Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Captives of Hope

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl: As you have probably already learned, it was indeed Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Senior Rabbi of Manhattan's Central Synagogue, whom the gunman at Congregation Beth Israel contacted one week ago.

Rabbi Buchdahl spoke about those two telephone encounters at the Kabbalat Shabbat service this past Friday. That service (as are most) was livestreamed - and Abq Jew was fortunate to tune in at just the right time.

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl
In a Friday night sermon on Jan. 21, 2022, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Manhattan's
Central Synagogue spoke about her experience being contacted by the gunman
who took Jews hostage at a synagogue in Texas a week earlier. (Screenshot)

Just the right time was not, as you might expect, Rabbi Buchdahl's sermon - although we'll get to that. It was, instead, just the right time to hear Rabbi Cantor Angela Buchdahl and Cantor Dan Mutlu lead the congregation in singing Psalm 96, Sing a New Song, one of the opening hymns.

Which was followed by an absolutely stunning arrangement of the well-known zemira Lecha Dodi, Come, My Beloved.

Now, Abq Jew was not able to stay for the whole Friday night service - kiddush and dinner were waiting. But if you'd like to - here it is

What Abq Jew did do - on Sunday, before football - is download the complete video from Facebook, then cut and edit the parts (see above) he wanted. Central Synagogue had already provided, separately, the Remarks by Mayor Eric Adams and, of course, Rabbi Buchdahl's sermon, Captives of Hope.

The sermon has been adapted into an essay and published at The Forward.

Philissa Cramer - JTA's Editor-in-Chief - wrote (January 22, 2022) about the sermon:
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl details call with Texas gunman in ‘Captives of Hope’ sermon

The New York City rabbi who spoke twice to the man who held Jews hostage in their Texas synagogue last week detailed the experience in a sermon Friday night.

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue also outlined her anxiety as an American Jew and exhorted her congregants to heed a prayer that the Reform movement has made part of its liturgy on Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day mourning the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and other traumatic events in Jewish history: “Blessed are you, Adonai, who makes us captives of hope.”

Buchdahl had previously acknowledged being contacted by the gunman, whom he reportedly found by searching for influential rabbis. But in her sermon, she recounted the voicemail from Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, delivered in what she said was an “unfaltering voice,” that alerted her to her involvement. 
“We have an actual gunman who is claiming to have bombs and he wants to talk to you,” Buchdahl quoted. “If you can call me back at this number that would be greatly appreciated. This is not a joke.'
The heart of Rabbi Buchdahl's sermon -
“If you are a Jew in America and you are not feeling unsettled,” Buchdahl said, “then you are not paying attention.”

I’m unsettled because the world only has the most simplistic understanding of antisemitism. If someone says they hate Jews, or they want to kill Jews, we call it antisemitism. But even educated people, the director of the FBI, do not recognize its far more insidious guise as the trope that Jews are all powerful and control everything. We saw how dangerous that age-old conspiracy theory can be.

I’m unsettled because I saw firsthand that you cannot negotiate with a terrorist. And more and more people in our country and around the globe are captivated by terrifying hateful ideologies, which they value more than their own lives.

I’m unsettled because Rabbi Cytron-Walker’s kindness and humanity were used against him. He opened his doors to this man and gave him a cup of tea. This rabbi welcomes the stranger and this is his reward? We have to protect ourselves. We cannot be naive. But I also know that if we only build fortresses around our sanctuaries, and around our hearts, then he wins.

I’m unsettled because I heard the terrifying voice of radical extremism filtered through the mind of a deranged person who was able to get a gun and then hold for people and an entire Jewish community hostage for 11 hours. I think of the ripple effects that this man set off and the countless resources that we will spend to prevent it from happening again.
Ms Cramer tells us that Rabbi Buchdahl ended her sermon -
... by looking to the week’s Torah portion, Yitro, in which Moses’s non-Jewish father-in-law tells Moses that he is not leading the Israelites to freedom alone.

“This message is truly for all of us. None of us can do this alone,” she said. She later added that  seeing so many congregants attend services — something that Biden administration antisemitism envoy nominee Deborah Lipstadt encouraged Jews to do as an act of courage — was heartening.

I could not do this without all of you showing up tonight, whether in this sanctuary or online. You are showing up not just for Central, but for Judaism. 

You’re showing up for fearlessness in the face of fear. None of us can do this alone, even as this pandemic has tested us and forced us to feel more alone than we ever thought we would have to be. 

But our tradition keeps pushing us back into community and tells us not only that we need to do this with each other. 

We need to create bridges outside the Jewish community itself.
Golden Gate Bridge Van Gogh

New York City's Central Synagogue is blessed with great location, landmark history, notable clergy, an outstanding full-time staff of 100+, and a 2-year waitlist to join the strictly-limited 2,600 household membership units. 

Which is why Central Synagogue can do what it does - from the exuberant joy of Welcoming the Sabbath to the solemn tones of Captives of Hope. 

Central Synagogue
Central Synagogue, 652 Lexington Avenue at East 55th Street

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

An Act of Courage

Going to Services Should Not Be: No, Abq Jew does not want to blog about the Congregation Beth Israel hostage taking, standoff, or escape. 

Others, with more knowledge and insight than Abq Jew - from the JTA and The Forward to mainstream newspapers and even TV - have covered the topic. And will probably continue to cover the topic, as long as an antisemitic attack on a US synagogue in 2022 America is considered newsworthy.

Deborah E Lipstadt

There are a few things that Abq Jew feels he should present to you, his loyal readers, as part of the historical record.

The first is the PBS NewsHour's excellent synopsis of last Shabbat's events in Colleyville, Texas.

This weekend's events in Texas where four people were taken hostage at a synagogue have renewed concerns about potential targeting of groups and the threats of anti-Semitism. Amna Nawaz reports on how this latest anti-Semitic incident is impacting the Jewish community, and what it says about the state of hate in America more broadly.

Next is a Guest Essay in The New York Times by Dr Deborah E Lipstadt. As many of you know, Dr Lipstadt is a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University. 

You may also know that Dr Lipstadt has been nominated by President Biden to be the State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. Senate Republicans have refused - for months, now - to consider her nomination (or Emergency Iron Dome funding).

Why It’s Scary to Be Jewish in America Today

Jan. 18, 2022      By Deborah E. Lipstadt

Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam,
matir asurim.
Blessed are you, God, sovereign of the universe,
who frees the captives. 

Look in virtually any prayer book of any stream of Judaism and you will find this prayer in the section known as Blessings of the Dawn. The invocation comes right at the beginning. So integral is this idea to the Jewish psyche, we praise God again for freeing captives during the Amidah, one of the liturgy’s most central prayers.

Late Saturday night, as news came of the safe conclusion of the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, I — together with many other Jews around the world — recited that blessing. Tears, for many of us, flowed freely. We shared it. We posted it. We felt it.

Another tragedy had been averted. But the scars remain. They will take a long time to heal. I thought of the Beth Israel rabbi’s two daughters who waited all day to hear of their father’s fate. One rabbi recently told me that some of her colleagues’ children don’t want them to be congregational rabbis anymore. “It’s too dangerous.” They don’t want to have to worry every time their parent goes to the office. The parent’s office is the synagogue.

My rabbi, Adam Starr, posted to Facebook that on Sunday morning, when he went into synagogue for daily prayer, it felt like “an act of courage, defiance and faith.” Another friend told me that whenever she walks into a synagogue she makes a mental check of the nearest exit and figures out where the safest place to hide is. Under a pew? In a storage closet? Behind the ark, which holds the sacred Torah scrolls? She was shocked when I said I don’t do that. Yet.

Jews have learned to be afraid beyond the synagogue. In May during the Gaza conflagration, people eating at a kosher restaurant in Los Angeles were beaten up by a mob. In London, a phalanx of cars moved through Jewish neighborhoods chanting “Kill Jews, rape their daughters.” In Times Square in New York, a Jew wearing a kipa, or skullcap, was punched and pepper-sprayed.

When the attack is on a synagogue, during prayer, the pain is particularly intense. Each incident of vandalism — antisemitic graffiti at a Tucson synagogue, desecration of synagogues in the Bronx in the spring — or worse, arson at an Austin, Texas, synagogue this fall, is felt by Jews far beyond the confines of that specific community.

Jews have long thought of their synagogues as both a place to pray and a place to find community. As Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker noted after his heroic escape from the gunman in Colleyville, a synagogue is called a beit knesset, a house of gathering. That is why, when traveling abroad, even Jews who are not regular synagogue attendees often seek out the local synagogue.

For decades, when I got directions to synagogues in countries outside my own — be it in Germany, Turkey, Poland, Italy or Colombia — I would be advised that, to make my search easier, I didn’t have to know the precise address. When I got to the street on which the building was situated, I was told, I should just look for the police officers with the submachine guns. That’s where the synagogue would be. Also: Bring my passport. And be prepared for questions.

In some cities, synagogues ask that you call ahead to let them know you are coming. In Stockholm two years ago, the guard outside had been alerted to my coming. But he took no chances. So I found myself on a snowy street, reciting select prayers for him. Only after proving my bona fides did he let me in.

That was once an experience limited to when I traveled abroad. Now American Jews like myself experience it at home — in our own synagogues, and in those we attend in American cities across this country. We look across the street at the big church and can’t help but notice that there are no guards there.

A couple of summers ago, I was in the Berkshires on a Sunday morning driving through one of those innumerable picturesque small towns. Along the way, I passed a large church, right on the main street. It dated back to Revolutionary times. Something seemed off to me. The four large entry doors were wide open. Congregants stood happily greeting people as they entered. Then I realized what was discordant. No armed guard. No security check. No one told to “please use the side entrance, because it’s more secure.” Just an open invitation: Come in. Welcome.

I have not walked through the main entrance to my synagogue since October 2018, after the shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. For over three years now, that door has remained locked. When I asked why, I was told, “It’s too wide open; it can’t be made secure.” I understood. You won’t find wide-open doors at any synagogue in Europe or North America. It is only after you get past the guards that you find welcome, though welcome is still there for those who seek it.

It is not just the large synagogues that fear for security. I hear from students that they think twice about going to Hillel services, the campus Jewish chaplaincy. Some out of fear for physical safety. Some out of worry about the slings and barbs that might come from other students in the dorm. I met parents whose child had been accepted to a very selective college. He wears a kipa and was struggling with whether to replace it for the next four years with a baseball cap. Increasingly I hear: Jews are contemplating going underground.

We are shaken. We are not OK. But we will bounce back. We are resilient because we cannot afford not to be. That resiliency is part of the Jewish DNA. Without it, we would have disappeared centuries ago. We refuse to go away. But we are exhausted.

Rabbi Cytron-Walker credited his survival to the active-shooter training and security courses that he and his congregants took in order to prepare for just such a moment. He knew to stay calm and knew the right moment to fling a chair at his captor and dash for the exit with the other captives. The Jewish community offers such training on a regular basis to an array of Jewish institutions, especially to our synagogues and our schools.

It is not radical to say that going to services, whether to converse with God or with the neighbors you see only once a week, should not be an act of courage. And yet this weekend we were once again reminded that it can be precisely that.

Among those morning blessings that are part of Blessings of the Dawn is one that thanks God for opening up the eyes of the blind. Jewish eyes did not need to be opened. But this week we wonder if the eyes of our non-Jewish friends and neighbors, particularly the ones who didn’t call to see if we were OK, have been opened just a bit.

There is an additional blessing during these early prayers that thanks God for allowing us to stand tall and straight. We are standing tall and we are standing straight.

But we are checking for the exits.

Next: Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker's interview on CBS Mornings.

Texas Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker joined "CBS Mornings" on Monday to share his story of survival during this weekend's hostage crisis at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.

And: hostage Jeffrey Cohen's interview on MSNBC.

Jeffrey Cohen, one of the Texas synagogue hostages, speaks out about his experience during the 11-hour standoff and explains how he and two others managed to escape unharmed. He also mentions that he believes the hostage-taker was mentally ill by the way he was acting.

And here in New Mexico -

Jewish Federation New Mexico

The Jewish Federation of New Mexico issued a statement and sponsored a community vigil at Congregation Albert, which was covered by KOB4.

Shalom Friends,

As we recover from the shocking experience and trauma experienced by the hostages at Congregation Beth Israel in Texas, our community shared a collective sigh of relief and gratitude that this horrible event did not end in tragedy and the hostages were freed safe and sound. We can only imagine the painful trauma of their experience and pray for their healing and wellbeing.

In consultation with the Secure Community Network of the Jewish Federations of North American, throughout the incident we were apprised with security advisories. In addition, we were on standby for alerts from our local FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force with whom JFNM has regular and ongoing communication. 

Today I received a call from FBI Special Agent in Charge for Albuquerque, Raul Bujanda, reaching out to our community to extend his support and inquire how our local community has been responding. 

He also indicated that the FBI is investigating the incident with specific interest in the motive of the perpetrator, whether the individual was a lone wolf or connected in any way to a terrorist network that may have figured in his motivation. 

The investigation is international and ongoing. He reiterated their vigilance in protecting our local Jewish community from any future hate crime.

It is prudent for all Jewish organizations, synagogues, and facilities to remain on heightened security alert, not in response to any specific threat, but as best practice following this incident.

Thank you to Congregation Albert for organizing a meaningful community vigil of prayer, music and reflection expressing our solidarity with Congregation Beth Israel in Texas. It was wonderful healing moment for our community.

Also, FYI, please watch a report given on KOB4 which provided an opportunity for JFNM to share our concerns, relief and message of response to our entire regional community at this link.

With continuing prayers and gratitude let us all remain situationally aware and safe.


David Blacher, President             Rabbi Dr. Rob Lennick, CEO


It is only five years since Abq Jew personally encountered antisemitic hate on his blog and website (see You've Got Hate Mail! and Documenting Hate). The story even made it to The New York Times - a decidedly mixed blessing.

Hateful Threats

January 2017 was before the hate attack in Portland; before the hateful Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville; before the hate attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; before the hate attack on Chabad of Poway; before the hate attack in Jersey City; and before the hate attack in Monsey

We were all so much younger then.

Angry Dog

There are some things Abq Jew will never forget.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

How Many Bagels Does It Take?

Eli's Hot Bagels Has Closed: It is with deep sadness that Abq Jew must inform you of the permanent passing of Eli's Hot Bagels of Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Eli's Hot Bagels

Abq Jew fully recognizes that you, his loyal readers, may never have heard of Eli's Hot Bagels. Or even of Aberdeen, New Jersey. And that thus, you may not appreciate the enormity of this event.

Well, Aberdeen was for 18 years (1982-2000) the hometown of Mr & Mrs Abq Jew, their kids, and their cats. Yes, their cats. All of us there depended on Eli's. Some weeks, we almost lived there.

Anyway - in 1977 (you may recall), Aberdeen Township split off from Matawan Borough to become its own, identifiable place.

Close to Shore

Now Matawan Borough Abq Jew is sure you've heard of, since that's where the shark attacked in July 1916. Swam right up Matawan Creek, it did. Attacked and killed 11-year-old Lester Stilwell and 24-year-old Watson Stanley Fisher. Also attacked 14-year-old Joseph Dunn, who survived.

But Abq Jew digresses. Eli's Facebook page provides a history of the shop:
Eli's Hot Bagels has been serving the Aberdeen, Matawan and surrounding areas since 1974. We were voted as the Best Bagel Store In Monmouth Country for 3 consecutive years by the Asbury Park Press. 

Eli's Hot Bagels first opened its doors in 1974. Eli, and his brother Sam opened a small store, which quickly grew in size and reputation. In 2008, Eli's Hot Bagels was purchased by the Glasser and Schwartz families with the hopes of rebuilding this local landmark back to what it used to be!
And Patch.com provides a fuller description of this community catastrophe:
Beloved Aberdeen Bagel Shop Permanently Closes
Until it closed this past weekend, Eli's Hot Bagels had been in business since 1974, when it was opened by two brothers.
ABERDEEN, NJ — Eli's Hot Bagels, a beloved Aberdeen bagel store that had been in business for decades, has permanently closed its doors.

The bagel shop announced the closure Sunday on Facebook, however Aberdeen locals have been speculating for days that it is closed, ever since seeing the dark and shuttered storefront off Rt. 34.

"Hi All, Eli's Hot Bagels in Aberdeen is permanently closed," wrote the business on Facebook. "As with all small businesses during the pandemic it has been a struggle. Unfortunately our landlord hasn't made it any easier. We wish all of our loyal customers the best and thank you all for your continued support."

Eli's Hot Bagels had continuously been in business since 1974, when it was opened by two brothers, Sam and Eli. It was voted the "Best Bagel Store In Monmouth Country" for three consecutive years by the Asbury Park Press.
In 2008, the business came under new ownership.

Much has changed in that Aberdeen shopping complex: The Bow Tie Cinemas that used to be located right next door to Eli's Bagels is now a brewery.

NOTE: Eli's Hot Bagels in Freehold Township, owned by family members
of the original owners of the Aberdeen store, remains open.  

Eli Provdo

You can read more about Eli Provdo (that's his mostly unknown family name - Abq Jew never knew it!) in the [PDF version of the] January 17, 1990 edition of the Bayshore Independent (see cover and page 30).

As it turns out - there are no coincidences, are there? - Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg just published an illustrated article in The New York Times that asks, and attempts to answer, the question 

How Many Bagels Does It Take
to Keep a Place in Business?

Here is one answer, from Joe Morena, owner of St Viateur Bagel in Montreal:

Joe Morena


Let's see. That's

12 ovens
x (35x12) bagels per hour
x 12 hours per day
60,480 bagels per day

Or maybe that's 60,480 bagels per day for all the ovens - not each oven. That's only 5,040 bagels per day. And, Mr Morena adds - 


Melanie Frost, owner of New York's Ess-a-Bagel, says


So that's 35,000 bagels x 4 locations = 140,000 bagels per week. Which translates to 20,000 bagels per day.

A Tribute
Moe Eagerman Baigel
To Morris "Moe" Eagerman

Abq Jew cannot think about - and certainly not blog about - bagels without mentioning the wonderful Eagerman family. Bagel business royalty - in Boston, Natick, Chicago, and Miami Beach.

Moe was, Abq Jew believes, the last of the Eagerman bagel-makers. His 2004 obituary tells us that Moe was:
Of Wayland, formerly of Natick & Boston. Former owner of Eagerman's Bakery. Entered Eternal Rest December 16, 2004. 
Dear brother of the late Ida Shubert, Bessie, Isadore, Charles, Julius, Jack and Frank Eagerman. Loving brother-in-law of Gladys, Eleanor and Ruth Eagerman. 
Cherished uncle of many nieces, nephews, grand nieces and grand nephews. Devoted friend of the Gadman, Jacobs and Buckley families. 
Beyond that - Moe claimed that it was his “Original King Bagel” Eagerman's in Natick where he originated the cinnamon raisin bagel, and where he invented much of the modern manufacturing equipment for bagel-making.

Why does Abq Jew care about this? Because, in Spring 1974, when Abq Jew journeyed from California to New York, he went via Miami Beach (of course). 

Where he met Julius and Ruth Eagerman and their son Brad, who were very good friends of his Great Aunt Lil and Great Uncle Ben, whom he was visiting. 

Where the beloved Eagerman family was, to put it mildly, in the bagel business. And where Ruth Eagerman was known to one and all as

Bagel Ruthie
"Bagel Ruthie"

They're all gone now - Julius in 2004; Ruth in 2014. Their son (and only child) Brad -  with whom Abq Jew schlepped around Miami Beach one glorious June day - died in 1994. From Brad's obituary in the Chicago Tribune:
By Jan Ferris and Tribune Staff Writer
Chicago Tribune     July 25, 1994
Bagels have been in the blood of the Eagerman family since the end of World War I, when a Polish baker's apprentice arrived in Boston with his boss' daughter in tow and a recipe in hand.

Samuel Eagerman and his wife raised eight children and founded a bagel-making business that in following generations would spread to Florida and Illinois.
That heritage proved a source of strength and grief last week for Julius Eagerman, 72, as he began packing up what remains of Eagerman Bagels & More, which his only child opened in DuPage County 13 years ago.

"This is eating my heart out," he said, standing next to refrigerated cases once loaded with chopped liver and cream cheese. "This is his baby. It was my baby too."

Brad Eagerman died July 8 at the age of 46, three weeks after a predawn gas explosion at his Lombard deli left him burned and comatose. 

Eagerman was lighting the oven pilot light when the gas ignited. He placed the emergency call himself, police records show. Few traces of the small explosion remain. 

Julius Eagerman, who ran bakeries in Boston and North Miami Beach for nearly 30 years, is stumped.

"Those ovens are built to last 100 years," he said, flicking a switch that sent the rack rotating to show that the electricity flow was intact.

Julius Eagerman said he never thought his son would continue the tradition begun in Ruvno, Poland, by his great-grandfather. 

Though he helped out as a teen, Brad Eagerman at first opted for a corporate job in the food industry. But in 1981, he chucked the suit and tie for an apron and opened up shop in DuPage.

"He really was a believer in bagel," his father said. 

For several days, friends and relatives sat shiva, the Jewish mourning period. 

Then Julius Eagerman returned to the shuttered storefront to sort through his son's paperwork and clean out the shelves. 

Goldfish Driver

Not all stories end happily. But almost all of Abq Jew's blog posts do. So - here's a story from The Washington Post's Rachel Pannett:
Fish in the driver’s seat: 
Israeli scientists teach goldfish to operate vehicle

Israeli researchers have taught goldfish to drive, according to a study that offers new insights into animals’ ability to navigate — even when they’re literally fish out of water.

For the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Behavioural Brain Research, the goldfish were trained to use a wheeled platform, dubbed a Fish Operated Vehicle. The FOV could be driven and have its course changed in reaction to the fish’s movements inside a water tank mounted on the platform.

Their task was to “drive” the robotic vehicle toward a target that could be observed through the walls of the fish tank. The vehicle was fitted with lidar, short for light detection and ranging, a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to collect data on its ground location and the fish’s location within the tank.

The researchers, from Ben-Gurion University, found the fish were able to move the FOV around unfamiliar environments while reaching the target “regardless of their starting point, all while avoiding dead-ends and correcting location inaccuracies.”

The goldfish in the tank were placed in a test arena and tasked with driving toward a target. Upon successfully hitting the target, they received a food pellet reward. The scientists said that after a few days of training, the fish were able to navigate past obstacles such as walls, while eluding efforts to trick them with false targets.

“The study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment,” said Shachar Givon, one of the study’s authors, in a statement. “It shows that goldfish have the cognitive ability to learn a complex task in an environment completely unlike the one they evolved in.” 

But - can they remember where they parked?

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

More About Broken Promises

Spain's Law of Return: It is with mixed emotions that Abq Jew informs you that the response to Spain's Broken Promises to atone for the Alhambra Decree and the horrors of the Inquisition has recently received a bit more publicity.

Abq Jew is, of course, deeply saddened by the need for such publicity. But he is heartened to see that the publicity is coming - from many quarters, now.

A few days ago, Michael Tashji wrote in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

Teresa Leger Fernandez
U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández speaks Oct. 11 as members of the American Sephardi
Federation demonstrate in front of the Spanish Consulate General in New York.
Leger Fernández has appealed to the government of Spain on behalf of descendants
of expelled Jews who are being denied the right of return.   Courtesy Philos Latino

Barriers arise for descendants of Spanish Jews seeking right of return

More than 500 years after Spain banished tens of thousands of Jews during the Inquisition, the Spanish Parliament made an attempt to atone for the transgression by offering descendants a right of return and a path to citizenship.

The program, approved in 2015, proved popular. But after receiving an onslaught of applications, perhaps over 50,000, Spain recently changed its rules, leaving many applicants in limbo and flatly rejecting others — a move that risked reopening wounds the nation had sought to heal.

Several New Mexico descendants of banished Jews were among those whose applications had stalled. They turned to elected officials for help.

In October, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández and U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján joined other Democratic lawmakers in making an appeal to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Mr Tashji explains that in 2015, Spanish King Felipe VI delivered a speech to Sephardic Jews and their descendants, apologizing for harms of the past and welcoming them back to Spain.
“Thank you for having kept, like a precious treasure, your language and your customs. They are ours, too,” he said. “Thank you, too, for making love prevail over rancor, and for teaching your children to love this country.”

Over the next four years, Spain accepted tens of thousands of applications for citizvenship from the descendants of Spanish Jews. The situation looked very promising. But, Mr Tashji continues -

Recently, however, a number of major bureaucratic changes to the right of return program have slowed — and even stopped — the process.

Leger Fernández and her colleagues wrote in their letter to the prime minister, “Before this year, only one person had been turned down, and some 34,000 have been accepted. This year, thousands have been rejected, and even more haven’t received a response.”

“Although Ambassador [to the U.S. Santiago] Cabanas has stated to our offices that the process for granting nationality through this channel has not changed, it appears that there are numerous changes that have caused rejections,” the letter continued.

Those changes include overriding the authority of notarios to verify Sephardic ancestry, denying certificates of Sephardic origins issued by authorized Jewish organizations, changing the requirements of the genealogical documents already submitted and retroactively requiring a “special connection” — such as a donation to a Spanish charity — to have occurred before the right of return was offered.

“We urge you to rescind these changes. The broken promise of the noble gesture of reparation wounds more than if Spain had never made the offer of return in the first place,” the U.S. lawmakers wrote.

Many people in New Mexico seeking to establish their genealogical heritage for a right of return received assistance from the Sephardic Heritage Program at the Jewish Federation of New Mexico (JFNM).

Broken Promises

In August 2021, the JFNM joined with the American Sephardi Federation to present Broken Promises, a webinar that showcased the troubles affecting Spain's right of return offer. 

And yes, US Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez was a featured speaker at that important event - which was recorded


As it turns out - in December 2021, Capitol Hill reporter Marc Rod wrote a very interesting piece about Representative Leger Fernandez that ran in the Jewish Insider (JI). It begins:
Leger Fernandez charts uniquely New Mexican path in Jewish community relations
While she’s largely stayed out of the spotlight on Israel issues, the New Mexico congresswoman has been a leader in advocating for descendants of conversos

In early December, a small group gathered around a Zoom screen in a living room in Northwest Washington to hear from a perhaps unusual set of speakers — two officials from Givat Haviva, a nonprofit run by Israel’s Kibbutz Federation, and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), a first-term New Mexico congresswoman who has not been particularly outspoken on Israel issues during her time in office.

The event earlier this month, organized by Heart of a Nation, a pro-Israel group launched earlier this year by former longtime AIPAC official Jonathan Kessler to bring together progressive Americans, Israelis and Palestinians, appears to be one of Leger Fernandez’s first forays into the national pro-Israel space.

The congresswoman’s remarks focused primarily on her personal background and New Mexico’s history of mixed indigenous, Spanish and Sephardi backgrounds and cultures.

And about Israel -

Ron Duncan Hart, the former president of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, told JI that Leger Fernandez “identifies with the Jewish community” and “has close contacts within the Jewish community.” He added that she has “expressed her support for Israel very clearly.” 

But - perhaps most importantly - about the Sephardic connection to Spain -

The freshman congresswoman’s most prominent engagement with Jewish community issues has been in a niche deeply connected to New Mexico’s history, as a vocal advocate for restored Spanish citizenship for descendants of Jews and conversos expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. 

Leger Fernandez’s ancestors include Jews who fled Spain, and one relative was burned at the stake in Mexico City due to his religion.

Descendants of Sephardi Jews — both Jewish and non-Jewish — are a significant population within her district as well, and Leger Fernandez frequently emphasizes New Mexico’s unique history of cultural “integration,” noting in her Heart of a Nation speech, “in our cathedral we have the Star of David because the Jewish community helped construct the cathedral.” 

Representative Leger Fernandez described the Spanish government's apparent backtrack as “antisemitic” at a recent Hanukkah event in her district. According to Dr Sara Koplik, who led [with Rabbi Jordi Gendra] the Sephardic Heritage Program at the Jewish Federation of New Mexico -

“Everybody is connected to somebody who used to be Jewish 400 years ago, 500 years ago. Leger Fernandez was concerned that this program, which had such promise, was looking like it was falling apart.

Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez showed [an] incredible amount of leadership and interest in the issue. She really cares about this issue. She really cares about the converso experience throughout the world… 

Why it’s a political issue for her is because of her community and because of her constituents — so many of them have this heritage… This is a central issue because it crosses so many different communities and so many different parts of her constituency."

Segovia Jewish quarter
The former Jewish quarter of Segovia, Spain. The country was once home to one
of Europe’s most thriving Jewish communities, which for centuries produced major
poets, historians and philosophers.   Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times

This all started (in a manner of speaking) with the July 2021 exposé that Nicholas Casey wrote in The New York Times, and which Abq Jew wrote about in August' 2021's Broken Promises. Which begins -

Spain Pledged Citizenship to Sephardic Jews. Now They Feel Betrayed.  In 2015, Spain said it would give citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Spanish Inquisition. Then rejections started pouring in this summer.
Juderia Segovia
Let's keep this issue alive until the problems are solved!