Crypto-Judaic Studies

The visitor made a most unusual request...How the Crypto Jews of El Paso Transformed My Work

March 1, 2007

written by Rabbi Stephen A. Leon, HaLapid, Spring 2007

I will never forget her wrinkled, glistening elderly eyes. It was a beautiful spring day in 2001 and my secretary informed me that there were three people who had just rushed into the Synagogue and insisted on seeing me immediately. I invited the three strangers to come in and asked them to please be seated. The elderly woman sat directly in front of me, while the middle-aged couple sat behind her. The younger woman told me that she was the daughter of the older woman who was in her mid-eighties and that she and her husband had taken “Mom” from Los Angeles to San Antonio by car because her mother didn’t like to fly. She also informed me that her mom was suffering from a terminal illness and didn’t have long to live, perhaps two or three months.

They had gone to San Antonio to attend the college graduation of her son. On the way home to Los Angeles, as they approached El Paso, Mother insisted that they get off the next exit and find a synagogue and a rabbi. Since all three were Catholics, the daughter could not understand her mother’s urgent request. Coincidentally, they exited the highway at Exit 13 “Sunland Park” on Interstate 10, which is the closest exit to my synagogue. The old woman smiled and looked deeply into my eyes. She told me—and her daughter and son-in-law for the first time—the following story: