Way back in December, I asked Alexandra Rosas of Good Day, Regular People the question in a tweet. “Are you Jewish?” And while she said she responded that she wasn’t, she told me bits of the story featured below.
I knew I had to have her share it here.
Those of you who follow Alexandra know she is normally pee-in-your-pants funny. This piece is special because it reveals another side of her writing repertoire.
Alexandra is the oversensitive mother of three who, in a surreal twist of life, found herself named as BlogHer ’11′s Voice of The Year for Humor. She has been a mother since 1994, which means she hasn’t been right about anything since. Besides trying to go unnoticed in her small town, she fills her days blogging of the sweet and the funny at her humor site Good Day, Regular People. Alexandra claims to be socially awkward and that the Internet was created for her — but I don’t buy it.
Now! Pay attention! Because this is history and personal narrative rolled into a ball of fabulousness!
• • •
I Knew It, My Heart
In the seventh grade, one of my favorite places to spend the weekends was my friend Lisa Seraphim’s house. Everything felt so instantly familiar there, especially the things her mother would do.
Lisa and I would help her mother clean up and cook. I’d watch as she’d sweep the kitchen floor from the corners first, and then gather the dust into the center of the room. I’d look at her mother and say with astonishment, “That’s how my grandmother taught me how to do it too!”
Her mother would start dinner and the first step was to always rinse the meat, being sure to remove all the nerves before soaking it in salt water. Just like home, I’d think to myself. In the mornings, as we’d crack eggs for breakfast, her mother would instruct us to throw out any eggs that had blood spots in them. “My grandmother tells me the same thing,” I’d answer politely. Just like home, even though Lisa’s home was Jewish, and mine was Colombian.
Mrs. Seraphim would cook with garlic, cumin, olive oil, and tomatoes. Always tomatoes, like my Spanish grandmother’s dishes. The meals at Lisa’s house were identical to the meals at my house; I never had to worry about whether or not I would like what she would serve.
Lisa had younger brothers, the same as I did, with long, curly hair. They had to wait until the boys were at least three years old before they could cut their hair. My family had done the same thing with my brothers.
I never thought much about all the similarities between my family and Lisa’s. I was attracted to them and felt comfortable in the things that the Seraphim’s did. Beyond that, I never thought further.
Did I think it odd that Lisa was Jewish and I was a Catholic that had come from South America, yet we had too much in common to be a coincidence? I didn’t. It wasn’t until years later, while in a college World Religions Class that my mouth and eyes opened in an aha moment when the professor began to cover The Spanish Inquisition and told us about the Jews that escaped from Spain to avoid persecution and found safety in The Canary Islands. I felt dizzy in my chair.
My grandmother’s family had come from The Canary Islands.
My grandmother rinsed the meat from the butcher to free it of any blood, my grandmother lit candles in a closed off room on Friday nights, my grandmother would not buy fish without scales.
This was before the days of home computers, so I spent that night after class poring over the books in the campus library. There were books on this subject! The group of Jews that had gone to live in secret were known as Crypto-Jews. I found a list of questions called “Fifteenth Century Spain and Crypto-Jewish Customs.”
As I raced through the questions, answering yes to over half of them, my mind couldn’t believe it. Does your family fast during la semana santa? Yes. Does your family celebrate El Dia Puro? Yes. Does your family clean the house on Fridays during the day? Yes. Are biblical names common in your family?
Every other uncle in my family was named Moises.
But the next bit of information I found made me clap my hand over my mouth to keep quiet. There was a list of eight, ONLY eight, Crypto-Judaic family surnames from The Canary Islands. I read through it holding my breath.
My grandmother’s maiden name was on it.
Was I a descendant of Crypto-Jews? I’ll never know; sadly, my grandmother has been gone twenty-five years now (we clipped locks of her curls, and wrapped them in tissue paper). I prefer to think of this information as the reason why I have always been drawn to and had an affinity for the Jewish friends in my life. It’s as if my heart already knew.
Have you ever heard of Crypto-Jews? Tell me something fantastic about your ethnic background? If you could be of a different ethnicity, what do you wish you could be?
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