Conference to highlight role of Spanish-descendant Jews

By Staff

The historic contributions of Jews to the American Southwest will be the subject of a two-day conference at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs on March 10 and 11.

The Sephardic Memory and Movement Conference will highlight the history of Sephardic Jews, a sect of Judaism that traces its roots to Spain. Following their expulsion from Spain, many Sephardic Jews found their way to other countries, including the settlement of the Southwestern United States, Latin America and North Africa.

All events are open to campus and greater Colorado Springs community members. A full list of presentations and registration information is available at

"Prior to their expulsion from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews had tremendous cultural, religious intellectual and political influence in the Iberian Peninsula," said Roger Martinez, assistant professor in the department of history and organizer of the conference. "In fact, many Jewish noble families that chose conversion would even serve as bishops in the Catholic Church and as key royal advisers during the 15th century.

"Other Jewish families that remained dedicated to their faith did not fare well, but even though the Edict of Expulsion forced Jews to flee or convert, it did not eliminate their culture. Instead Jewish identity morphed and concealed itself both in Spain and the New World. Resolutely, over the course of several hundred years they retained their faith as crypto-Jews and their descendants now live among us in New Mexico and southern Colorado."

Local and international experts will share information about the contributions of Sephardic Jews including music and art. Discussions of contemporary issues such as Latino and Jewish relations in Colorado also are planned.

Martinez will offer opening remarks and a brief introduction to the conference beginning at 6 p.m. March 10 at the Kraemer Family Library. A panel discussion about contemporary Latino and Jewish relations in Colorado will follow and will be lead by Seth Ward, a lecturer in Islamic and Judaic studies at the University of Wyoming.

At 7:30 p.m. in the Centennial Hall Auditorium, a musical performance by Vanessa Paloma, and the UCCS department of music is planned. Paloma, who will perform medieval Sephardic music, will be accompanied by Abe Minzer, instructor from the department of music.

To see a video of Paloma, visit

Friday will feature a full day of activities at the Lodge highlighted by a 12:30 p.m. address by Seth Kunin, author of "Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity Among the Crypto Jews" and pro-vice chancellor for arts and humanities at the University of Durham, England.

An interview with Kunin is available at

Funding for the event was provided by the CU President's Fund for the Humanities and the Diversity and Excellence grants.