Soon, however, Carrasco and others grew reluctant to speak with outsiders. They complained that Ashkenazic Jews looked down on Spanish-speaking Sephardim. Synagogue congregations, the crypto-Jews said, were often suspicious and unfriendly. So were many reporters, who seemed skeptical about the claims. Researchers, too, seemed insensitive to these anusim -- an ancient Hebrew word meaning "people who have been forced," used for Jews made to abandon their religion. The word soon became the term of choice for the Southwest's crypto-Jews.
Some of these self-styled anusim came to conferences of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, and to presentations that Hordes gave at Haddassah socials, Hillel meetings, Jewish historical-society lectures, and Lion's Club luncheons. Among the other attendees at these events were elderly Ashkenazim whose East Coast, vaguely Yiddish-edged voices clashed with the remnant-Spanish accents of the anusim. Many of the attendees were retirees who had moved to the anti-allergenic deserts of Albuquerque and Phoenix. Some were on Elderhostel-style vacations from New York, New Jersey, and Florida. A few were members of Kulanu, a Jewish group dedicated to finding "lost" co-religionists in exotic places.
When Hordes gave talks at conferences or sat for media interviews, he refused to reveal the identities or whereabouts of his crypto-Jewish informants, citing the New Mexicans' discomfort. In his slide shows of gravestones with Stars of David, the names of the dead were blocked out, and Hordes would not say where the burial sites were located. Secrecy was necessary, he said, because anusim had been hurt by meddling outsiders. They also needed privacy to deal with family members who could not or would not admit their Judaism. Reporters and researchers accepted that they would not be doing their own fact-checking. Hordes and a handful of vocal and prickly anusim thus became the primary sources of information about southwestern crypto-Judaism.
Isabelle Sandoval and Juan Sandoval were among this handful. By the mid-1990s both had undergone a ceremony called the rite of return, performed for Jews who come back to Judaism after having been forced to give it up. (The rabbi who performed the ritual later officiated at the funeral of Barry Goldwater, another ancestral Jew whose family abandoned the faith -- though in this case by choice.) Isabelle Sandoval helped to found a support group for people who considered themselves crypto-Jews. She began appearing at conferences, where she would read poems she had written, in a high, didactic voice. The poems had confrontational titles ("Contemporary Inquisition" was one, "Trial" was another) and tortured, angry verses:
On the border I
bound by jaded
Jews judging my
their own justice....
On the outside
on the inside
Juan Sandoval reconceived his folk-art offerings. He scrapped his Native American and Christmas inventory and replaced it with hardened-clay menorahs and "chia" rabbis whose beards contained seeds that sprouted when watered. The new line sold well in Judaica gift shops, and Sandoval began supplementing his earnings with honoraria for lectures about his hidden past. In 1996 he spoke at the annual meeting of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, in Albuquerque, and was introduced by his new name: Yehoshuah ben Avraham. The audience listened raptly as he described how his father, a Catholic, had kidnapped him after learning that his grandmother was a secret Jew, and how, years later, when he discovered his roots, neighbors shot at his family and forced him to sell his property, which he said was worth $1 million, for only $65,000. Juan illustrated his story with a photograph of the family cemetery in Mora. In the center was a gravestone with a Star of David.