More successes - Past & Present
The Belmonte Jews are a Jewish community of marranos that survived in secrecy
for hundreds of years by maintaining a tradition of endogamy and by hiding all the
external signs of their Jewish faith nesteld among Roman Catholicism. The
community in the municipality of Belmonte, Cova da Beira subregion, Portugal,
goes back to the 12th century and they were only discovered in 1917 by a Polish
Jewish mining engineer named Samuel Schwarz. They officially returned to
Judaism in the 1970s, and opened a synagogue in 1996.
In 2003, the Belmonte Project was founded under the auspices of the American
Sephardi Federation, in order to raise funds to acquire Judaic educational
material and services for the community (which now numbers 300).
A Jewish Museum of Belmonte (Museu Judaico de Belmonte) opened on 17 April
2005. In the summer of 2006, the American Sephardi Federation ceased to have
the Belmonte Project under its auspices.
Their Sephardic tradition of Crypto-Judaism is considered unique.
Chala is a Tajik term meaning "neither this nor that," refers to Bukharan Jews who were forcibly converted to Islam beginning in the late eighteenth century. In
response, these chala Jews outwardly practiced Islam, but secretly retained their Jewish traditions. These crypto-Jews married among themselves and lived in
their own neighborhoods that bordered on existing Jewish neighoborhoods. By the 19th century, chala communities emerged in Samarkand, Khiva, Kokand,
Margilan, and Shahrisabz. Often, it took two to three generations for the Chala to begin intermarrying with local Muslims and shedding any remaining Jewish
traditions. Their return to Judaism began with Russian conquest of Central Asia in 1867. While the Khiva and Kokand khanates were incorporated into the
Turkestan governorate, the Bukhara Khanate remained autonomous and continued to enforce the death penalty against those who abandoned Islam. As a
result, many chala Jews illegally immigrated into the Russian-controlled areas. While Russian law required these newcomers to be deported back to Bukhara
and face certain death, the deportation orders were continuously delayed, thus they remained permanent non-citizens of the Russian Turkestan region. Some
chala Jews also joined merchant guilds in order to prove their economic use to the empire. Following the installation of Soviet rule in 1920, the religious
distinction among the population was no longer officially recognized, but ethnic distinctions on passports allowed many Chala Jews to continue being counted
among the local Uzbeks and Tajiks, rather than Jews. Because Muslim law was retained in Bukhara longer than in surrounding cities, by the time communist
rule arrived in Bukhara, many members of the local chala no longer identified with the Jews. In 2000, author Mansur Surosh published a novel Chala ("The
Outcasts"), which describes the experiences of the chala.
The Anusim Center
for those who awaken from their slumber
In Jewish belief, the essence of Abraham is shielded from danger within all
of us throughout countless generations. The guardian of Israel never sleeps.
His chosen nation never entirely loses touch with who they really are.
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