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Parted Waters at Beit Tikva

On Sunday, May 15, at 4:00 pm, Congregation Beit Tikva will present a concert performance of Robert Benjamin’s well-received play Parted Watersa gripping, humorous and compassionate drama about three generations of a crypto-Jewish Hispanic family struggling with its identity in Northern New Mexico.  The grandson is unaware of his Jewish heritage, and in the heat of a debate he blunders by making an anti-Semitic comment.  This spurs the grandfather to reveal the secret—it nearly destroys the family but reveals the truth.  The play will be performed in our synagogue by the well-known local nonprofit theater group Teatro Paraguas  

This performance is a benefit for Congregation Beit Tikva.  We are presenting it in celebration of the New Mexico History Museum’s new “Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, the Inquisition, and New World Identities” exhibit that will open in late May. 
Directed by Catherine Donavon, the cast includes Alix Hudson, Elias Gallegos, Jonathan Harrell, and Argos MacCallum.
Tickets will be $20 plus small handling fees, available at Brown Paper Tickets
The performance will last about one hour without intermission.  The playwright and actors will be available for post-show discussion.
Beit Tikva is located at 2230 Old Pecos Trail.
"Parking at Congregation Beit Tikva is somewhat limited, visitors may also park on the street on Calle Espejo, across Old Pecos Trail from the synagogue.” There will be “crossing guards” for that afternoon to help people cross Old Pecos safely—they’ll also be able to tell drivers when the Beit Tikva parking  lot is full and they need to park on Espejo.  

Batya Friedland as Rachel, Angelo Jaramillo as Miguel                       Tom Romero as Javier, Argos MacCallum as Reynaldo
photos from full production of Parted Waters, Teatro Paraguas, February 2010


In 1492, the Spanish monarchs decreed that all of the Jews in Spain would have to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Of the several hundred thousand Jews living in Spain, about half left into exile, where they could continue to practice their faith openly.  The other half remained and converted.  Five years later, the king of Portugal also issued an edict forcing the Jews in that country to convert.  Some of these conversos accepted baptism sincerely, but others converted in name only, while practicing their ancestral faith in secret.  Life became very difficult for these crypto-Jews, or secret Jews, as there developed within the Spanish Catholic Church an institution known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition.  The Inquisition had no jurisdiction over Jews, but as Catholics, these crypto-Jews were vulnerable to persecution.   

That same year, Christopher Columbus uncovered an entire “New World” for European eyes.  Among the thousands of immigrants to settle in Spain’s (and Portugal’s) American colonies were Iberian crypto-Jews.  There they could remain subjects of the monarchs of Spain and Portugal, living nominally at Catholics, but able to practice Judaism secretly away from the prying eyes of the inquisitors, initially, at least.  While inquisitorial persecution was a large “push” factor in emigrating from the Iberian Peninsula to the Americas, economic opportunity served as an important “pull” factor, as well.  Ultimately the Inquisition became established in the Spanish colonies, and sporadic campaigns against Mexican crypto-Jews in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries stimulated a migration of these people to the far northern frontier of Mexico, including New Mexico.  Inquisition trial records show clearly that not only could crypto-Jews be found among the New Mexico colonists in the mid-1600s, but more importantly, with few exceptions, their presence did not attract attention of the authorities. 

Today in New Mexico vestiges of this crypto-Jewish heritage can still be found among the Hispano community.  Some families retain only suggestive practices, disconnected from any consciousness of a Jewish past, such as the lighting of candles on Friday night, observance of the Sabbath on Saturday, refraining from eating pork products, and male infant circumcision (the practice of which can be traced back to the period prior to the 1930s and 1940s, when doctors were advising that this procedure be done for hygienic purposes).  In other cases, a knowledge of a Jewish past has been passed down through the generations down to the present.