Friday, December 10, 2004

Jewish Hispanics?

Apparently some Latinos are descended from Sephardic Jews:

As a boy, Father William Sanchez sensed he was different. His Catholic family spun tops on Christmas, shunned pork and whispered of a past in medieval Spain. If anyone knew the secret, they weren't telling, and Sanchez stopped asking.

Then three years ago, after watching a program on genealogy, Sanchez sent for a DNA kit that could help track a person's background through genetic footprinting. He soon got a call from Bennett Greenspan, owner of the Houston-based testing company.

"He said, 'Did you know you were Jewish?' " Sanchez, 53, recalled. "He told me I was a Cohanim, a member of the priestly class descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses."

With the revelation that Sanchez was almost certainly one of New Mexico's hidden or crypto-Jews, his family traditions made sense to him.

He launched a DNA project to test his relatives, along with some of the parishioners at Albuquerque's St. Edwin's Church, where he works. As word got out, others in the community began contacting him. So Sanchez expanded the effort to include Latinos throughout the state.

Of the 78 people tested, 30 are positive for the marker of the Cohanim, whose genetic line remains strong because they rarely married non-Jews throughout a history spanning up to 4,000 years.

Michael Hammer, a research professor at the University of Arizona and an expert on Jewish genetics, said that fewer than 1% of non-Jews possessed this marker. That fact — along with the traditions in many of these families — makes it likely that they are Jewish, he said.

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