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New Mexico's Crypto-Jews

Image and Memory
Photographs by Cary Herz

Details

Overview

While photographing the Congregation Montefiore Cemetery in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1985, Cary Herz first heard whispers about "the other people." Thus began a twenty-year search for descendants of crypto-Jews, the Sephardic Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions centuries ago. Many openly professed Catholicism, but continued to practice the Jewish faith privately.

Herz's photographs and the accompanying essays honor the people whose ancestors, through families' oral histories and genealogical records, knew about their heritage. Other New Mexican Hispanics have recently begun to explore their families' customs and are only beginning to examine their possible blended lineage. To help complete her exploration, Herz sought out symbols--gravesites, artifacts, and icons--that might point toward the presence of the descendants of crypto-Jews who came to the New World. There has recently been a renewed interest in crypto-Jews, as DNA tests have revealed the Jewish heritage of a number of Hispanic New Mexicans.

Contributor Bios
Cary Herz, 1947-2008, was an award-winning professional photographer specializing in corporate and editorial photography. She was a New Mexico photo correspondent for the New York Times and worked with a variety of editorial clients, including TIME, PC World, People, Ms., Garden Design, Hispanic Business, The Discovery Channel, The Dallas Morning News, and The Houston Chronicle's Texas Magazine.
Mona Hernandez, a descendant of crypto-Jews, resides in Santa Clara County, California.
Ori Z. Soltes is a professorial lecturer in theology and art history, Georgetown University.