ANOUSIM RISING: From Darkness Comes Light

Yosef Ortega

“Such is the way of creation: First comes darkness, then light.” – Talmud Shabbat 77b

Peeking in through the door and staring into the darkness came the familiar sound of a match striking. The light filling the room for an instance while dimming down slowly, I saw my grandmother with her head covered leaning down to light some candles. This act was not unusual. But when I saw that she drew in this Holy light while passionately devoting herself in Holy words to G-d, I knew I was witnessing something that would forever change the course of my life.

Each and every day and growing with great endurance, people are making their way back to Torah Judaism and the heritage of the Jewish people. Still widely unknown to most of Jewish communities, prophecy is being fulfilled on the world stage regarding this mostly forgotten group. Who are these people? They are known as the B’nei Anousim (Children of the Coerced), and many of their stories began like mine… a light in the darkness.

My​ ​personal​ ​journey​ ​back​ ​to​ ​Judaism

At a young age, my mother passed away. After my father remarried, I was raised in the Catholic church. Though I was too young to comprehend the implications of my feelings, my life felt like I was in exile. I was lost and disconnected from my Jewish identity. It wasn’t hidden from me by my parents, it was stolen from me long before I was born.

In my early 20’s I met and married my Beshert (soul mate). Both, of us had a deep longing to know G-d but had no idea how. So, what better place to start than inside to walls of the Catholic church…right? I quickly became excited about the idea of knowing G-d. We threw ourselves into the ministry of the the church. All seemed to be going well. That is, until the spring of 2007.

Always having this looming question in our hearts about the Jewish people, my wife and I decided to try a Passover seder. Sure, all of the children fell asleep as we struggled to read through the entire seder. Yes, the word ‘amature’ was being thoroughly revealed in the light of the full moon. And yet, something unknown was being unveiled to me that I already knew in my bones. This was a feeling I will never forget.

“If you are going to pursue this, it can not be done at THIS church”, our pastor told us after we shared with him this newfound excitement about Passover. Instead of being drawn in, we were being pushed away. We were at a crossroads. This was painful because we had many close friends connected with the church. However, this pain was necessary for use to begin our journey back to Judaism. The crossroads was now the road less traveled. And that road brought us to Denver, Colorado.

A horse of a different color is still a horse. A church of a different name is still a church. Things seemed to somewhat fit into the mold of Judaism as we found ourselves in walls of Messianic Judaism. Within these walls we learned a lot about Judaism. But, the more we learned about Judaism, the more we saw just how far outside of Judaism we were. Something was just not right. These walls felt as though they were closing in, keeping us inside for years before realizing just how much of a counterfeit we were partaking in.

Connection​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Sephardic​ ​Anousim

During the later part of 2009, my wife and I were invited to hear a guest speaker, Dr. Dell Sanchez. He had come to Denver to speak on the history of the Crypto Jews or the Bnei Anousim. I remember sitting in my seat following the lecture. Flipping through a book I just purchased, I stumbled upon a section listing Sephardic Jewish surnames. Among these names I saw “Ortega”, then “Herrera” (both from my grandfather), then “Navarro” ( my grandmother whom I mentioned earlier) Just then I remembered something that Dr. Sanchez had shared during the lecture about various hidden customs of the Anousim. He shared about separating meat from dairy, covering mirrors after the death of loved ones, salting meat, not eating pork, and women lighting candles on Friday night. I instantly remembered this from my grandmother.

Although, I only had this small memory of her, it was a spark that had remained with me. In the coming years I would research more about the Anousim and places in where they lived and traveled. I found many similarities between these findings and my research into my family. I even did a DNA test to find further evidence of my broken past. I discovered that my DNA matched many of the Sephardic Anousim as well as several DNA matches linking to the priestly tribe of Levi.

This was exciting! But, even with all this excitement, I still felt that I needed to make a much deeper connection to the Jewish people. DNA, surnames, and some possible family evidences would only (as Everette from “O, Brother Where Art Thou” stated) “Arouse my appetite without bedding it back down.” It was at this time that my family and I decided, if we really are possibly Jewish, we needed to embrace all that is Jewish and make our formal return. While we had already been studying for years, we knew that we needed the help of the Jewish community to
do things right. So, we left the Messianic church and went to the synagogue.

Passover has been an interesting time for us. It was during Passover that we left Christianity in 2007. It was during Passover in 2016 when we left all Judeo-Christian/Messianic leanings and had our first meeting with an Orthodox Beit Din (House of Judgement). Our conversion process had officially begun.

During this time, I got in contact with Yaffah Batya DaCosta, founder of Ezra L’Anousim (Helpers of the Anousim). I volunteered to help with several projects within the organization. My first project working with Ezra L’Anousim was to help with organizing and promoting the first of the Ezra L’Anousim pro Israel global rallies. Collaborating with a good friend of mine, we produced two short promotional videos called “We are Jews” and “Chazon Ovadiah” (Prophecy of Ovadiah) to help with bring awareness for the Bnei Anousim.Like Yaffah Batya DaCosta, I am a firm believer in activism for bringing Jews closer to Judaism, specifically the Bnei Anousim.

He used to say: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist
from it- Pirkei avot 2:16

I also believe that the ones assisting Hashem in helping the Anousim will ultimately be other Anousim. This is not only because we share a very special connection, but we understand very well the darkness of our exile and all hope to see things change in a positive way. Not only for the Bnei Anousim, but for all of Klal Yisrael.

“There is no power in the world that can stand against us when we feel a part of our history, part of our people and part of this historic struggle.”- Natan Sharansky, Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel and former Prisoner of Zion

Our​ ​conversion​ ​and​ ​current​ ​activism

In the month of Elul 27 in the year 5777 (September 18, 2017) my family and I completed our conversion to Orthodox Judaism! Baruch Hashem it has been the connection that we have been longing for many years.

Recently, I was also appointed to the role of ‘Director of Media’ for Ezra L Anousim and so now both the passion and the vessel to help other Bnei Anousim has been united. Our first task is in launching the newly designed website for Ezra L’Anousim (, we plan to release documentary about the emerging Bnei Anousim communities. Our media company, Kavod Media, is currently seeking collaboration with other film production agencies to reach this lofty goal as well as other future projects.

My life to this point has been a long and fulfilling journey. I have had many trials, victories, failures, peaks, and valleys, but I feel like this is just a beginning. I am still in exile. However, now, it is only physical. I pray that this exile will shortly come to an end and that this Passover we all together can say and truly mean, “Next year in Jerusalem”.

“It shall come to be on that day that the Lord will once again show His hand… And He will gather in the dispersed ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” – Isaiah 11:11-12

ANOUSIM RISING: Hidden Jews Now Returning to Israel May Be a Game Changer for the State

With all of the chaos of the Middle East and the unknowns of the region creating a perpetual burden for Israel, the State continues to play a role in the miraculous ingathering of Jews still living in exile.  One of the most phenomenal awakenings in regard to lost Jewish communities is the Bnei Anousim movement, which are those people descended from Iberian Jews forcibly converted to Christianity over 500 years ago.

By the most current statistics there are approximately 67.78 million people that have Iberian Jewish ancestry to a certain extent. These numbers are staggering and because of the sheer amount, the course of action has been muddled by the State of Israel.  Some these people are still genuinely Jewish according to Jewish Law.  Others are loosely connected through genetics, yet still are connected to Christianity. All of them form a block of people that are beginning to realize that their origins make them incredibly important to the future of Jewish people as well as a force in their own right.

Although the Bnei Anousim have legitimate claim to be able to return to their brothers and sisters within the broader Jewish world, there has been many roadblocks to the reclamation of their Jewishness. However, in recent years these roadblocks have begun to fall.

“In 1995 there was a letter written by the former Rishon Leshon, Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel, HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu (of blessed memory). In that letter HaRav quoted from the Shulchan Aruch on how to bring back the Bnei Anousim to the faith and traditions of their Sephardi Ancestors, with cords of love,” says Yaffah daCosta head of Ezra L’Anousim an organization focused on bringing awareness to the Anousim movement and to help blaze a smoother path to return to Israel. “However, not many Rabbis were willing to follow his advice. And in all of Latin America there is a takkanah (religious ruling, from 1927) that says the normative Jewish communities will not accept converts (or reverts, meaning from Bnei Anousim) into their communities. But today it’s no longer an issue.”

The Bnei Anousim are beginning to establish authentically Jewish communities in many parts of Latin and South America.  Unlike the past, these communities are ctually receiving help from Israel and other mainstream Jewish groups.

Ezra L’Anousim has become a leading force in breaking down the barriers that have prevented returnees from realizing their dream of returning to the Jewish people.  For two years in a row they have led Yom HaAtzmaut rallies to raise awareness in Israel and around the world about the Bnei Anousim.  Recently they have begin coordinating with the Rabbinical Court of Rav Amsalem in a major bid towards formal recognition and legitimate path back to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Just recently it was announced that the Israeli government will soon consider recommendations to grant gentiles with Jewish roots, crypto-Jews and members of “emerging communities” who are not eligible for immigration, extended visas to explore their Jewish heritage. This is a very important first step.

“Ezra L’Anousim will continue to grow these “emerging communities” and give them their dignity and self-respect back (as the descendants of Sephardi Jews),” daCosta adds. “We will work in coordination with all the Rabbis and other groups who want to help our people in significant ways. And also will be encouraging all of our Bnei Anousim members to even moreso participate in all the public pro-Israel rallies and celebrations that are being planned for April 2018.”

With the need to find a solution to Israel’s “Palestinian” problem, the amount of returnees could make a strategic difference in deciding how to proceed via the diplomatic angle.  Imagine if Israel had another 3 million or so Jews. Then our options for ending the “Palestinian” charade would be clear.

This can happen if the Israeli government and activists focus on making it far easier for the Bnei Anousim to return to their people.

REDEMPTION WATCH: Are the Anousim About to Return to Israel?

In 1492 the inquisition began and with it Spanish and Portuguese Jewry were forced to convert or fled to distant lands.  Many ended up in the new world and as the Inquisition spread to the new Spanish and Portuguese colonies these Jews became even more hidden. These Jews became known as Anousim

Now Reconectar, headed by Ashley Perry is dedicated to linking up the nearly 100 million descendents of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry with an aim of bringing 1.5 million eligable descendents to Israel.  Below is an excellent video about the intitiative.


My Personal Journey to Judaism

I was raised in a nominally Catholic family in New Bedford, MA. At the age of 7 or 8, I heard the priest say, from the pulpit, that the Jews were Christ-killers, and I had an immediate visceral reaction in my gut. I wanted to leave the Church at the age of 16, but my parents said I had to do as they wanted me to do until 18 years of age, and then I could do whatever I wanted to do. After my 18th birthday 1965, I formally left the Catholic Church and religion and never looked back. That was also the year of the 2nd Vatican Council and “Nostra Aetate” – but for me it was too little and too late (thank GD). From then on, I was a devoted “agnostic”. While my older brother had became an atheist. For 20 years I did not step foot in a Catholic church, and during my college years I took courses in comparative religion, and read books like Hal Lindsey’s “Late, Great Planet Earth”. In that book he made a statement that said of all the prophets in the world (including Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, etc.) the only ones with a 100% track record were the Biblical prophets. So this thought intrigued me and I started to study the Christian so-called Old Testament with a focus on the Biblical Prophets. Exactly 20 years later I was in a Catholic Church for the wedding of a good friend, and while there feeling edgy and uncomfortable, I thought about it and realized that it had been a full 20 years since I had attended anything in a Christian Church.

In the year 1985, 20 years after leaving the Christian Church, which was the year my father died from complications related to Alzheimer’s, I had gotten very sick and I had almost died. I had started to pray to GD (to me it was simply talking to this entity in my mind) and based on my reading the stories in the Bible I could only address this entity as “the GD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. In 1992 I decided to go to Israel on a Holy Land tour, and I chose a Hal Lindsey tour because I felt he was an excellent Bible teacher and he would be able to make the places in Israel come alive with stories from the Bible. Now as women go, I am not much of a crying type of person. I had developed into a stoic, like my father, and took most things in the world with calm acceptance and not too emotionally. The plane landed at Ben Gurion airport, and we walked down the stairs (there was no terminal like there is now). When my feet hit the tarmac, I began to weep uncontrollably and I had no understanding of why. I had traveled somewhat before this trip – but no where on earth was I affected as much as in Israel. The people, the language, the culture, the food, the atmosphere – everything affected me very deeply and I didn’t understand why.

I returned to Israel on my own, by myself, without knowing a soul there, in 1993 for Pesach. I stayed at what was then called the Sheraton Plaza (across from the Great Synagogue) on King George Street, and celebrated the Passover Seder in a public ceremony. I returned later that same year, on my own and by myself, for Sukkot. I came back again in 1994 for Shavuot. Each visit lasted from 10-14 days. During this trip in ‘94, I remember being at the Kotel, and speaking to GD in my mind, and troubled because I wanted to learn more (especially about Judaism) but I didn’t know how to go about it. I knew that if I went to any Rabbi, they would ask me if I wanted to convert, and I’d have to answer in all honestly that I didn’t know if I wanted that. I just wanted to learn! Being that I was a professional educator and group facilitator in the business world, the idea came to me “if you want to study, you’ll teach”. So that year I returned home, and started a weekly study group with a handful of people in Warwick R.I. (just outside of Providence) right after Rosh HaShanah of that year. I had bought a Stone Edition of the Chumash. And each week we would read the portion of the week, and the commentaries and discuss. We held these discussion groups of the weekly parasha for an entire year.

At this time I was also going to Christian conferences in Boston and other places, and had a booth in the exhibit area that was pro-Israel. The Israeli flag would be hung on the wall behind me, and I would have a small T.V. there running videos about tourism to Israel, and had books on the table to buy about Israel, and about the “theology of contempt” and anti-Semitism of the Christian world. I also had a Davidic Harp (from the Harraris) on display and I would play the harp loudly, and draw a large crowd, and educate about the Harp of King David. I met many pro-Israel Christians at those conferences and had not a few arguments with some of the anti-Semitic ones.

One of the people I had met at these conferences was a man who owned several Christian Radio stations in New England. Later I developed an idea for a live talk radio broadcast that would educate about the Five Books of Moses from a Jewish perspective, trying to promote peace and understanding between Christians and Jews. So one day I called up this man in the radio broadcasting business, and asked if I could obtain his advice about my ideas for this live talk radio show. I had written a 5-6 page proposal about it. He said yes and invited me to come see him at his office to discuss. He quickly read through the proposal, said he liked the idea very much and said I could do the broadcast on two of his radio stations. He wanted me to begin the broadcast during the time I had scheduled myself for my 5th trip to Israel. So he suggested that I pre-tape the first two broadcasts, and announce on air that the program would be a live call-in radio show as soon as I returned from my trip. That’s exactly what we did.

During my trip to Israel in 1995 (10 years after I had started to talk to GD) during Tisha B’av, I was introduced to a man from the World Jewish Congress. An acquaintance of mine apparently thought I might have some Jewish ancestry, but he did not tell me this. He simply encouraged me to meet with this man from the WJC. During that meeting, the man asked me why I was in Israel on this trip. He said that people coming in the summer time was rare, and the holy day being observed was not a happy one, but a very somber one. I said I understood, and that is exactly why I wanted to come. I said that I wanted to mourn at the Kotel for the destruction of both Temples and for all the terrible things that had happened to the Jewish people, to “your people” I said to him, for the past 2,000 years. He said “but why?” and I said I didn’t know. So he asked about my father’s ancestry. And then he asked about my mother’s ancestry. I told him my mother’s family had come to the USA from the Portuguese colony of the Azores Islands, and his reply was “AHA!” I said “AHA?” That’s when he explained to me all about the story of the Portuguese Jews. See, I had always heard that the Inquisition was a “Spanish Inquisition”, and I had never heard that there was a Portuguese side of the story.

This man was the first person to explain to me that in 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain, about half of them went over the border into Portugal. And 5 years later, the Portuguese King Manuel wanted to marry the daughter of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. So they told him, if he wanted to marry their daughter he would have to get rid of his Jews (in Portugal) like they did (in Spain). So, he issued an expulsion edict in 1497, giving the Jews of Portugal 10 months to leave the country. But at the end of the 10 months, those who were still in the country were gathered into the Plazas, and en mass converted against their will by the sprinkling of holy water into the air. They were given a few years grace period, and after that a very brutal active Inquisition existed in Portugal for anyone secretly practicing Judaism. It was called Judaizing and was considered to be a heresy within the Catholic Church. This active inquisition lasted for 350 years (16th, 17th, 18th and half of the 19th centuries). My great grandmother was born in the Azores towards the middle of the 19th century, right at the end of this active Inquisition.

{{{ Note: In my family, my great grandmother never went to Church in America, we were raised with great fear of “outsiders” and were told there was no such thing as “friends” – and to trust no one outside of the family. We were also not allowed to eat anywhere except at my mother’s table, or that of cousins in my mother’s family. Meat was soaked in a salt brine, we had to check raw eggs for a spot of blood, blood clots and blood veins in cooked chicken were not to be eaten at all, pork was said to be “unclean”, all mirrors were covered in a house of mourning, spring cleaning was done every year to “remove every crumb” from the house, etc. But we never knew, and were never told, anything about Jewish customs and traditions and we didn’t know any Jewish people. }}}

I was, of course, stunned with all of this new information. I asked this man at the WJC how could I continue to learn more about all this. And he said I was living in a great part of the country, near Brown University (in Rhode Island) where there existed a professor and a scholar about this history of Spanish and Portuguese Jews and Crypto-Judaism. I contacted this scholar upon my return, and even interviewed him for my radio broadcast. He also directed me to resources on the Internet about the Crypto-Jews, and after reading lots of material I finally had some questions that I could ask my mother. And she confirmed many family customs and traditions that, unbeknownst to us, were Jewish customs and traditions (many of which were from Oral Law not Written Law).

One of the most impactful things that happened was at my mother’s birthday party that September of 1995, where she had most of her side of the family present. Now my mother’s grandmother was the person who had come to the USA circa 1915 (yes, 100 years ago this year) with one son and six daughters, her eldest daughter was married already and she was my mother’s mother. So my great grandmother’s son’s grandson was my 2nd cousin. And during my mother’s birthday party, I took that 2nd cousin aside, and I said to him (trying to be very gentle and discreet) … “Joe, did you know that OUR great grandmother might have been Jewish?” He said, “well yeah!” And I said “well yeah?” And he said that in his family, she was known as “Judios” – which is how we say Jewish in Portuguese. So apparently, on the male line, the Jewish identity was passed down. Whereas on the female line, the customs and traditions were passed down but at some point the Jewish identity had stopped being passed down verbally.

So that fall, of 1995, I had begun in earnest to research the customs and traditions in my mother’s family. My mother was very dubious about my newfound interest in this thing called Judaism, but later she happily attended Pesach Seders with me and always enjoyed Friday night dinners. Friday nights I would do all the cooking for us and then light Shabbat candles and find a way to warm cooked food for Saturday lunches. One week, early on during my family research, a friend of mine (also researching his family customs and traditions) called and told me his aunt said that the women would soak a turkey in a salt brine. I shared that news with my mother, and she said that in her family the women soaked all the meat in a salt brine. And I said “BINGO!” She said “What do you mean, BINGO?” Then I explained to her about the Jewish custom of kashering meat, to remove blood. And Friday night of that very week (for the first time) she asked me if I had any extra candles, so that she could light.

Over the next few years, I met many Rabbis and started to more formally learn and practice Judaism. I really didn’t know if it would be proper to call myself a “Jew”, so I referred to myself as a “practicing Hebrew” during those early years. And it was fascinating to see the reaction of people. For my Christian friends and acquaintances, it was all about “beliefs”, so they would ask me if I believed in you know who as messiah and/or as GD, etc. and so forth. For my Jewish friends and acquaintances, it was all about my lifestyle and “practices”. So they would ask me if I observed Shabbat, ate Kosher, observed the holy days, etc. But by the end of 1995, I had decided to take my mother’s family name of daCosta. I announced this publicly on the radio broadcast and at a lecture I gave at the University of Mass at South Dartmouth (with my mother sitting in the front row, beaming with pride). I also announced that I was going to move to Dallas TX in Jan of 1996 to work with the descendants of the Anousim (Crypto-Jews) in the American southwest (which I did, trying to help others to research their roots). I also had moved the radio broadcast to a Christian talk radio station in Dallas, TX and it was on air for about a year. I also met, in 1996, Vendyl Jones (due to the radio broadcast I was doing and a mutual acquaintance Professor Dr. James Tabor). And later, that year, I began to teach Torah to Bnei Noach at the Vendyl Jones Research Institute. All this time I was still doing research and searching of my own Jewish Roots.

I continued my learning Torah/Mitzvot in Dallas TX and I also had an mtDNA test done with My older brother has a PhD in high energy physics, and he said to me, “Don’t talk to me about this unless you can show me the science”. He was the one who told me about mtDNA. And after 4 years of learning and practicing in a Jewish community, I finally found an Orthodox Rabbi and Beit Din in NYC that would accept me as a descendant from the Crypto-Jews (a.k.a. Anousim). I presented to them the following evidences: 1) all the family customs and traditions passed down in my mother’s family, by the women, 2) country of origin my mother’s ancestors in the Azores, 3) names in my mother’s family and 4) mtDNA results (which was considered supplemental) and all of which the Beit Din accepted. In 2000 I went into their NYC mikveh “bli bracha” (i.e. without the blessing of a convert), as a demonstration of my commitment to Judaism and to living according to Torah and halacha. And the Beit Din gave me a “return certificate” … that is according to the letter by HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu (of blessed memory) as documented by him with a sample “return certificate” to be used for returning descendants of the Anousim. These documents are still available today on the Internet.

I made aliya to Israel on that same “return certificate” in 2004. And I married in a religious ceremony in 2008 in Jerusalem, as approved by the Beit Din of Jerusalem. I’ve worked with other people, who have this ancestry of the Spanish & Portuguese Crypto-Jews, for the past 15+ years as a coach and advisor and helping them to find communities where they can learn and grow in Torah and halacha on their own path of “return” or conversion to Judaism. I have also coached them to help them regarding the trauma from terrible experiences some of them have had with Jewish people, in not accepting them as Jews, and in saying horrible and hurtful things to them (e.g. that your ancestors MUST have been mamzerim). I will update this story later, on Facebook, with the 2 erroneous myths that, unfortunately, some Jewish people have about the Crypto-Jews. And it seems these myths prevent them from being more accepting and compassionate to the people of this/my ancestry.

[Podcast] Here Come the Anousim

In this podcast, I speak with Ashley Perry of the Knesset Caucus on Bnei Anousim [Marranos] and his work through Reconectar. There are so many facets this podcast touches on and shows why this movement is perhaps one of most important causes in the broader Jewish world today. There are literally millions of descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish origin. Ashley’s work is already having a tremendous impact.

Learn more at Reconectar.