A vivid exhibition tracing the history and experience of the Bnei Anousim (Jews who hid their identity for fear of persecution) over the past five centuries opened this week at the Jewish Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the first of four stops it will be making as it tours the vast South American country.
The exhibition, entitled "Crypto-Jews: The Flame that the Inquisition Could Not Extinguish," was designed and produced by Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.
It includes a wide array of maps, illustrations and photographs, with explanatory panels in Hebrew and Portuguese that tell the story of the Bnei Anousim and their struggle over the centuries to preserve their Jewish identity. It has previously been shown in Israel and in Spain.
"Bnei Anousim" is the Hebrew term for people whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the time of the Inquisition. Historians have often referred to them as "crypto-Jews" or by the derogatory term "Marranos." (The word “crypto” means “secret.”)
"In recent years, growing numbers of Bnai Anousim throughout the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world have actively been seeking to reconnect with Israel and the Jewish people," said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund.
"Despite being one of the most heroic and painful chapters in all of Jewish history, the saga of the Bnei Anousim is neither well-known nor sufficiently appreciated by world Jewry, and we aim to change that," he said.
"It is time for the Jewish people to embrace the Bnei Anousim and welcome them home, and for this issue to receive the attention that it so rightly deserves," said Freund, who is currently writing a book on the subject.
With an eye toward local audiences, the exhibition highlights the arrival of Portuguese crypto-Jews in Brazil beginning in the 16th century, and describes the horrific persecution they endured at the hands of the Inquisition. Those suspected of practicing Judaism in secret were often sent back to Portugal for trial, where they were frequently burned at the stake in public ceremonies.
The exhibition will be on display at the Museu Judaico do Rio de Janeiro through July 23. From there it will travel to Belo Horizonte, where it will appear from August 2 to August 16, before heading north to the Amazonian cities of Manaus (August 9 to August 20) and Belem (August 27 to September 6).
For further information, or to arrange for the exhibition to appear in your community, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.