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Academic studies unearth author’s family roots

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Isabelle Medina Sandoval remembers enjoying her studies for her three academic degrees, but she was really into researching her identity.

She found out that she was of Crypto-Jewish heritage, a reference to Jews of medieval Spain who were forced to convert to Catholicism. Some fled, ending up in New Mexico and secretly keeping Jewish traditions.

Born and raised in Laramie, Wyo., Medina Sandoval spent time visiting family in New Mexico.

“Hidden Shabbat, The Secret Lives of Crypto-Jews” by Isabelle Medina Sandoval
Gaon Books, $18.95, 193 pp.

“When I was a little girl my grandfather in Mora told me cuentos. … I wondered who we were and where we came from,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Santa Fe.

Her new historical novel, “Hidden Shabbat,” grew out of years of genealogical research, her conversations with family members and the research by historians Stan Hordes and David Gitlitz on conversos, or Crypto-Jews.

“The way I wrote my books is based on the traditions I observed in my family and worked backwards (in time), the lighting of candles on Friday night, observing sábado or the sabbath, how the house is kept clean for shabbat, the sweeping of the corners of the floors to the center, not to dirty the mezuzah,” Medina Sandoval said.

The mezuzah is a small parchment inside a case that’s placed on the doorposts of Jewish homes. The scroll quotes two paragraphs from Deuteronomy. Shabbat is Hebrew for the sabbath.

Medina Sandoval received a bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree in reading and a doctorate in education administration.

“Those (studies) were interesting, but it’s never been like the impetus I’ve had for learning more about my own identity,” she said.

She has been a bilingual coordinator for the Santa Fe Public Schools for about 10 years.

Medina Sandoval said the state adopted her first book, “Guardians of Hidden Traditions,” as a supplemental text for New Mexico history.

Isabelle Medina Sandoval gives a talk at 7 p.m. Monday, July 23, at the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies conference, Hotel Albuquerque, 800 Rio Grande NW. The conference is today through Tuesday, July 24. For information on conference events visit