It wasn’t until 1996 that Dell Sanchez of Texas discovered a well hidden family secret.
For generations, the Sanchez women had known but buried the history about the family’s Sephardic Jewish roots.
When Sanchez was told the secret by his father, he began a personal odyssey that would lead him to write four books on the subject, to found a Spanish Museum in Israel and to create a settlement in the Negev for Latinos with Sephardic ancestry that want to immigrate to the Jewish state.
In addition, he runs an organization called the Aliyah Sephardic Center in Texas that encourages people to research their Sephardic lineage, and also encourages Latino “Cryto Jews” (Hidden Jews) to invest in and do business with Israel. (See his Web site at www.4sephardim.com.)
Sephardic Jews get their name from the term, Sepharad, a Biblical location identified as the Iberian Peninsula, which is modern day Spain and Portugal. In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, Spain banished all Jewish Spaniards to distant lands. Many fled torture and persecution and settled in northern Mexico and the southwestern part of the United States.
Sanchez, who was in Phoenix in November for a seminar, says many U.S. Latinos are discovering their Jewish roots.
“Jewish genealogists have recently established a good, conservative estimate on the number of Sephardic Jews in the Americas,” he says. “Experts are saying that at least 10 percent of all Hispanics have Sephardic Jewish roots.”
Rebecca Ferrara is one local Latina who is finding out about her hidden ancestry. She is part of an organization called My Latino Roots (www.mylatinoroots.org) that gathers information about Latino Cryto Jews.
“Doors are opening for our Hispanic people to make Aliyah (immigration) back to Israel,” Ferrara says.
Interestingly, Sanchez’s movement coincides with Israel’s need for more Jewish immigration from the United States. The country is offering incentives to attract more American immigrants because Israel’s Arab minority is having children at a faster rate than Jews, and because immigration is at an 18-year low because of the volatile Mideast politics.
“Latino Sephardic Jews are waking up to their true identity across the Americas and will be returning to the land of their forefathers,” Sanchez says.