentiation by language is breaking down somewhat, as more and more Spanish-speaking persons are joining the Reform congregation. Many of these are either spouses of members, who have decided to convert, or are representatives of a relatively new phenomenon in Puerto Rico: Actual or possible descendants of Conversos deciding to rejoin the religion their forbearers abandoned under duress during the Spanish Inquisition.
Amy Dattner, a visiting cantorial soloist from Brooklyn who has helped to lead High Holy Day services and other special occasions since 1987, says the increase in the number of Spanish-speaking congregants has led to changes in the way Temple Beth Shalom operates.

Before the Spanish-speaking Jews arrived, she said, "You could take my congregation in Brooklyn and bring all these people into Brooklyn, and you'd get the exact same feeling....Now we are bring a little bit more Latino flavor into the congregation."
STREET SCENE -- The sign is only for cars.
Pedestrians are more than welcome to explore
the streets of San Juan and enjoy the architecture.
When we visited the congregation on Sunday, Jan. 28, there was a luncheon to honor a group of students and their parents who would be traveling on a humanitarian mission to Cuba to bring pharmaceuticals to a synagogue in Havana. For this program, Dattner noted, "a lot of the English readings were translated into Spanish." The congregation also utilizes for Passover an hagaddah with English, Spanish and Hebrew. Furthermore, "we sing some of the Jewish songs in Spanish," Dattner said. "I will be doing a service in April where most of the songs will be done in Ladino and Spanish..."
Because some of the children do not speak English well, the synagogue is in the process of trying to engage a bilingual teacher, Ezratty said. "That is not so easy. We do not have such a large school population: there are 23 kids in school, and of those, maybe six are in bar mitzvah class, another three are in kindergarten, so we don't have large classes."

Ezratty told us there was yet another difference between the Jews of Shaare Tzedek and those of Beth Shalom. Many Shaare Tzedek congregants had created businesses in such fields as textiles, mortgages, banking and
EL MORRO -- The castle and fort overlooking the
approach to San Juan Harbor was built by the
Spaniards for protection. Today it is one of Puerto
Rico?s prime tourist
construction and their children today are taking over those businesses. Beth Shalom's members tended to be managerial or professional types from the United States, with no businesses to pass on. By and large, their children have sought opportunities in the United States.

* * *
Ezratty came to Puerto Rico in 1969 to open a branch of his New York law firm, which specialized in maritime cases. Originally he planned to stay in Puerto Rico only four years, but during that period his New York partners split up. Rather than go back and start all over, Ezratty decided to stay on in San Juan.
Through the synagogue, he met Barbara, his second wife, who also had been divorced. For many years, she did restaurant reviews for the English language San Juan newspaper. Her reputation as a reviewer was so good, the Spanish language paper decided to run her column, even though it meant going to the extra expense of having someone translate it, because she does not write in Spanish.

There are no kosher restaurants in San Juan, but there are numerous restaurants which offer fish or vegetarian plates, Barbara Ezratty told us. When it comes to vegetables, she added, Puerto Ricans and mainland Americans
RESTAURANT CRITIC -- Barbara Ezratty reviews
restaurants in San Juan, Puerto Rico for Tables magazine.
There are no kosher restaurants but there are plenty of
fish and vegetarian restaurants to please the Jewish
palate.(Heritage photos by Donald H. Harrison)
have much they could learn from each other.

Plantains, a banana-like fruit, are a Puerto Rican staple. "You make them like you were going to make candied potatoes--with a little butter," she said. "I had lived in Puerto Rico for seven or eight years and I went back to New York to work at the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies on 59th Street. There was this little tiny grocery store at 59th and 2nd, where I walked every day and that is where I did my grocery shopping. One day I saw platinos, ripe plantains, in a box on the floor. So I take them and go to the cash register and the guy says to me, 'You don't want those: they are rotten." I said, 'No they are not rotten; they are perfect.' So I made some, and I brought him some the next time, so he could taste it. You don't throw them away."

After she returned to Puerto Rico, she had a craving for stuffed cabbage. "I went to my local grocery store, which is still here, and I am looking at all the cabbages, and they are all cleaned so they are just a hard piece of cabbage. And I am thinking, 'Oh, how am I going to get leaves off that?' when all of a sudden I see a box with leaves--tons of leaves in this box." She asked a man in Spanish how much he wanted for the leaves, and he replied, "just take it." When she got to the cash register, she tried to explain in broken Spanish that the man had told her the leaves were free. The cashier didn't understand, until "finally the woman in back of me says, in Spanish, 'it's okay, let her take it: it's garbage!' So that is how I got my cabbage leaves."

* * *

Puerto Rico recently elected its first woman governor, Sila Calderon, who campaigned on maintaining Puerto Rico in its present status as a "commonwealth" rather than having the island become either a state of the United States or an independent country.

Harry Ezratty admits to being fascinated by Puerto Rican politics. About 49 percent of the electorate favor becoming the 51st state of the United States, about 4 percent want independence, and the balance, like the new governor, believe in keeping Puerto Rico in the Commonwealth status it has occupied since 1952.

What a "commonwealth" is has never exactly been defined. "We have a Commonwealth of Kentucky and a Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but they are really states," Ezratty said. "Creating a Commonwealth out of a territory without making it a state was not like anything they had. But they entered into what they called the 'compact' and at that time Puerto Rican began electing its own governors and began putting its own people into positions like the Judiciary."

During territorial days, when officials were appointed by the administration in Washington D.C., some Jews had served in important offices. Cecil Snyder was the chief justice of the Puerto Rican Supreme Court. Max Goldman administered the Operation Bootstrap program to attract investors to Puerto Rico. But after Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth, such appointments usually went to Spanish-speaking, native-born Puerto Ricans, Ezratty said.

The independence movement "is very emotional and very cultural," Ezratty said. "They are not anti-American, but they feel that they are a culture apart from the United States. They feel that they don't fit into the American system, and that they want to retain and maintain their own culture."

On the other hand, he said, "The Statehooders feel that America is a melting pot; no matter who you are, you can always fit into an American system. America has always had Latinos and they work out well; there hasn't been any problem. The Statehooders also feel that Puerto Rico will not advance until and unless it integrates into the United States. They also feel it is a question of dignity. If a man goes into the Army and spills his blood in a war the United States is fighting, he should have the opportunity to be a citizen so he can control (by his votes for President and members of Congress) whether the United States enters a war or doesn't."

Commonwealthers occupy the middle ground, as Ezratty describes it. "They like the situation the way it is. Food stamps is a good example. Every state receives grants-in-aid; there is a percentage that a state has to put up in order to enter into the Food Stamp program. If they put up, say, $100 million, the (federal) government will match it. I don't know what the exact numbers are for states, but Puerto Rico doesn't have to put up anything. We get the maximum under the Food Stamp program. We are building now a rapid transit system, and we fell $350 million short, and they just went to the federal government to ask them for money."
Ezratty was lecturing to us as we drove in his car around the old plaza of San Juan, saw the large "El Morro" castle and fort which protected the bay against 17th Century pirates, and drove past Puerto Rico's Capitol building A little further along, we saw neatly painted on a wall a picture of a Puerto Rican flag, with the legend, Por Vieques, Por Puerto Rico, Vota PIP -- Nuevo Movimento Independentista Puertoriqueno -- For Vieques, For Puerto Rico, Vote for the PIP, the new Puerto Rican Independence Movement."

When I asked Ezratty about the
PROTEST -- Sing protests American naval
bombardment of Vieques island and urges a vote
for Puerto Rico?s independence party.
sign, he explained that Vieques is one of Puerto Rico's satellite islands, which has been used by the United States Navy and Allied military ships for the past 60 years for bombardment practice.

About a year and a half ago, a civilian guard who was watching the gate was killed by a ship-launched aerial bomb that missed its mark. "That was the signal for the independentistas to launch large demonstrations to get the Navy out of Vieques," Ezratty said. The demonstrations "got a little nasty and we had a large, large mass of people marching in protest, including the Catholic Church, taking the position that the United States should get out of Vieques. This has become the focus for a lot of anti Americanism."

Although Ezratty is sympathetic to the independence cause, he along with most of the other 2,000-2,500 Jews of Puerto Rico try to remain aloof from the controversy. "Most Jewish people who live here are not Puerto Ricans, so they don't feel it is something they have a stake in," he said. "It is not our fight."

Nevertheless, "there are Jewish people in our synagogue who are married to Puerto Ricans and get involved. There is one woman who is very involved, she went to Vieques and protested there. And one of the guys who is the biggest protestor, lives on Vieques, his name is Rabin, and he is Jewish. But this is very rare. Most of us have no stake in the outcome of what happens."

Symptomatic of the general mood, the new governor wants the Navy to leave Vieques, and also wants to end Spanish-English bilingualism in favor of a policy of Spanish-only for people dealing with the government.

Ezratty attributed much of the emotionalism to the fact that matters are so up in the air. "There are many Puerto Ricans who are burning to become citizens of the United States -- obviously because 49 percent of them are always voting for statehood. But my feeling is that many Puerto Ricans have a feeling about Puerto Rico that is different than an Irishman has for Ireland or a Jew has for Israel.

"I think the reason for this is that they are on the brink of having to make a decision, and they are faced with it," Ezratty said. "Jews have already made their decision about Israel. The Irish are in Ireland; they have their country, although they are fighting for an additional piece. Many Puerto Ricans realize that they are on the brink of something that may radically alter their lives. I really believe that most Puerto Ricans feel that they have a culture apart; they have a history different from the United States..."
Comment by Darrell K Whitfield on January 26, 2009 at 10:05pm
Interesting ! Are you aware of the Congregation de Yahweh in Pueto Rico? I used to have a friend Miquel that was born on the same day I was who returned to Pueto Rico from Chicago where I met him.

Haveyou read the Encyclopedic History of Mexico, put out by Oxford University under "Conversos"? Or the Book The Exodus Continue... by Dr Del Sanchez of Sn Antonio, Texas which both show the Yahudi came to Mexico in large numbers also?
Comment by Darrell K Whitfield on January 26, 2009 at 10:08pm
Sorry Puerto Rico!
Comment by yahshua ben Yacov on January 27, 2009 at 10:14pm
yes I have heard of the Congregation of YAhweh.. But never have i attended the one in P.R. only in New York.. I had some Bretheren that I knew there. They use to visit my Christian book store.
Comment by yahshua ben Yacov on January 27, 2009 at 10:15pm
you means jews came in large numbers to Puerto rico?
Comment by Anna B on May 30, 2009 at 3:57am
From what I recall historically Spanish Jews came to Puerto Rico. What is your last name? There are books with which you can research your last name to see if it is Jewish.
Comment by yahshua ben Yacov on October 1, 2009 at 6:11pm
My Last name is James or santiago meaning jacob thus Israel.

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