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Gary Wolinsky

“Latinos across the Americas have been discovering long-suspected, hidden Jewish/converso ancestors through DNA testing. Now Jews who thought they were Ashkenazi are discovering they may have Sephardi roots thanks to the same DNA testing. An Ashkenazi exterior may hide a Sephardi heart. I now know this firsthand.

As a child, we heard nebulous stories that our family had some links to Turkish Jews, but never gave it much credence. Now, based on surprising and closely matching Y-DNA test results we are seeing strong signals from within our outwardly Ashkenazi appearance of a connection with Sephardic Jews who took refuge from the Inquisition in Amsterdam. DNA test results reveal a very close match with a Sephardic family who claim descent from the 15th century astronomer Abraham Zacuto. Then, east met west. Entirely independent of our test results, our cousin (a Reform Rabbi from Scottsdale, Arizona) tested his mitochondrial DNA (his mtDNA is a surrogate for our paternal grandmother as those genes are only transmitted matrilineally) which led to a very close DNA match with a Brazilian Catholic from Correntes, Pernambuco. (In both of these instances, results are at a genetic distance that suggest a “recent” common ancestor.) We have been in contact with our newfound cousin and reviewed his DNA test results. There is no question that he has Jewish heritage matching Sephardic and Ashkenazi families and we are seeing common distant relatives amongst our DNA cousins). We suspect that we share a common ancestor who was exiled from Spain or Portugal and lived in Holland. We connect perhaps through two of her daughters one who migrated to Pernambuco in the 17th century the other whose line went to Poland. Indeed there were Dutch and Sephardi settlements across Poland and Lithuania. Our plan is to work with our newfound Brazilian cousin to see if we can identify our common ancestor using records in Brazil and Holland. Our Brazilian cousin says he wishes to reconnect with his Jewish heritage and traditions and move to Israel. Meanwhile, other Ashkenazi DNA matches with whom he has had contact can’t seem to wrap their heads around having Sephardic heritage. Nonetheless, an historical divide is being bridged by the double helix.”

Gary Wolinsky
gawolinsky@gmail.com