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Arthur A. Martinez Luna

“I’m Arthur Anthony Martinez Luna. I would like to share my story. I’m 37 years old. I was born in Los Angeles California and so were my parents. But my maternal grandparents were born in Mexico. My stories and information come from my mother’s side of the family. For about 3 years, I was my grandmother’s caregiver. I cared for my mother’s mom, Carmen Rodarte Lopez Luna. She taught me how to cook, clean, and I had the opportunity to hear her family stories of growing up on her father’s two ranches in Zacatecas Mexico. Since I was a child, I’ve always gravitated to Judaism. When I was about 6 years old I wanted to live in Israel. As I aged, my interest in Judaism grew and feelings were something I could not control and always remained. I came across the word Sephardim when I shared my feelings with some older cousins on my father’s side. These cousins’ father was an Ashkenazi from Poland. They mentioned I probably had Sephardic ancestry. After hearing the term Sephardim a few times, I decided to research. My studies directed me to history and practices of the Sephardim, annusim, and crypto Jews of Spain and Mexico. Then is when I recognized that my family customs and traditions were similar or sometimes identical to Sephardic crypto customs; some time later, when I shared my findings with my grandmother, she mentioned that her mother told her when she was younger that, “We use to be Jews long time ago”, but my grandmother didn’t understand what that meant. She thought “How can we be Jews if we are Mexican.” My grandmother’s sister’s granddaughter, my cousin, told me that our great grandmother Juanita Rodarte Lopez Hernandez “was considered Spanish by other Mexican people.” And “Her family left Spain during bad times long time ago.” In Zacatecas Mexico where my mother’s parents are from and their parents, there is evidence of a Jewish anusim history. In a news article by Tricia Cortez in the Laredo Morning Times printed 5/20/05, she writes of this presence. Its title is “Sephardic Jews founded key cities in Mexico San Antonio scholar to discuss culture at Laredo Temple”. She mentions that in the, “1500s, Sephardic Jews founded several key cities in Mexico, namely Monterrey, Saltillo, Monclova, Guadalajara, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí”. She also states that an “Important Sephardic family during this era was the Oñate family. They were Basques of Jewish ancestry. Don Cristobal de Oñate founded the cities of Guadalajara in 1528 and Zacatecas in 1548 while his son, Juan, established the city of San Luis Potosí in 1591” (Cortez). In addition, another article mentioned the Jewish crypto presence in Zacatecas titled Society for Crypto Judaic Studies Review of Papers Presented at the SCTS 2001 Conference in Pueblo, Colorado. The 2001 Conference was held in Pueblo, Colorado August 19-21. Reviewed by Michele Greene. Under the section A haven for escaping Jews it says that, “’The next part of Dr. Hordes’ talk he called “The Frontier as Refuge.” “Referring to the research of Solange Albero, he explained that the far northern frontier of New Spain always served as a haven for the conversos and other “undesirables” seeking to avoid the Holy Office, as it afforded remoteness from the seat of power as well as relative anonymity.” “’Dr. Hordes quoted Albero’s statement that in communities such as Zacatecas, “The practice of the law of Moses…was conscious, coherent, and deliberate.’” “’And what is present day New Mexico afforded a “Zone of refuge from the zone of refuge” for those not satisfied even with the relative tolerance of areas such as Zacatecas.’” One other document I’ve come across was written by Libby White. The article titled IN THE SHADOWS OF THE INQUISTION: THE JEWS OF COLONIAL MEXICO AND THEIR UNCERTAIN LEGACY, he states that “Communities often referred to as ‘Synagogues” by the inquisition existed in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Zacatecas, Puebla, Veracruz, Campeche, in the Yucatan and along the Caribbean.” Furthermore, David M. Gitlitz writes in Secrecy and Deceit The Religion of the Crypto-Jews, “In Mexico in the mid-seventeenth century there were “’about fifteen congregations in Mexico City and environs, at least three in Puebla, at least two each in Guadalajara and Veracruz, and one each in Zacatecas and Campeche (510)”. Further findings regarding ancient Jewish communities existed in Luna Spain and Lunel France. Both towns were known for their Jewish inhabitants and had a Jewish quarter (juderia). And both Luna and Lunel mean Moon. In Spain when Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism, they also had to adopt non-Hebrew names. However, Jews and conversos before and after forced conversion used and incorporated the name of the town where they lived. My mother’s father’s last name is Luna. Miguel Angel Motis Dolader author of Los judios de Luna en la Edad Media-The jews of Luna in the Middle Ages writes, “La llegada de…los judíos a la actual comarca…procedentes del otro lado de los Pirineos…al siglo XII.” (11) He writes that the arrival of the first Jews in the area came from the other side of the Pyrenees around the 12th century. Regarding Lunel, Wikipedia states that, “According to legend, Lunel was founded by Jews from Jericho in the first century and an ancient synagogue maybe seen there.” Accessed 12-18-2013. Lunel France. In the Jewish Encyclopedia under Lunel it states that the learning academy of Lunel was named “Dwelling-place of the Torah” and “Vestibule of the Temple”. The page also lists sages and inhabitants who used the last name Lunel or Yarhi (of Lunel). In addition, it is mentioned that, “The name Lunel is still a very common one among the Jews of southern France”. Accessed 12-18-2013. I’m not sure whether the towns of Lunel France or Luna Spain are a branch from each other, but it is certain that both towns were once inhabited and know as Jewish towns. Because of anti-Jewish sentiments, persecution and attempts to convert Jews, etc., there were different migrations of coming in and out of France and Spain and other countries. I have not been able to go very far with a family tree, but it is for certain that the Luna lineage is of Jewish ancestry according to Family Tree DNA. The Luna lineage is Semitic with distant Jewish relatives. Results from FTDNA can be provided. Whether my Luna lineage descends or not from either the Luna or the Lunel community, it was the Anusim that had to change their names and leave Spain in 1492 not the Christians. It is possible we descend from one of these communities or that the last name Luna-moon was chosen upon forced conversion because “In Judaism the “moon’s cycle parallels the history of the Jewish people, just as the moon waxes and wanes but is always restored to its glorious light, so the Jewish people, despite their history of anguish, will ultimately be redeemed and will return to the glorious light of God.” And that is what I would like to do is return. I believe when my ancestors were forced to convert, they chose the last name Luna either for the town they lived in or because they knew that eventually they would be redeemed from persecution of the Inquisition and would be able to return to Judaism. On the other hand, the sun in non-Jewish nations has a history in Christian iconography. Other names that contain a Jewish connection are: In Spanish Lopez means wolf’s son. In Gen 49:27 Jacob compares Benjamin to a ravenous wolf. Also, the wolf is the symbol of the tribe of Benjamin. The last name Perez is a variant spelling of Peretz. In the bible, Perez is the son of Judah and Tamar. On my mom’s side of the family, biblical first names are commonly used. My Grandmother’s brother was named Serafin, lots of cousins named David, Angel, Santos, Ester, Raquel, Alma. When it comes to the Ladino language, I can’t say it was used in our family but the word “Dio” is often used for Dios. And other words like asina instead of asi. Dio a Ladino word was used by Sephardim instead of Dios because they considered the “s” plural for many gods. My grandmother Carmen Rodarte Lopez Luna grew up on a ranch in Mexico that did not have a church. There was access to one which was in the pueblo of Jerez an hour away by donkey. By the way, Jerez in Zacatecas was named Jerez de la Frontera after Jerez de la Frontera of Spain. And the Jerez of Spain also had a jewish quarter. One day I asked my grandmother Carmen why she does not go to church, her answer was because she believes in God and that’s all that matters. On another occasion one evening I took my grandmother to visit some cousins on a Friday during some Christian holiday where you can’t eat meat sometime before Easter. A cousin made a comment about us eating tacos de Borrego (lamb) when it was prohibited to eat meat on Friday, we all laughed because my grandmother said we don’t go to church so we don’t have to listen to what they say or do what they do. So we ate lots of tacos de Borrego (lamb). Occasionally, my grandmother and other relatives jokingly say if they go to church they’ll burn. They don’t realize what they are saying. When it comes to cooking, it’s extremely prohibited to eat meat with blood. My grandmother always washes the meat in bowls of water salt and lemon. I was taught to do the same when I was her care giver. My grandmother told me a story about living on the ranch. She had a sister that used to use a bar of soap to wash the meat. When my grandmother first moved to Los Angeles, CA, one of her neighbors came over to visit. This neighbor saw my grandmother soaking a whole chicken in a big bucket of water, and the neighbor told my grandmother not to wash the blood because it gives it flavor. So another day my grandfather, Antonio Luna, noticed that my grandmother did not wash some meat, and he screamed and yelled at her. My grandmother told me “que en el rancho lavaba tinas (buckets) de carne”-on the ranch-she used to wash big buckets of meat that is because they used to slaughter their own animals and that was done by slicking the throught. My grandmother told me that on the ranch the men killed the big animals and the women killed the smaller animals. The brain and stomach are checked for bumps. Another family practice is to burn the meat when frying it on a pan or cooking it outside on a grill. In Judaism when Melihah is not sufficient to remove blood, it is roasted which discharges the blood. In Judaism roasting is mainly done to organs. But we purposely burn our meat and organs. Eggs with blood patches are thrown away. We crack an egg in one bowl then put it in another to make sure it does not have blood or is not rancid-old. Pork is not cooked by my grandmother or by a great majority of relatives because they say that pig is unclean. My grandmother’s youngest brother, my uncle, once gave me a verbal list of clean animals and dirty animals. My grandmother says “not to eat pork because it will make you sick, and if you are sick, not to eat it or it will make you sicker or you if you eat it you can die.” Now at days, the relatives who were born in the United States and who are Americanized cook ham. But still believe that when ever someone in the family is upset or doesn’t feel good they won’t eat it because they don’t want to get sicker. But that practice descends from a time when Jews used that as excuse to keep kosher laws. My grandmother’s dishes are not cooked with milk and meat mixed together. For example, enchiladas, chiles rellenos are only cooked with cheese. When we make enchiladas we cook them with only cheese or cheese and onion. Soups are not made with meat and dairy. My step father often makes comments that we are weird and we are the only people that he knows that do not make mix with meat and cheese because; for instance, we do not eat enchiladas like he eats them with chicken and cheese. My grandmother’s response was “that’s not the way we cook.” Amongst our large family, we aren’t allowed to share with non relatives how we cook. Friends also tell me that I’m weird for not mixing dairy and meat and for burning the meat. Other strange customs are any food that fell on the floor was kissed and Alcohol sometimes is thrown on the ground. When I was a child I lived with my parents in one house, and next door my grandmother Carmen lived. Every weekend she always lit white candles in a corner. Later on in life, my grandmother stopped when she moved in with her daughter, my aunt, Delia Alma Luna. My aunt asked my grandmother not to light candles because she didn’t want the house to catch on fire accidently. So when my grandmother lived with my mom, I told her it was ok and that my mom didn’t mind. I asked her why she used to light candles and she said in Spanish that God wants us to. My grandmother’s mom made candles and lit oil lamps at home in the ranch. But the candles were used on weekends. A candle is also lit as soon as a person dies and the person’s jaw is tied with handkerchief. About 2 years ago I got to see this in person when my grandmother’s sister died of cancer at home. Also my grandmother always lit a candle when ever a baby cried in the room that the baby was in. Usually on Thursday nights, the house was and is always cleaned before the weekends. It’s common to wear nice new clothes on weekends. We didn’t have the best clothes as in suits ties and dresses but we wore our best to look nice. Another family practice is sweeping to the center of every room. This practice was done by Sephardim out of respect for the mezuzah. In addition, I don’t think my grandmother would consider this a superstition, but she says if you don’t want nosy or bad people to come over, place a broom in back of the door. Some older uncles, my grandmother’s brothers place their hand on a kid or adults head and bless them. When greeting these older uncles, it’s proper to kiss the top of their closed fist. The person is dressed with new clean clothes and in Mexico my great grandmother and other relatives were buried with a shroud and family came over to visit the person before he/she died. But the practice of visiting the sick was also adhered to. Things like coins and pictures and other little items are placed in the coffin. Furthermore, Charity was and still is important in any case in my family. My grandmother Carmen says it’s more important give charity then go to church. I mentioned earlier, but there’s a joke in the family, that “if we go to church, we’ll burn.” Anusim-Jews who were forced to convert were burned if found practicing Judaism. My family doesn’t know the meaning behind what they are saying, and neither would I if I had not done research. Another strange practice is the marriage of cousins. My great grandmother Juana Lopez Hernandez Hernandez’ “first marriage” was to a Hernandez cousin. But I’m not sure if they were actually married. After he died, Juanita married my great grand father. I’ve had brief conversations with cousins who are in their 30s and say it’s fine to marry cousins. One cousin who is a Luna asked me at a family party which cousin would I like. My grandmother told me that her parents allowed her to be with my grandfather Antonio Luna because his family was good people. Some relatives use the word “good people” when referring to other relatives or other people. In early colonial Mexico “good people” was a clandestine way to refer to Jews. When I was 17 one of my cousins got married. After the dinner her and her husband and the people that were in the wedding all held hands and danced under a cloth that was held in the air. That tradition might descend from the huppah. I have read that corn tortillas were substituted for unleavened bread because they were cooked with out leavening. And corn tortillas were always served and are only served at weddings. Regarding corn tortillas, this may be a coincidence but during Easter which coincides with pesach, my grandmother always make Capirutada. It’s a bread dessert. At the bottom of the capirutada are three corn tortillas. It’s possible that this too also descended from a time when matza was forbidden and this was the only was to keep the mitzvah of eating matza during passover. I just think it’s interesting how my family isn’t allowed to share cooking secrets, and how the corn tortillas are not distributed in with the bread, but placed underneath the bread. I’m not sure if that makes sense. We also have a practice called Limpia (clean) similar to Kapparot ceremony-waving a chicken over one’s head on Yom Kippur. Raphael Posner states “The ceremony is symbolic and reminiscent of the Temple sacrifices. One of the ideas behind the atonement sacrifice in the Temple is that guilt is transferred to the sacrificial animal which pays the penalty for the man’s sin, while the person is cleansed…The Kapparot ceremony is sometimes carried out with a fish or even just money.” (p 51) Popular History of Jewish Civilization THE HIGH HOLY DAYS. LEON AMIEL PUBLISHER, New York-Paris. 1973. My grandmother’s sister and other cousins practice this. A prayer is whispered when the egg is waved over the head. I was told that a cousin was called a witch for this practice, so there is a joke among the females that they are witches. But of course they know they aren’t but it’s a joke that exists. When I had asked my aunt where she learned this from, she immediately said that she is not a witch and that she does not do magic and that her mom taught her this. I had asked a cousin how long this practice has been around and she said that she has always known of this since she was a kid. My aunt said the purpose of the Limpia is all bad is suppose to go away. And of course this is not Christian, because Jesus died for the Christians so this would not be needed for them. This seems much related to Judaism, but at the beginning of September we always eat Calabasas (squash) with honey and cook them with honey. And around September is Rosh Hashana where it’s customary to eat sweet foods. In an old picture that belongs to my grandmother that was taken at the ranch in Mexico Zacatecas, the family is eating outside on low chairs and rocks. I asked my grandmother what the occasion was, and she said someone died. Not sure if that’s a Sephardic or Ashkenazi custom regarding sheva. But many anusim traveled to Europe and came across Ashkenazim and picked up their customs, and took them to the new world. Another practice is to wash fruit and veggies to remove dirt and bugs. My grandmother says it’s not good and we shouldn’t eat bugs. When I was about 16 years old, I and my brother went to Tijuana Mexico with my dad and his wife. Before we left, we looked for souvenirs. My dad bought a couple of indigenous Aztec statues for himself and for me and my brother. I think they were only for decoration, but to me they were idols. I felt very guilty because I remembered the biblical verse that states: Thou shall not have any graven images. The second day of having them in my room, I placed them in a high closet. The third day I took them and threw them in the trash. A common motif found in the homes of my mom’s side of the family is the Star of David and doilies with designs that look like a menorah. These doilies and the patterns were handed down to my grandmother from her mother. The doilies are always knitted in a pair. If one is made then a second is made to go with the one. When I first moved into my own house, my grandmother was giving me a pair of doilies with the Star of David that were suppose to be a future wedding gift. At the time, I had told her I only wanted one and not two, so she said in Spanish that two are better than one, and that I had to take them both. Latter I realized the saying she mentioned “two are better than one” is biblical: Ecclesiastes 4:9. The pair of doilies and the verse seems to complement each other.”

Arthur A. Martinez Luna
martineza5079@hotmail.com