Report of Society for Crypto Judaic Studies 22nd Annual Meeting

December 10 2012:

This report was prepared for the current issue of Casa Shalom. It was omitted for space considerations.

The Society for Crypto Judaic Studies’ 22nd annual meeting

Albuquerque New Mexico, July 22-24 2012

Seth Ward


The Society for Crypto Judaic Studies held its 22nd annual meeting in Albuquerque New Mexico, July 22-24 2012.  There were over thirty presentations, and over forty different individuals on the program, encompassing academic research, personal narratives and literary and artistic presentations. David Gitlitz was a perfect academic Keynote speaker, speaking about “Portuguish and Spaniolese: the Where of the Mexican Converso,” with solid research and an approach that is accessible to all; language as also a theme in several other presentations.


The literary and artistic offerings of our conferences continued, thanks to two gifts from the late Martin Sosin. Isabelle Medina Sandoval offered a Keynote address for the literary and artistic component of the meeting, bringing her unique sensibilities and experience in supervising high school English to bear on the question of literary writing about Crypto-Judaism. Anita Rodriguez and Diana Breyer exhibited and talked about their art. Daniel Elias and Maurice Sedacca taught songs of the Sephardic Diaspora in a workshop and performed in concert.


Initial excitement at Society meetings about DNA testing and “population genetics” has matured into a more professional approach, valorizing careful genealogical research and critical scientific method. I am particularly pleased that we had the participation of Dr. Harry Ostrer by electronic link. Dr. Ostrer’s talk was based on his book Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People; another MD, Dr. Paul Duncan, discussed his work and research with the “Jewish” breast cancer gene in converso-descendant populations. The conference was preceded by a Genealogy Workshop entitled “Our Roots: Exploring Hispano Family History.”


Presentations by Jessica Felber, Seth Kunin and myself attempted to contextualize crypto-Judaism through comparative studies: traditional and crypto-Jewish congregations in Mexico (Felber); American Crypto-Jews and African-American Muslims (Ward) and “Crypto-Christian” Japanese (Kunin). These studies confirmed that national communities differ substantially in the way they articulate their identities and loyalties.


The New Mexico History Museum’s exhibition on the “Cultural and Religious History of Sephardic Jews, Conversos and Crypto-Jews” was discussed by Roger Martinez, Frances Levine and Stan Hordes. This exhibit is being designed specifically for New Mexico, but also planned as a travelling to enable traveling to other locations. 


Matthew Warshawsky, Roger Martinez and Robert Martinez (no close relation) reported on research based on medieval Spanish law and literature (Warshawsky) and on archival research in Spain Roger (Martinez) and in Puerto Rico (Robert Martinez). Samuel Temkin presented research on Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, and Avraham Gross discussed individualism and collectivity among Brazilian “Retornados.”


Stan Hordes was honored for his role in founding the Society and his leadership for over two decades.


Space does not allow a detailed discussion of all the presentations. Other presenters included Art Benvensite, Genie Milgrom, Miriam Herrera, Gabe Galambos, Joseph Sandoval, Jo Izay, Daniel Huerta, Sonya Loya, Abraham Lavender, Rachel Amado Bortnick, Schelly Talalay Dardashti, Karen Singer, and Howard Woolf.  


A number of themes emerged from conference deliberations: Sephardic New Mexico continues to be of interest, as are the languages and literatures of crypto-Judaism. A number of presentations deliberated about the way an identity is formulated that encompasses parts of a heritage that others have suppressed or kept secret—or simply was forgotten over time. The Inquisition, the Iberian heritage, and many other issues were well represented. Literary and cultural production about the theme continues to be important, indeed, a growing element of these conferences and reflects a need for expression in artistic forms as well as in research. The Society continues to be a venue for both personal narratives, often highly individualized approaches, and academic research meeting professional and university standards.


A full program of the conference and the texts of the presentation Abstracts are available at .


Seth Ward

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