by Hana Levi Julian
(IsraelNN.com) A delegation of 16 Bnai Anousim, or Jews who practice their religion in secrecy, arrived from Europe this week for a visit from Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, arranged under the auspices of the “Shavei Israel” organization.
Bnai Anousim are descended from Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition more than 500 years ago, and who are now seeking to renew their ties with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
The delegation, which has spent the week visiting places like Jerusalem, Rachel’s Tomb, Tzefat, Tiberias, Haifa, Kibbutz Lavi and other spots, also has been taking in special classes on Jewish history, culture and religion in their native Spanish and Portuguese.
The delegates are also learning some Hebrew along the way.
Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund says that large numbers of Bnai Anousim around the world have started to openly embrace their Jewish heritage in recent years, a move he has been working hard to encourage.
“This visit to Israel by a delegation of Bnai Anousim is part of the process of forging a renewed relationship with the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I believe that we have an historic and moral obligation to reach out to the Bnai Anousim and to assist them as much as we can,” Freund said.
Shavei Israel is active in nine different countries, including India, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Russia, China and South America, working with Bnai Anousim, sometimes referred to as “Marranos” by historians, in various locations.