CNN.com has a story on Moshe and Chanaleah Nunez, Latin American-born Jews who are now part of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Moshe (born in Guadalajara, Mexico) and Chanaleah (born in Panama) both grew up in Christian homes—those aren’t their given names—and later determined that their respective ancestors were crypto-Jews who had converted to Christianity after the Spanish Inquisition but kept some Jewish traditions alive. Later, they met, married, and underwent an Orthodox conversion in the United States. Now, they and their two children live in Crown Heights where, Moshe told CNN, they aren’t the only Spanish-speaking Hasidim around: “There are a lot of Latin American Jews here. Some of them have moved from countries like Venezuela, Colombia, and Argentina, where there’s political unrest.” Interestingly, he—and the story’s reporter—consistently use the term “Latin American Jews” or speak of “Hasidic families in the neighborhood [who] are also Latinos.” There are plenty of Latino Jews out there, and typically they’re described with the term “Sephardic.” The word might be absent from the story simply because CNN didn’t want to use a term a general audience might not know, but it does raise an interesting point: if you grew up Christian and converted to a sect with roots in Eastern Europe, but your putative ancestors were Jewish, it really confounds that already-confusing term.
Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.