The Inspiration for In Freedom’s Light
Three years ago, at a dinner party I’d attended somewhat reluctantly, I found myself seated next to a delightful young woman who, in the course of our conversation, mentioned that she had just received her results from a DNA testing company. Given her Catholic family’s long history as residents of Charleston, South Carolina, she revealed how surprised she was to learn that she was six percent Iberian and one percent Eastern European Jewish.
Intrigued, I asked her if any of her family members remembered a Jewish relative. She thought for a moment, then responded that her father had a great aunt on his mother’s side of the family who lit candles on Friday nights, and who would not eat pork, but no one, including the great aunt, knew why. The elderly woman could only explain that she performed the ritual of the Sabbath candles and did not eat pork because they were family traditions observed by her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and aunts.
I was fascinated by the fact that my young dinner companion had no idea that she most likely had ancestors who were Spanish or Portuguese conversos— descendants of Sephardic Jews who were forced to renounce their faith during the Spanish Inquisition, but who continued to practice Judaism in secret. I was especially struck by her family’s continuation of traditions out of respect for previous generations. That night the seed was planted for what would become In Freedom’s Light.