The impressive library of Casa Shalom , the Institute for Studies of Marranos-Anusim has now opened at its new home in the Netanya Academic College in Israel, where it forms an integral part of the International Institute for the Study of the Secret Jews.
The move to the new site at the College reflects the growing importance that research in this area is acquiring among scholars. Undoubtedly, the new and modern facilities will enable many people to access valuable, and often rare, sources of information. It is supported by beneficiaries that include researchers as well as private individuals who discovered their own family roots. But for Gloria Mound, founder of Casa Shalom and specialist in the field of crypto-Jewish studies, it is much more than that - it is the realization of a dream.
The NYR editorial team visited the new library to talk with Gloria Mound, for whom history was always a favorite subject at school while growing up in London. Little did she know then that this would lead to decades of research and a life-long devotion to the crypto-Jewish cause.
Gloria's first contact with the subject of the Marranos was through a chance encounter with the book "The Sephardim of England" by Albert M. Hyamson on a dusty shelf in a Jewish bookstore. Sometime later she again found herself face to face with this issue while vacationing in Ibiza (Spain) with her late husband Leslie; locals who befriended the couple became surprisingly inquisitive after they learned that Gloria and Leslie were Jewish and that their children lived in Israel.
It was 1973. The Mounds, who had a business of importing "kosher" products (food prepared according to the precepts of the Jewish religion), struck up a friendship with the owner of a candy factory on the island, which they were visiting as tourists. The factory owner whose surname was Cortez had discovered that he himself was of Jewish origin.
As the friendship strengthened, Gloria and Leslie Mound had the opportunity to meet other crypto Jews , introduced to them by Mr. Cortez. The fact that the secret Jews of Ibiza refused to talk openly with "strangers" about their origins only increased the curiosity of the Mounds, who were soon to become tenacious researchers into this long-neglected aspect of Jewish history. Although they had planned to immigrate to Israel, they decided to delay this step in order to relocate to Ibiza for one year, which in the end turned into three years.
Early on in her study of the Anusim, Gloria was able to trace her own husband's Sephardic family tree back to the year 1556 in England and 1391 in Spain. Other findings include a 14th Century Megillat (Book of) Esther and a secret synagogue hidden under the kitchen floorboards of a family house on the island of Formentera. She uncovered evidence of Jews on the Balearic Islands dating all the way back to 1492. Her extensive research has earned her a Senior Research Fellowship from Glasgow University in Scotland renewed every year since 1988.
What began as purely academic research progressed over the years into providing personal advice, guidance and assistance to Anusim engaged in their personal journeys of discovery and return to their Jewish heritage. When asked how descendants of the Conversos from all over the world knew to contact her for assistance, Gloria talks about the "intricate and successful grapevine that exists even today among the various Marrano communities".
When asked about the difficulties her organization has needed to overcome, Gloria recounts the measures she must implement to protect against "the many Messianic groups constantly trying to infiltrate my organization using devious means".
In looking back at her accomplishments, Gloria summarizes: " I have been exceptionally lucky that even though I didn’t go through orthodox channels of learning I have received so much recognition. I hope Academia will wake up to this subject and enable us to help more and more people".
Mrs. Mound shows no signs of easing up on her efforts. In fact, research has already begun into the history of St. Augustine in Florida, the oldest city in the United States, where peculiar family customs have led to revelations about the Jewish roots of the city's founders. Another topic under study is that of the Jewish roots of the Huguenots who settled in Ireland. Yet two more milestones on a very long road…