Hundreds from across the Jewish world attended the conference
Hundreds from across the Jewish world attended the conferenceJeffrey Worthington

It may have gone somewhat overlooked due to the wave of terror attacks which dominated headlines, but last week marked the start of what could be a revolution in the campaign to reconnect Europe's "lost Jews" to the wider Jewish community.

On Tuesday, political, diplomatic, academic, religious and Jewish organizational leaders from Israel and the Diaspora met at the Knesset for an historic conference, and called for the State of Israel and the Jewish world to seek a reconnection with the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, known as Bnei Anusim, Marranos, or Conversos.

The conference, attended by around 300 people - some coming from North and Latin America and Europe especially for this event - emphasized the obligation of the Jewish world to reach out to and reconnect with the millions of people who descend from Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities which all but disappeared due to forcible conversion and expulsion centuries ago.

The conference was chaired by Yisrael Beytenu MK Robert Ilatov, founder and chairman of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, who noted that there were potentially "tens of millions" of people living in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world who are in fact descended from Jews.

"This event is a historical milestone in seeking a reconnection with the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, whose numbers stand in the tens of millions around the world," he said. "Many of them are interested in exploring their Jewish roots and this movement will only be strengthened with technological advances that will aid them in this task. Our role as the Jewish people and the State of Israel's decision-makers is to assist them in this task. It is a moral imperative."

Ashley Perry (Perez), caucus director  and president of Reconectar, an organization whose mission is to facilitate the reconnection with the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, addressed the historic nature of the conference.

"This building, the Knesset, and the reestablished State of Israel remind us that the Jewish People are indeed the ‘eternal nation’ and we never let historical circumstances prevent us from achieving the seemingly impossible," Perry said.

"Today, technological advances such as the Internet and DNA and new inroads in genealogical research have created a window of opportunity to make this historic reconnection. For us to succeed, we must mobilize two communities, the Jewish world  and the Bnei Anusim, for a formal reconnection."

The first stage, he said, was simply to raise awareness of a topic that many Jews are unfamiliar with.

"We need to place the reconnection with the Bnei Anusim on the agenda of the Jewish world and the State of Israel, which I hope we are beginning to do here today."

Shai Hermesh, Chiarman of the World Jewish Congress Israel Office, noted the immense significance such a Jewish revival could have for the State of Israel as well as the wider Jewish world.

"This is an issue that is critically important and one that the Jewish people and the Jewish state cannot ignore,” Hermesh said. "There are vast numbers of people who have a strong connection to the Jewish people and we have a moral obligation to reach out to them."

Professor Zvi Arad, President of the Netanya Academic College, agreed.

"The prophetic vision of the ingathering of the exiles in the Land of Israel is coming true before our eyes, it is our duty to strengthen the state, by ensuring the return of our people," he said.

"The establishment of this caucus to reconnect with Bnei Anousim gives us great encouragement and strengthens us to act more vigorously on this important issue for the Jewish people."