My name is Genie Milgrom and I chose Erev Pesach for my first blog because what WOULD have happened if they had let my people go?
I was born in Cuba to a Roman Catholic family with their origins in Spain and Portugal. I attended Catholic schools all my life with a feeling deep in my soul that I did not belong to the people nor religion I was being raised in. It made for a very difficult time as I was growing up because there was a constant tug and a duality to my beliefs.
After a marriage to a Catholic man and two children, I decided to pursue my soul and began to study and finally made a traditional conversion to Judaism but at the same time I did not convert my children.
I lived this way for many years and married Michael who descended from the Chassidic dynasty of Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin. I did my best to adapt having gone from the identity of a Cuban Catholic, to a Modern Orthodox woman and finally having to take on many Chassidic customs. Michael was amazing as he moved from Belgium to Miami and started our life together.
We became a dynamic duo in our synagogue and I finally felt I was home, yet, my children were not Jewish and this brought me profound sadness. No one else in my family felt any inclination to join me as no one had these strong feelings that I had experienced; and life went on. I lost most everyone I knew from before such as my family, friends from Catholic school and most of my previous relationships simmered down to nothing. People did not understand me and the existential crisis I had gone through.
Because I had always felt different, I asked my Mom again and again if she owned anything at all that showed we may have had a Jewish origin and again and again I was told no. I had, at times, fleetingly thought that perhaps I descended from the Pre-Inquisition Jews but Mom was adamant that we did not and I eventually dropped it until… My maternal grandmother died on a Friday morning and I was with Mom as she was making plans for the funeral and she insisted my grandmother must be buried within 18 to 24 hours maximum.
She stated that this was a family tradition and was very upset with me that I would miss the funeral on Saturday. I am Sabbath observant and the funeral and burial were miles and miles away with no option for staying overnight. My relationship with Mom and family was getting more strained by the minute but I had made a serious commitment to my lifestyle and would not budge. I was very close to my maternal grandmother but I stayed home. On Shabbat after shul, many of our friends came to our house and my Mom gave me a Hamsa and Star of David earring as well as a family tree dating back to the mid-1700s that my Grandmom wanted me to have when she died. Immediately, I just knew that my family must have come from the Spanish Jews. She and my Grandfather were first cousins and when I opened the tree I noticed that all generations only married their cousins. My Grandmom had always been teaching me laws of Kashrut in the kitchen such as checking for blood in the eggs, washing vegetables thoroughly and she even taught me to bake with 2.5 kilos or 5 pounds of flour and to wrap a small piece in aluminum foil and throw in the back of the oven to burn (no blessing).
I sat back in my chair and realized that all those years of searching for truth in my soul were leading me back to this moment. I began an intensive genealogical search into my ancestors that ten years later led me to find 22 grandmothers in an unbroken maternal lineage from Spain and Portugal and over 45 relatives burned at the stake for practicing Judaism. I was also able to prove that the village of my ancestors where they lived for 624 years had a Jewish presence even though historically, there had been nothing written as they lived their lives for centuries as hidden or Crypto-Jews pretending to be Catholic. Their fortitude was beyond imagination. Even though I had already made a conversion early on, I took all my paperwork and genealogy to Israel to the Beit Din in Jerusalem where a few years later, I received a beautiful letter of return stating that my ascendants and descendants were Jewish and that I had been born Jewish.
I am very very proud to stand up as a Jew and really wonder what would have happened if they had let my people go in the Middle Ages as they were hiding underground to pray. Yes, there was an expulsion in 1492 and families had 3 months to convert or leave Spain and many Jews left yet just as many stayed and just as many assimilated. Mine stayed for a myriad of reasons but what would have happened to the numbers of the Jewish people today if we had been set free? The Sefardic culture would have spread all over the world, the Golden Age of Spain would have continued in other countries and our light would have shone bright. Our history with bondage has been long and tragic and tonight we celebrate that the freedom of the descendants of the Spanish Jews that have found their way back! Chag Sameach Pesach!