A delegation of 16 Bnai Anousim from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France arrived in Israel over the weekend. Bnai Anousim (referred to as "Marranos" by historians) is the name for Mediterranean European Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism on pain of death during the Spanish Inquisition.
In the late 14th and 15th century, at the time of mass expulsions of Jews from Spain and Portugal, the Bnai Anousim remained behind, where they continued to preserve their Jewish identity and to practice the Jewish faith covertly.
As a result, this unique phenomenon is still evident even today, even though the Inquisition invested enormous efforts over the centuries to eradicate it.
The trip is being arranged by the Shavei Israel organization, a non-profit organization with the aim of strengthening ties between the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world.
The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnai Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, descendants of Jews living in Poland, and others.
In the framework of their visit to Israel, the Bnai Anousim participants will travel across the country and visit places such as Jerusalem, Rachel's Tomb, Safed, Tiberias, Haifa, Beit Shearim, Kibbutz Lavi, and more. In addition, they will take part in special classes on Jewish history, culture and religion being held for them in Spanish and Portuguese as well as learn some Hebrew.
According to Shavei Israel founder and Chairman Michael Freund, large numbers of Bnai Anousim around the world have started to openly embrace their Jewish heritage in recent years and many are seeking to renew their connection with Israel and the Jewish people after centuries of preserving their identity in secret.
"This visit to Israel by a delegation of Bnai Anousim is part of the process of forging a renewed relationship with the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I believe that we have an historic and moral obligation to reach out to the Bnai Anousim and to assist them as much as we can," Freund said.