Hehaver-Ohel Jacob | Part V
The Ohel Jacob and the B'nei Anusim
“You could say that in Lisbon, this B’nei Anusim cluster is a set of people who, in addition of being few are also quite heterogeneous. On the one hand, there are those who are actually descendants of second or third generation, therefore, children or grandchildren of individuals who have preserved traces of Jewish identity mixed with other similar traits of habits of non-Jews who came to the city. There are others who are from families already born in Lisbon for many generations but who found their Jewish roots, either by chance or intentional search, and even though may be very much retracted in generational terms, feel strongly and appropriate in terms of identity. Aside from these B’nei Anusim, there is still a group of individuals who seek conversion by an intense affinity, for many of them even inexplicable, but that is still genuine and spontaneous. Finally, there are those who consider themselves Jews but who are frustrated because they are not considered by the Jewish orthodoxy because they are not children of Jewish mother or they haven’t been converted in accordance to the dictates of the Jewish Orthodoxy.
Among these are the children of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, or the ones who joined a different Jewish movements such as Reform, Conservative or Masorti, Liberals, or secular.
(…) These individuals are faced with three possible alternatives. They may just give up because they do not feel the need to deepen their self-perception as Jews and only assume it very sporadically; or they may be part of the CIL, following the process of re-initiation and conversion within the molds that are proposed there, which usually involves a catechism and rites of passage quite rigorous at several levels, a complex and time-consuming process, having no guarantees of attending the Shaareh Tikvah Synagogue (Sephardic Orthodox rite, tradition from León and Castile, with some Ashkenazi songs mixed) (…); or the third alternative is searching for the only alternative synagogue that operates in the city, the Ohel Jacob Synagogue, where the rite has always been mainly Ashkenazi (…).” [Marina Pignatelli]
Aron Katzan had always had difficulty in understanding that these sons of cripto-Jews “having Jewish ancestry and desire to return to the faith of their ancestors, they are no longer welcomed” by Sephardic orthodoxy.
Perhaps because the Jewish people, who is considered one of the most suffering people in mankind history, “perhaps the more stubborn and resistant race the world have ever known [Basílio Teles]” and, therefore, perhaps obstinate among itself, fertilized by historical contexts that divides Jews into Sephardis, Ashkenazis and Marranos, and even among so distinct Jewish movements, as brothers of incompatible personalities; perhaps for the stigmatization of these Ashkenazis during the Nazi period, in Portugal, that made them scapegoats for the ills of the Nation, like the Marranos by the time of the Holy Office; perhaps because similar sufferings generate similar affinities, and these Poles, touched by other legacies, have embraced the B’nei Anusim from another perspective, since the time of Barros Basto and Schwarz duo (a “Marrano” and a “Polish”); perhaps all this would led this synagogue to fulfil the legacy of its name, “Tent of Jacob”, keeping its doors open to those who come for good or those who simply want to “return” – just like that controversial man, unfair and wronged, deceiver and deceived, who won everything and who lost everything as well, the man who sought dreams and then returned to be reunited with the past; Jacob, of whom God never gave up, because after the evil vanquished, a simple man can become Israel.