New Mexicans Attend Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies Conference

By Schelly Talalay Dardashti

The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, founded near Taos more than 25 years ago, held its 27th annual conference November 5-7, in Philadelphia. This was the first time it was held in the fall and the first time in the Northeast, introducing many new attendees to the Society.

Venues included the historic Spanish-Portuguese synagogue of the American Revolution, Mikveh Israel, founded in 1740, as well as the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Nearly 200 individuals attended events that included a genealogy/DNA workshop, films, a concert, fascinating talks arranged by panels. A special effort was made this year to include time for networking.

This year’s theme was “The Crypto-Jewish Experience in the Americas.” Keynote speaker Dr. Ronnie Perelis of Yeshiva University covered “Family and Faith: Converso Networks and Crypto-Jewish Spirituality,” while featured speaker Dr. David Gitlitz delivered remarks discussing the first practicing crypto-Jewish family in Mexico.”\

Individuals discussed preserving Jewish history in the Azores, Jewish and crypto-Jewish writers on the Caribbean, hidden Jewish culinary heritage via a 13th-century manuscript, DNA discoveries, Portuguese archives, conversos in the 17th-century sugar trade, crypto-Jews in Brazil, Cuban Jewish history, crypto-Jewish practices in Texas, hidden Jews in 17th-18th century Mexico City, reconstructing Catalan nusachaot and many other topics.

A historical impersonator of Benjamin Franklin also visited the conference, and led a historical walking tour.
A historical impersonator of Benjamin Franklin also visited the conference, and led a historical walking tour.

“Challah Rising in the Desert” was screened, followed by a session with Paula Amar Schwartz, while “Children of the Inquisition” director Joe Lovett presented the most recent video clips of his extensive project. New Mexico attendees and presenters included Maria Apodaca, Schelly Talalay Dardashti, Dr. Stan and Helen Hordes, Ellen Romm Lampert, Paula and Mel Schwartz, while conference chair Carl Montoya is a native New Mexican residing in Philadelphia.

Early arrivals had a unique opportunity to spend Shabbat with Congregation Mikveh Israel, and enjoyed traditional Spanish and Portuguese services as well as excellent Shabbat meals. Rabbi Albert Gabbai was most welcoming to conference attendees and provided a tour and history of the congregation and its many illustrious members over the centuries, its role in the colonial Jewish American community and its connections to the creation of the United States of America.

Sponsors and partners of the conference included FamilyTreeDNA,, the National Museum of American Jewish History and Congregation Mikveh Israel.

For more information on the SCJS – a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, go to or visit its facebook page. Membership includes the magazine, HaLapid. Sign-up for the free e-newsletter, La Granada, to receive announcements on future events.

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