Yaacov Gladstone and Vanessa Paloma with students in Belmonte, Portugal.
(photo by Brian Winter)

Yaacov Gladstone teaching Hebrew alphabet at Synagogue classroom in Belmonte, Portugal. (photo by brian Winter)

Yaacov Gladstone with two of his Belmonte students



Two volunteer Jewish educators, sponsored by the American Friends of Marranos are in Portugal to work with local Marranos, descendants of Jews who were forced to become Catholics against their will in 1497.

Over 3,000 years ago, in this time, the Hebrews of Egypt miraculously fled the slavery of the Pharaohs. After the destruction of the Temples of Jerusalem, the Hebrew people scattered to many parts of the world, including Sefarad, the Iberian Peninsula. From the very founding of Portugal, Jews played a key role in its development and culture. Just before the forced conversion of 1497, Jewish culture in Portugal was at its height, contributing to a flourishing society. Jewish astronomers showed Vasco da Gama the route to India. Jewish doctors attended to the lepers and the poor. Jewish bankers financed the Discoveries.

In 1497, the Jews of Portugal were forcibly baptized and forced into spiritual slavery, their synagogues turned to churches, their holy books confiscated. Yet, despite the outer appearance of Catholicism, the Marranos continued secret practices, rituals and prayers of their inner Jewish soul, such as the “cutting of the waters’ with olive branches, recalling the parting of the Red Sea.

On April 2nd, at sundown, the Hebrew nation starts celebrating the exodus from slavery with the eight-day festival of Passover, a festival of freedom. In Portugal, the remnants of the Hebrew nation will also celebrate. In Belmonte, where the fires of the Inquisition failed to destroy the Jewish people, the two educators will work to prepare the children to continue this tradition through stories, song, dance and poetry.

The Friends of Marranos support the strengthening of Jewish identity and traditions through education in Portugal. Recently, the newly created American Friends of the Marranos gave generous donations to expand the Lana Liner library of the Beit Israel conservative community of Lisbon, to strengthen Jewish education in Belmonte and to publish a new biography of Captain Barros Basto, in Portuguese and English.

The Friends of Marranos are dedicated to helping Marranos (Crypto-Jews/Anousim) strengthen their Jewish identity, and validate their traditions and customs, which were brutally suppressed by the (un) Holy Office of the Inquisition. Yaacov Gladstone and Manuel Lopes Azevedo are co-founders of the Friends of Marranos.

Yaacov Gladstone is a Jewish educator and history teacher. He holds a masters degree in special education. He is the former director of the Early Childhood Program in East Harlem. He has dedicated his life to bringing Jewish education to the children of the Hebrew nation. He helped bring the Jewish children of Morocco to Israel and worked a number of years as a volunteer worker with the Jewish youth of Ethiopia who in 1984 were airlifted to Israel. This is Mr. Gladstone’s sixth trip to Belmonte where he is well known and loved for his dedication and generosity to the community. At present he lobbies in America on behalf of the Marranos of Portugal. He lives in New York and is the founder of the American Friends of Marranos. While in Portugal he can be contacted at 91 424 1288.

Vanessa Paloma is active as a soloist, performance artist and lecturer. She founded and co-directs Flor de Serena, a Judeo-Spanish ensemble.
In addition to being the Founding Artistic Director of the SYNERGY ensemble and its leader until 2003, Paloma was a soloist with Long Beach Opera, Camerata Pacifica Baroque, Ensemble Nuance (Jerusalem) and the St. Paul Early Music Society among others.
Paloma began her musical studies at a young age at the San Juan Children’s Choir in Puerto Rico and later continued at the Andes University in her native Bogotá, Colombia. After moving to the United States, Paloma studied at Indiana University’s School of Music where she received a Master of Music in Early Music performance, specializing in the music of medieval Spain. Ms. Paloma is a Fullbright Scholar in 2007.
For more information visit www.flordeserena.com

On this trip, the American Friends of Marranos donated thousands US dollars to their Jewish primos in Lisbon, Belmonte and Porto.

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