Sephardic Farewell/Ancestors by Joseph Hobesh - HTML preview

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Chapter 2


April 1492

Don Fernando de San Miguel

Elena Maria de San Miguel hurried home, her heart heavy and her mind confused. Her rendezvous with Joshua Halavi had turned into a complete fiasco. She had intended to explain her reasons for rejecting him again. As gently as she could, she tried to explain why she could not disobey her father’s wishes.

To tell Joshua she loved him, but could not marry him. The edict tangled the situation, the lives of the San Miguel family would never be the same. They would never be a part of the

“courtyard” again.

When Joshua revealed his plans to convert and sail with Colon, she sensed a small possibility that her father might accept Joshua after he converted. But the thought of him sailing away caused her emotions to erupt. She might never see him again, he could be lost to her forever.



She had to prevent Joshua from leaving with that madman Colon, but how? Unless her father’s mind could be changed, Joshua would insist on leaving. Then it occurred to her, Antonio, her brother, had never spoken ill of Joshua. They had even been friends. He might be persuaded to intercede on her and Joshua’s behalf. Although she was uncertain her father would accept any argument she or Antonio might put forth. His heart had been hardened against those whose practice of Judaism was completely open. Monsignor Abate had seen to that. Reaching her decision, Elena felt a small amount of relief, and a great amount of anxiety. Thinking of her father’s reaction to what she was going to propose sent shivers down her spine.

The thought of Joshua gave her the determination to pursue her plan. Remembering him so sad, and the fact that she might never see him again, gave her renewed courage.

Her immediate concern, however, was explaining to her mother why she had left her duenna, slipping away to meet Joshua.

* * *

It has come, all that I feared, all that I tried to overcome by proving my worth to his majesty, King Ferdinand, to Monsignor Abate, all in vain. Now I must decide, leave or become what in my heart I cannot accept. These beliefs are not mine, am I a Jew or a Christian? Why must I make my family suffer so!

Don Fernando de San Miguel pondered his plight and was filled with anxiety. He and his family were so vulnerable now.

The edict severely altered the plan he had proposed to Monsignor Abate. It would bring the wrath of the church down upon all of those whose practice of the Christian faith was questionable.

Conversos, or New Christians, it did not matter, the Inquisition would assuredly investigate them all, some would inform to save themselves or their families.



Don Fernando’s family had practiced the Jewish faith in secret since the time of his grandfather. His father tried to explain why this was so, but he had been too young to comprehend.

Time had dulled his feelings for the religion. The edict made him realize how dangerous the practice of Judaism had become.

In spite of the plan he had began with Monsignor Abate. Now he fully understood the consequences he and his family would have to face, continuing the secret practice of Judaism as New Christians.

The edict would force us to live as true Christians, or leave España .

I choose to remain. My family will be bound by my decision. Life will become easier. No longer having to sneak about, practicing one religion in darkness and secret while the other in false pretense. We become acceptable, all barriers removed. My son and daughter able to live their lives to their fullest without fear of persecution. This was the hope of the plan I proposed to Monsignor Abate.

I will not allow my family to be subjected to the horror that occurred so many years ago. When my grandfather, Don Pablo, who was born Samuel Ben Coloma, may he rest in peace, was forced to become a Christian, my father, Francisco, hid this story from me 4for many years. His reasons for this were his own. Nevertheless little by little, I came to understand why. My grandfather suffered greatly for his beliefs. I remember my father’s terrible sadness as he related the tale to me.

* * *

Seville 1391

April, and Seville was truly beautiful that spring. Full of blossoming orange and nut trees, warm sweet breezes blowing off the Guadlquvir river. For Samuel, the only child of Avraham Ben Coloma, the year 1391 marked his thirteenth birthday. The 24


year he was to become bar mitzvah. Literally “Son of the Covenant,” and a full member of the Jewish community.

The ceremony was to take place at Shabbat, the Sabbath services at the Cal, where Samuel would be conducting the morning services. He then would be called to the bema for his first aliyah, the reading of the weekly portion from the Torah—

The Five Books of Moses.

His studies for becoming bar mitzvah had been relatively easy. Hachham, Rabbi Mordachi, was not the taskmaster that some of Samuel’s friends had made him out to be.

Learning the trope for chanting the weekly Torah portion turned out to be the hardest part. Thankfully his mother was a musician of sorts, and able to instill an understanding of the cantillations required to properly chant the portion. His father would be furious if he found out his wife, a female, had chanted the Torah portion along with her son. Samuel vowed he would never mention it, his mother made light of it. It was her feeling that someday in the very distant future women would be able to do almost everything men could.

The whole family was looking forward to the fiesta following the morning services of Samuel’s bar mitzvah. All the special dishes that were being prepared. The visiting relatives that would be there, along with all of his and his family’s friends.

Life is good, Samuel thought, except, for the ill will the Christians professed at times. Especially when the priests or visiting monks preached their hateful sermons, depicting Jews as devilish or diabolical. Samuel had not experienced any real hatred or physical abuse. His father being so well known in the district, brought Samuel’s family into contact with some of the more prominent members of the Christian community. And in this way the family was somewhat protected.

Samuel continued on his way to the rabbi’s house for his last lesson before his bar mitzvah. Approaching the rabbi’s street, he heard someone calling him. He turned and saw it was Juanito, 25


one of his Christian friends, son of Juan Pacheco, the sack-cloth weaver. Juanito approached Samuel with a worried look on his face.

“Samuel, I just came from church, Fray Vincente has returned. He plans to preach a sermon condemning the Jews again for their beliefs.”

Samuel frowned. “Do not worry, Juanito, it happens all the time. Especially after Fray Vincente has been unsuccessful trying to convince us that we are practicing the wrong religion.”

“This time I think he is planning to incite the townspeople, have you heard what happened at the synagogue of Cadiz?”

“No. Tell me.”

“Well when the rabbi of Cadiz finished the—how do you call it, the service for the morning?”


“Yes, I think that’s it, well when that was finished, and the people were getting ready to leave, Fray Vincente ordered everyone to remain. He accused the rabbi of preaching blasphemy. When the rabbi tried to protest, the priest had him taken away. He is being held in prison awaiting an inquisitor.”

Samuel hesitated before speaking, deep within himself he felt the stirrings of some ominous disaster approaching but said nothing.

Thanking Juanito for his news, he repeated his invitation to him and his family to attend the bar mitzvah fiesta.

Juanito heartily agreed, and bid him good-bye. “Via con Dios, mi amigo.”

Samuel continued on his way to the rabbi’s home. He was warmly greeted by the rabbi’s wife as she ushered Samuel into his study.

Rabbi Mordachi, deeply absorbed in the large book in front of him, looked up, his dark eyes glowing. “Ah, buenos dias, Samuel.

How are you? I have been reading some passages from the Book of Exodus. The portion you will be chanting this Shabbat, have you been studying them?”



“Yes, Hachham,” Samuel answered.

“And do you understand the Parsha portion, do you have any questions?”

Samuel paused before answering, yes he had questions but not about the Torah portion. He was thinking about what Juanito had described to him. He decided to ask the rabbi if he knew what had occurred at the synagogue of Cadiz.

“Rabbi, you have heard what happened at the synagogue of Cadiz.

The rabbi thought awhile before answering. “Yes,” the rabbi finally replied. “And this concerns you, Samuel?”

“Shouldn’t it, Rabbi? Why do they hate us so? Why do simple people like the Pacheco family accept us as we are? Do not demand that we pray as they do, or accept the customs that they follow. Yet educated priests and bishops insist that we accept the Catholic religion, regardless of our feelings and desires. I would have thought that educated church members would respect other religions.”

The rabbi was thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Samuel, you are familiar with our history. As Jews we have been blamed for almost every misery afflicting mankind. Human beings need someone to blame when misfortune strikes, when life becomes a struggle from birth to death. Our beliefs differ from the Christians, we have not accepted their Messiah. Therefore in their eyes we are evil. The monks and priests use these differences to incite the people so that they will not look deeply into the lives they are forced to live. Trust in our God, Samuel.

He will show us the way to a life of prosperity and happiness.”

Samuel did not reply, it was all so confusing and troublesome. Although the rabbi had tried to comfort him, he still could not shake off the gloom that had settled upon him.

He began chanting his lessons, while the rabbi nodded in approval. When his lessons were completed, the rabbi told him he was doing very well, and that he looked forward to his bar 27


mitzvah. Samuel thanked him and left for home and his midday meal.

The walk home was uneventful and Samuel arrived at home at the same time as his father. His mother greeted them both exuberantly. “Ah, venidos a bien tiempo—You have arrived at a good time. The meal is ready, come we will eat,” she said, ushering them both into the dining room.

Samuel, still feeling the affects of what he had heard, spoke to his father of his encounter with Juanito, and his talk with the rabbi. Avraham Ben Coloma assured his son that there was nothing to worry about. But he secretly worried. Since the death of King Juan, the clergy had been preaching more venomous sermons against the Jews.

Inciting the people to destroy synagogues, to physically drag the Jews to the baptismal font, and murder them if they refused conversion. King Juan, while he was alive, had been able to provide some protection for the Jews of his kingdom.

The King’s successor, an invalid son, was ineffective in exercising control over the Church, and was unable to curb the excesses of the Church’s more zealous members, this was the source of Ben Coloma’s uneasiness.

Trying to change the subject, Ben Coloma asked Samuel how his studies were going. Whether Rabbi Mordachi was succeeding in properly teaching him the trope for chanting his portion of the Torah.

Samuel smiling, glanced at his mother said, “Yes, very well, Papa, but I think you and Momma have been my best teachers.”

To which his father answered, “Momma sings beautifully, doesn’t she?” And with a wink of his eye began the blessing over the bread for their midday meal.

* * *

The Sabbath morning of Samuel’s bar mitzvah arrived in a rush. His mother sweeping through the house directing the 28


servants and cooks, helping his father get dressed and admonishing Samuel to hurry.

The walk to the synagogue was uneventful, and they arrived just as the morning Psalms were being chanted.

The synagogue was full of people, the men downstairs, surrounding the bema. The women upstairs in the balcony overlooking the entire synagogue. The cover on the Aaron Hakodesh, the Holy Ark where the Torah scrolls were kept, had been presented to the synagogue by the Ben-Halavi family in honor of Samuel’s bar mitzvah. The cover depicted the Lions of Judah embroidered with gold thread, surrounding the Torah scrolls. Fresh flowers adorned the Aaron Hakodesh as well as the bema.

Samuel began chanting the preliminary morning services, and when they were completed, began the Torah service. As the congregants began to chant the prayers prior to removing the Torah scrolls from the ark, along with the singing, a low rumble could be discerned coming from outside the synagogue. It soon grew to a roar. Then without warning, the synagogue doors were smashed open. An angry crowd of hundreds threw themselves on the defenseless worshipers.

With knifes, clubs and axes they hacked and stabbed and beat, men, women, children. It did not matter, the mindless killing caused the blood to flow as if from many fountains.

When the killing frenzy had been satisfied the mob raced from the synagogue to the street in search of new victims. Black plumes of smoke could be seen rising from many buildings.

Pent-up emotions held in check for many years exploded with disastrous results for the Juderia of Seville.

* * *

Samuel awoke in a small cubicle, a burning candle providing the only light. A crucifix was affixed above the straw cot he lay 29


in. Where was he, was it all a bad dream? Had the horror he witnessed really happened?

He tried to rouse himself but was unable to do so. His head throbbed and his right arm stabbed him with pain every time he moved it. Then reality hit him like a bolt of lightning, it had happened, it was true, where was his family? Were they all right? Were they hurt? Were they alive? He had to know, he had to find out. The shock of all that he had witnessed washed over him and he began to sob, the only words running over and over in his mind— Yitgadal v’yidgadash shema rabba—the opening lines of the mourner’s Kaddish. The prayer recited over the dead.

Trying as hard as he could, Samuel was unable to lift himself from the cot. Exhausted he fell back into a painful sleep.

* * *

Brother Pablo, kneeling in prayer at vespers, was heartbroken and sad, the violence that had occurred today was incomprehensible. To think that human beings could harm other humans in this manner was beyond understanding for him. He prayed to the Lord Jesus that the souls of those taken by this madness, although not Christian, would be allowed to enter His Kingdom.

He also prayed for some solution to the problem of the boy he had rescued at the synagogue of the Jews. The son of Avraham Ben Coloma, the well-known physician. How was he going to tell Samuel—this child—that his whole family had been killed?

That there was nothing left for him, nothing.

Pablo completed his prayers and rose, behind him someone entered the chapel. He turned, standing there was Fray Vincente waiting for him to finish.

“Good evening, Brother Pablo, I hope I did not interrupt your prayers. I have something very important to discuss with you.

The young Jew you rescued today, he is the son of Ben Coloma, the physician?”



Brother Pablo, not recognizing what Fray Vincente wanted with the boy, thought carefully before answering.

Fray Vincente had a bizarre past. Born in Seville in 1350, he was afflicted at an early age with Godly inspirations.

Browbeating other children for crude behavior, fasting twice a week, experiencing visions, he was convinced, his was the voice of the Lord. As a Dominican Friar he traveled from town to town crusading against the Jews, who he characterized as the worst enemies of Christianity. Once he achieved the priesthood, his solution to the question of the Jews was conversion. Either by persuasion or forcibly, his preference was for the latter.

Brother Pablo, on the other hand, believed in the Christian ideal of loving one’s neighbors. In trying to convince non-believers by talking, discussing, and by example. He felt Christians should slay Jews with reasoning not with the club or axe. Pablo had had many disputes with Fray Vincente concerning some of the ways conversions had been taking place.

Today’s events had filled him with great sadness.

Yet he was powerless to change anything. Fray Vincente’s influence with the hierarchy of the church and the court, made him too powerful an adversary.

Brother Pablo looked deeply into the priest’s eyes, something lurked there. Something he could not clearly see, but whatever it was. He was concerned, and fearful.

Filled with sadness Pablo quietly answered, “I believe he is, but I am sure you are the last person he would want to see or speak to. The madness that occurred today should not have happened. His whole family is gone, as is practically all of the Juderia. I am sure the boy will blame the Church. How can the bishops and cardinals atone for what has happened? Why do we continue to massacre these people, yet expect them to willingly convert?”

Fray Vincente glared at Pablo, his tall thin frame visibly shaking with anger.



“Don’t you question the wisdom of the Church, the Jews will be converted! How and by what means will be shown to us by our Lord Jesus, the Pope, the King himself, once the Moors have been completely driven out of España, and, and—” Fray Vincente realizing he was beginning to rant, stammered, took a deep breath and began speaking in a more rational manner.

“Have you spoken to him yet, are the boy’s injuries very serious, will he live?”

Brother Pablo’s loathing of Fray Vincente was barely hidden, as he answered, “He will live but he needs much rest. I advise you not to disturb him so that he may fully recover.”

“Yes, yes, I will not disturb him until he is well enough. It was most unfortunate that all of his family was slaughtered, Ben Coloma was a most learned physician. But these stiff-necked Jews will not learn, they continue to mock the true religion.

Today’s events are only God’s will; they will learn. Christianity is the only true religion. The boy’s conversion must be fittingly done. We must set a proper example. I was considering taking responsibility for this myself, you have no objections to this, do you?”

Brother Pablo now became alarmed, the look in Fray Vincente’s eyes was glazed, almost trance like. Pablo could almost feel the lust poring forth from them. Incidents of priests having certain carnal appetites for young boys had been rumored to have occurred throughout the Church. Rumors that were true, according to Brother Pablo’s information. He himself had administered treatment to one such victim. But to his distaste was unable to punish the priest responsible.

Brother Pablo felt a strong obligation to protect Samuel.

Conversion was one thing, but carnal abuse was an abomination, and he would not allow it.

He answered Fray Vincente’s question by stating that the boy’s injuries, although painful, were not life threatening. But that he should not be disturbed until he was fully recovered.

Fray Vincente reluctantly agreed. Said he would be back in a 32


week, stressing how important it was for him to take responsibility for Samuel’s conversion.

Brother Pablo bid the priest good-bye and decided to check on Samuel’s condition, thinking of ways of explaining to Samuel the destruction of his family, and dreading what he now felt was inevitable. Samuel’s approaching conversion under the tutelage of Fray Vincente.

Arriving at Samuel’s room, he found him in a deep sleep. Not wanting to disturb his rest, Pablo decided to wait until the morning to be the bearer of such sad news.

* * *

Samuel awoke, his head throbbing, and his right arm aching.

Bright sunlight filtered through the small opening that served as a window. Forcing himself to swing his legs over the side of the cot, he was now well aware of what had happened. He had to get to his home, find his family.

Fighting the dizziness that almost caused him to faint, he rose from the bed and tried to stand, struggling for a foothold he realized he was naked. None of his own clothes were anywhere to be found. Reaching for the thin blanket on the bed, he draped it around himself and sat back down.

Weak with pain, distraught, and frustrated he was unable to leave. Samuel lay back down and began to sob softly.

Samuel’s young heart was filled with despair. He instinctively knew that his family was gone. Their lives taken in the most horrific way imaginable. A terrible anger began to arise in him, as he pounded the cot with his fists.

There was a soft knock on the door and someone entered the room. Samuel looked up and saw Brother Pablo. His anger boiled over into a ferocious rage, rushing the monk with all the strength he could muster. Legs kicking, arms flailing, he managed to land a flurry of blows before Pablo was able to subdue him.



Quietly, and calmly, Pablo began telling Samuel what had happened, and what he was now faced with. Samuel stopped his struggling and listened. Pablo sadly explained what happened to Samuel’s family, the Juderia, and all the other Jewish communities in the area. They were gone! Beginning to sob himself, Pablo continued, many had saved their lives by converting, unfortunately Samuel’s family had not been given this choice, they had been the first victims of the mob’s frenzy.

Rebuilding the community, if it occurred at all, would take years.

The monk’s words hit Samuel with the force of a stallion’s kick. His instincts had been correct, but the effect of the actual words caused him to turn and retch. As he began moaning,

“Mama, Papa.”

Brother Pablo hugged him, led him to the cot, and gently laid him down. With tears in his eyes, Pablo whispered, “Rest now, Samuel, the Lord will provide you with the help you need, trust in Him.”

* * *

A week passed and Samuel’s physical injuries, began to heal.

He could move his arm and head with less pain, and the bruises on his face were fading. But the mental anguish he had suffered was too much to endure. He refused to eat, spent all of his daytime hours just staring into space.

Brother Pablo, although concerned, felt this was a temporary condition. Once Samuel accepted the fact that what had happened was real, not some horrible dream, he would respond and accept the situation as it really was.

Pablo spent the entire week gently consoling Samuel, talking to him, feeding him, and tending to his physical wounds.

Attempting to make him understand his only refuge now was the Church. Gently raising the subject of conversion, and stressing the similarities between the Jewish and Christian 34


faiths. How the roots of one religion, became the beginnings of the other.

Slowly Samuel began to react. Although young in age he was extremely intelligent, and had a mind that reacted quickly. He began to realize, he would be responsible for what happened to him—for the rest of his life!

First and foremost he needed to mourn, for his family and the entire Jewish community destroyed so savagely. The normal period of shiva, the ritual of mourning, lasted for a full seven days, saying prayers with a minyan—a gathering of ten males over the age of thirteen. Concluding with the mourner’s Kaddish.

Alone without prayer book or minyan, Samuel began to chant prayers he could remember. What came to his lips almost as if the rabbi or his father had been at his side was “Adonai roee lo achsarThe Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…. ” Psalm 23, the traditional concluding prayer of the memorial service.

Pablo, realizing that Samuel was praying, decided not to pursue any further discussion, and left. The friar understood the need for Samuel to perform the ritual of shiva. That a minyan would not be present, did not lessen Samuel’s need to perform the ceremony.

* * *

The week of mourning passed slowly for Samuel. Free to wander about the monastery, which was located on a small hill overlooking the river, he continued to pray, remembering happier times with his parents, and slowly the sadness began to diminish. He continued to pray, concluding all of his prayers with the mourner’s Kaddish. A prayer which did not in any way allude to death, but simply sanctified God’s name and His Holiness. He experienced much comfort while reciting the prayer, even though a minyan was not present to recite it with him.



Along with the prayers, Samuel began trying to clarify in his own mind, what options were open to him: He could accept conversion, become a true Christian, let the Church take care of him. Alternatively, he could outwardly convert to Christianity, but continue to practice Judaism in secret. He had heard his father and the rabbis talk of the “courtyard” a number of times.

He was familiar with the methods secret Jews used to hide their true beliefs. Life as a Converso might be a viable situation for him—if there was any chance of rebuilding the Jewish community!

Suddenly, it occurred to him. What he really wanted was revenge, someone to pay for the horrible things done to his family. One name stirred him, Fray Vincente. Was he responsible for what had occurred? Juanito had mentioned the incident at the synagogue of Cadiz. How could he tell who was really responsible for what had happened that fateful day?

What would he have to do to accomplish what he really wanted? How could he punish those who were responsible for the terrible acts that had been committed? An almost impossible task to accomplish, he believed, but one he must attempt even though he felt so alone and helpless.

Slowly, ideas began to take shape. First he had to find somewhere he could live. The monastery would do as a temporary place of shelter until he finalized his plans. Then he would leave, the rest would come to him he was sure.


Chapter 3

Pablo visited only once during the week Samuel was in mourning, spoke to him briefly, trying to decide if his mental outlook had improved. Judging that it had, the problem now was to convince Samuel that conversion was his only salvation.

Prepare him for his encounter with Fray Vincente, who ha