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Published by Lilian Gafni

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Published by: Lilian Gafni on Jul 27, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Brewing Rebellion
Dusk had just set in on aFriday, the kerosene lampslit
up the windows in homes throughout the city, and the peopleinside washed before their nightly meal. A lone figure cautiouslyapproached the Juderia, the old Jewish quarter in Seville, lookingfurtively to see if anyone was in his path and checking that his crucifixwas well hidden. He was tall, approximately forty-five years old, withwhite hair and piercing green eyes that searched an alley only wideenough for one man to pass through in the descending darkness. He felta shiver when he entered the round Puerta de la Carne gate into the Juderia.He was uncomfortably aware that there was only one other gate bywhich to exit because the adjacent Royal Fortress walls, the Alcazarpalace wall, Ibarra Street, and the city wall hemmed in the Juderia’s Jewish quarters. He shivered again, remembering his father’s tale of massacres, of his great-uncles and great-grandparents being butchered.A hundred years ago on July 6, in 1391, the archdeacon of Écija incitedmobs to rush through both gates to prevent Jews from escaping, thenmurdered four thousand men, women, and children in their homes, intheir beds, and as they prayed in their synagogues.Deep in thought, he moved through the dark alleys of the Juderia litby torches attached to outer walls and arrived at a white-thatched house
at the end of a forked cobblestone street. Green hanging plantsdecorated the windows, and a small fountain added the sound of bubbling water. He tried to look through the windows, but they werecovered with black curtains. He knocked cautiously on the heavywooden door decorated with metal scrolls. After a long silence, thewindow curtains were pulled apart, and a pair of blue eyes peered athim. The door swung open, and he entered a red-brick courtyard.
Buenas noches
, Téresa,” he said to the red-haired woman who lethim in.
Buenas noches
, João.”“Are we safe here?” he asked.“I made sure everyone came here one by one after the streets werenearly empty. I also sent my children Miguel and José to stay withConchita, an old woman I trust.” She led him into the house through alow-ceilinged room and into a narrow hallway, then stopped at a closeddoor. The floor creaked as João followed her into a small bedroom to awoolen rug lying along the bedside. She lifted the rug and exposed atrapdoor. They both pulled it open and descended a narrow staircase toa small windowless, dimly lit room. Several men and women sittingaround a square pine table lifted their heads as he came in. He couldonly distinguish their chins and mouths; the rest of their faces were lostin darkness. Large burning candles flickered at each end of the table,filling the air with their paraffin smell.“Do you know everyone here, João?” she asked him. João shook his head, noticing that the assembly was made of 
with large crosses at their necks, and Jews wearing the redbadge on their sleeves. Téresa made the introductions. “Maria Donarojo,Alfonso Sabatin, and Hernán Çavallos, whom you already know. “Bothmen smiled as they acknowledged him, and Téresa continued. “PedroGrasin, Ester Castelan, Salamon Moresco, Ana Saraual, and BenvenideMatigoro.” They smiled at João and nodded when Téresa mentioned their names.“João will tell you all about our plan.” resa motioned to João toproceed.
to all of you for welcoming me into your assembly,” hebegan. He sat quietly with his head bent for a moment as if reflecting onwhat he was going to say next. Raising his head, he said, “TheInquisition has hounded us now for more than ten years, and there is norespite from the church and Torquemada.At the mention of  Torquemada and his cruelty, a chill fell on the room. João continued. “As you well know, it was in this same Jewish quarter
a hundred years ago that mobs ran through the Juderia and massacredthousands of us, killing fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. Wholefamilies disappeared. They butchered us. It was the hate-filled sermonsof the archdeacon of Écija, the Jew-hater, who incited the mobs. Nowthere are only a few dozen of us living here, the majority of the homeshaving been expropriated by the rest of the population.” He stopped,took a breath, and then went on. “What I would like to propose to you isa way out of this never-ending cycle of persecution.” The man called Alfonso laughed nervously. “What makes you thinkwe can find a way out? They’ve been persecuting and killing us forcenturies, and we haven’t been able to free ourselves from theirclutches.”“You are true to your words. I, too, haven’t been able also to escapetheir hate. I, too, spent years in prison . . .” He stopped hesitantly. Hewas glad that the darkened room hid his face distorted by hate and pain.“What do you intend to do?” asked Pedro.“There’s a rumor that a voyage is in the making by a Genoesevoyager. You also know that España and the monarchs are on the vergeof completing the Reconquista by invading Granada?” Everyone in theroom nodded. Their eyes hung on João’s face. Impatiently, Salamonurged, “Go on?”“As soon as the Reconquista is over, I intend to find passage to theIndies. Anyone, be it a converted Jew or unbaptized, can join me in thisventure. This could become a haven for all free men, and especially Jews,” said João.Alfonso, a Jew, asked, “How do you know if the port authorities wouldlet us go, and if it would be safe to travel the seas with pirates orstorms?”“I don’t have an answer as how you can leave the country, and haveno guaranties that we would be safe. But I can tell you this much. Wehave no assurance that staying in España is safe either. Unlike theunbaptized Jews”—with a respectful movement of his head, Joãoacknowledged the Jews in the assembly—“who have to wear the Jewishred badge on their shoulders that guarantees poverty because theGentiles ostracize them, some of us as Conversos have achieved astanding in the community. As Conversos, or converted Jews, we cantrade with anyone; we can hold properties and employment. Yet, we canlose that security at any time with the church’s constant suspicion of ourwhereabouts. To them, we’re still Jews, and they can punish us any timeas lapsed Christians. Tell me if this is the life you want. Who knows whenthey will start a new Inquisition against us?”

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