'I always felt Jewish in my heart': The millions with Spanish-Portuguese Jewish roots

Israel must rise to the challenge of welcoming millions of potential Jews and Israel supporters.

Despite having repeatedly told her granddaughter that it was dangerous" to pursue a Jewish connection, when Catholic-born Cuban-American Genie Milgrom's maternal grandmother died in Miami in 1993, she bequeathed her a hamsa pendant and a Star of David earring. This, combined with the fact that her parents were second cousins from the mountain village of Fermoselle in the Spanish province of Zamora, was the start of Milgrom's genealogical journey.

Her documentary, Between The Stone and The Flower, directed by Cuban-born filmmaker Roberto Otero, is set for its Israeli premiere on June 2 at The Museum of The Jewish People (ANU) in Tel Aviv. In it, Bnei Anusim (descendants of forced converts) expert Milgrom speaks from the heart about her happiness about converting to Judaism, her three previous decades of discomfort in her Catholic skin, and what it was like bringing up her two Catholic children (their father would not allow her to convert them) in an observant Jewish home.

After her conversion, Genie eventually met and married Michael Milgrom, an observant Jew originally from Romania. "Michael has the patience of a saint," she says. "He has always been the rock that helps me when the going gets tough and when my past life clashes with my current life." Together, they raised her daughter in the best way they could, given the unusual circumstances, she says.

Some years later, Milgrom began to suspect she might be a descendant of those Spanish Jews forced into hiding centuries ago, and eventually uncovered a 1491 document referring to her ancestral village as a "Jewish settlement." The Milgroms have visited Fermoselle - the cradle of Genie's family going back 500 years - 10 times so far.

"I am proud to know that I come from a long lineage of women and men who died in the Inquisition for wearing a clean shirt on Shabbat or for not eating bread on Passover or for not baptizing their children," she says. She has no doubt that "it is this strong lineage of women that pulled me out of the incense and the altars of the Catholic church."

Milgrom spent the first years of her research following her maternal line (from which she derived her books, beginning with My 15 Grandmothers) before moving on to her paternal line, which led her to a palazzo in the juderia (Jewish quarter) in Cordoba, once the home of her ancestor Don Juan Sigler de Espinosa. Research for the film took the Milgroms and director Otero to locations in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands, Cartagena, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Miami, and Key West.

"Having discovered my lineage dating back to pre-Inquisition Spain and Portugal, I felt compelled to travel back in time and confront my history head-on," explains the Miami resident for the umpteenth time as she repeats the story of her genealogical search for her Jewish roots in Spain.

With the release of Between the Stone and the Flower, Milgrom 'the poster child for the Bnei Anusim' has undeniably become the golden standard for emerging Jewish communities. By deciding to premiere her film at ANU, she is bringing home a big missing piece of the puzzle both to the museum's section on crypto-Jews and to the tapestry of the people of Israel.

While the story she tells in her documentary is a personal one, the movement she represents is of the awakening of hundreds of thousands 'potentially millions' of people who are willing to return to Judaism formally, as well as others whose moral and spiritual support for Israel is so crucial in these times.

The first 15 grandmothers 'the first 15 grandmothers, counting backward, were from Spain, and grandmothers 16-22 were from an area of northeast Portugal known as Tr'es-os-

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