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Luis Lozano-Paredes

“Hello, First of all I wanted to congratulate Children of the Inquisition for the really interesting effort they are making in transforming the view from the general public and the Jewish community about the issues of the Conversos and their adventure. I wanted to share my story as it has been a weird transition, struggle or I may even say conflict in my life. It all started, (and is weird now that I think about it) when I was about 13 years old. I had the good fortune to be raised in a very open Colombian family, in a space where religion didn’t had a very special place on our daily life, and more attention was put on patriotism, philosophy and.. lots of politics. Being the only child of two lawyers, and members of the military forces, the importance of our country and its laws was deemed essential in our family. The Colombian independence day was treated with a reverence that I can compare to religious fervor. However morals and ethics where always present, specially concerning treatment to other people and reverence towards our history, and our elders. And that’s why I developed very close relations with my grandparents with seemed the holders not only of great wisdom, but the foundations in which our family history was built. On one hand I had my maternal grandparents, very liberal in they way of thinking, very conservative in their politics, and somehow (and is difficult for me to really cope with this definition, but that was the definition used in my family) “European but proudly Colombian”. With French and Dutch caribbean ancestry that was always latent but never acknowledged as I after discovered it was: Jewish. On the other hand however, I had my paternal grandparents, very conservative in their approach to life, but you guessed it, liberal in their political views. A really strong Catholic household with a stubborn Spanish identity, which couldn’t be separated from a passionate devotion to the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart.

And on my childhood years I grew between these two worlds, I often went to Church on Sundays with my mantilla-wearing grandmother, and sat on Saturday afternoons and hear my other grandmother talking to me in French and talking about her travels to Europe and the beauty of the houses she visited as a child in the caribbean. And then it happened, my maternal grandmother passed away, it was a really hard moment for me but also the start of a new journey. On her funeral I met some distant relatives which came from the city of Barranquilla and from the Dutch caribbean to pay respects, then I realized that I knew nothing about a whole other side of my family that I haven’t met before and many stories I haven’t heard before. About the beauty of Curaçao, the life of Barranquilla and even a relative which was a poet and other one a politician. All of this when I was a 13 year old boy which loved history and maps, it was a revelation, however no single mention of some Jewishness appeared with them.

My interest in Judaism started in a sort of Academic way, I was really interested in “old” or “different” religions and had a special attraction to Judaism and Islam, and everything Middle-Eastern. I loved Islamic Architecture and Arabic music, I also was strangely attracted to Hebrew letters but wasn’t really interested in the Jewish religion until I found, while reading, the term “Sephardic”. To my knowledge, and this is when I had 16, Jews where always German or German related, all the Jews I had met, and friends at School were all ‘mans’ or ‘bergs’ and that was the rule, maybe some exceptions where made with some last names like Nissim, or Besalel, but I just realized, oh they must be Israelis, or they have a “true” Hebrew last names. No big deal. But then while reading about Muslims in Spain and how Spain was dominated by Moors for 800 hundred years, to a point in which, by affiliation to Spain, we Colombians were all “In some way, Moors’, as my mother used to say, another revelation was made, that Spain had a 1000 year “invasion” of Jews, that these Jews were called “Sephardic jews”. And considering all that I came to the conclusion, paraphrasing my mother: “If we all are in some way moors, we all must be also in some way Jews”. It was an amazing realization for me, and the reason I started to dig into Jews a little bit more. I knew about the Holocaust and the horrors of World War II, and also about the creation of the State of Israel and the amazing technology and admirable growth this country in the middle east, but I wanted to know more about this sephardic jews. And by doing that, I don’t know why or how, something inside me just clicked, I can’t describe it or even explain it, but it just clicked. I wanted more, I felt like a Jew, I wanted to be a Jew, I wanted to speak Hebrew, everything that were available to be a Jew..

And then again, it happened, my maternal grandfather passed away and again something strange happened: On the day of his burial, while everyone was with some relatives and friends in the living room after returning home, I went to his room and started looking for something, a physical object I could keep as a memory (In that moment I knew it was very irrespectful, but I did it) and I found a little book of psalms, with a beautiful silver covering with red semi-precious stones, I opened, it was dated 1970, from “Sinai Publishing- Tel Aviv”, not quite the historical artifact I wanted to found, 1970 didn’t seemed that old. I asked my Mom where does this book came from, and she told me my Grandfather had a lot of Jewish friends that maybe it was a present from them, but it could may be of her cousin which traveled to Israel lots of times as it worked for the Israel Aircraft Industries. I never wanted to knew more, I just kept the book as a precious treasure. When I graduated from high school my interest in Judaism grew more by the day, I wanted to become Jewish, then the opportunity arrived, I wanted to study Architecture and I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina to start University. ( I have to confess I never actually understood if I wanted to go to Argentina because of its education or because I wanted a strong jewish community to get in contact with, maybe a combination of both things).

I arrived in Argentina and got in contact with the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, founded by the American rabbi Marshall Meyer, there I found an institute of introduction to Judaism and conversion, I didn’t had a doubt, I applied, I entered, I did the full year long course and got circumcized at the age of 19. And then I had my Beth Din and Mikveh. It was far from an easy experience, as I entered the Mikveh I found myself scared to confront a new reality, I was scared that somehow by converting I was recognizing the fact that I wasn’t a Jew until the moment I entered the water and got out of it, I started to think if it was really worthy of all my effort, only to recognize my previous non-jewishness. Being a little bit rushed by the situation and by the fact that there were many people converting that very same Wintry July morning, I said to myself, let’s do it! And I entered the water and emerged as a Jew.

After my Conversion, I felt the need to dig into my family ancestry, for some fool reason I wanted to prove my Jewishness apart from a religious process. I wanted to be Jew by blood. Logic didn’t applied here, I was already a Jew, converted under Halacha, I felt I knew more about Judaism that many “Jews by blood” but still I needed it, I needed a genetic connection, and I knew that I had it. Then appeared the passing of my paternal grandmother, a hard moment of my life, she passed away around christmas, a very emotional moment in Colombia. I had to return from Argentina and visited her at the hospital the day before she died, there she asked me to pray with her, How could I pray a Catholic prayer being a Jew? How could I embrace my beloved grandmother when she was dying and telling her that I couldn’t pray the way she wanted. Then again I got crushed by surprise and astonishment, she told me: I know you are Jewish, so let’s pray to the “Jewish saints”, lets pray to “Santa Ester” and “San David” lets pray to Mary, she was Jewish, God is Jewish. I want to pray in the Jewish way because I might be Jewish too. The next day she passed away. I never wanted to do research about some converso past on her, I didn’t wanted to dig into her past, but one thing I was sure, She wanted to be Jewish at the end of her life. That day was a huge shock for me, I wanted to become more faithful and recognize that my conversion was enough, I didn’t had to prove anyone my jewishness. But still I wanted to look more into my mother’s family, I knew they had ancestry in the Dutch Caribbean, the possibility of some jewish ancestry was more than likely. I knew the story of the Jews of the caribbean, and I knew the answer was there.

Thanks to the magic of internet I found information about a Colombian researcher named Adelaida Sourdis Najera, she had wrote extensively about the jewish population of the Colombian caribbean coast, and at the end she turned out to be a second cousin of my maternal grandmother. I contacted the Snoa in Curaçao and I actually visited the island and went to a friday night service. But the final link, the final key to my ancestry was found not by Curaçao, but by St Thomas, virgin islands, there I found the missing link of my ancestry which connected me not only with the Jewish communities of the Caribbean, but also to found that my Great-great-grandmother was Jewish, my great-grandmother was Jewish, my grandmother was Jewish and my mother is Jewish. And then, I went in silence, because I really didn’t realized what I had found, it felt that a journey was completed that my ancestry was recovered and that somehow it actually didn’t matter, because is not thanks to that “bloodline” that I’m Jewish, I’m Jewish because I wanted to, because I was curious enough to dig into a philosophy that was foreign to me, and most of all because it’s something I felt inside, in my heart, in my brain and in my body. An amazing sense of humility but also pride, of contradiction, of spirituality, of intellectual achievement, but at the end of love, love to family, love to a tradition that deserves to be told, and love to a people that I feel has something precious to give to the world. Now I’m a 26 year old man, and I feel a new journey is beginning and I don’t know what’s ahead but still I know that as a the prayer says: “God is with me, I shall not fear”. Thank you Children of the Inquisition to give me the opportunity to share my story and I hope you continue with the amazing work you are doing.”

Luis Lozano-Paredes