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Jewish Role in Establishing Free Public Education “Grabs” St. Johns County Commission!


Left to Right: Commissioners Cyndi Stevenson, Bill McClure, Rachel L. Bennett, Jay Morris, Ronald F. Sanchez, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, Moises Sztylerman, Carl Lindenfeld, Esta Lindenfeld 


Left to Right: Commissioners Cyndi Stevenson, Bill McClure, Rachel L. Bennett, Jay Morris, Ronald F. Sanchez, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, Moises Sztylerman, Carl Lindenfeld, Esta Lindenfel


Left to Right: Commissioners Cyndi Stevenson, Bill McClure, Rachel L. Bennett, Jay Morris, Ronald F. Sanchez, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, Moises Sztylerman, Carl Lindenfeld, Esta Lindenfeld 


Left to Right: Commissioners Cyndi Stevenson, Bill McClure, SAJHS Members  Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, Moises Sztylerman, Carl Lindenfeld, Esta Lindenfeld, Commisioners Rachel L. Bennett, Jay Morris, Ronald F. Sanchez, 

dsc_0273 Left to Right: Commissioners Cyndi Stevenson, Bill McClure, SAJHS Members  Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, Moises Sztylerman, Carl Lindenfeld, Esta Lindenfeld, Commisioners Rachel L. Bennett, Jay Morris, Ronald F. Sanchez, 

St. Johns County Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson was charged with reading the motion of the Board proclaiming “St. Johns County Jewish History Month” but could not finish without stopping to express heartfelt gratitude for the role played by Jews in 1831, led by St. Augustine’s Moses Elias Levy, in the establishment of free public education in the nation’s oldest city, a model to be followed throughout the United States.  In the midst of nearly a dozen paragraphs, each beginning with a “whereas,” Commissioner Stevenson read

Whereas, Beginning in January 1831, Moses Elias Levy, a Sephardic Jew born in Morocco served as a founding Vice-President of the Florida Educational Society to promote the educational welfare and establish a general system of instruction including at the society’s most significant St. Augustine Branch, bringing, by December 1831, 569 St. Johns County residents under the age of 15 into a system of free public education.” 

At this point, Commissioner Stevenson, a Certified Public Accountant who, until recently, served as comptroller for the Children’s Home Society of Florida, stopped to express gratitude to St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society, sponsors of the proclamation, for reminding the community that public education is the foundation of modern democracy and for reminding all St. Johns citizens of the role of Jews in establishing what has become a highly-rated and well-regarded system of public schools. 

Moses Levy, although much travelled, lived for nearly 40 years in St. Augustine and is but one of the reasons the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society labors to revive the Jewish history of North America’s oldest European City.


Miami’s Jewish Museum of Florida Turns to St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society to Kick Off Florida Jewish History Month


Left to Right, St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society Board Members Moises Sztylerman, Merrill Shapiro and Carl Lindenfeld

In recent years, the Jewish Museum of Florida has inaugurated Florida Jewish History Month by saluting “Florida Jews in the Military” or studying “Florida Jews of Polish Descent.”  This year, the kick-off featured leadership of the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society as a central part of a presentation exploring the question “Could Jews, as Conversos/Crypto-Jews, have been living in St. Augustine in the 16th Century?” 

Historical Society President Rabbi Merrill Shapiro along with Treasurer/Researcher Carl Lindenfeld addressed a group of 60 attendees including an academic committee from Florida International University and the University of Miami, laying out the evidence with which the St. Augustine group is working.  Suitably impressed, the attendees heard of progress being made identifying family names from among St. Augustine’s early settlers and the making of comparisons with lists of known Marrano last names.  Evidence was presented in the form of records of the voyage to Florida by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who, after registering a completed passenger manifest, under cover of nightfall and from a remote peninsula, took on an additional 150-300 “undocumented” passengers.  The dates of Menendez’ landing in Florida with an otherwise unexplained delay to allow for the passage of Yom Kippur 1565 and the naming, upon landing, of the mission as “Nombre de Dios” literally “The Name of God” on the days following the Yom Kippur commemoration of the pronouncing of the “The Name of God” by the High Priest in ancient times were also discussed.  Finally, an examination of the burial practices uncovered by archaeologists at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park coupled with the understanding of the Spanish colonialists that the native Americans buried there were of the so-called “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel” left everyone with a great deal of food for thought. 

Some discussion ensued about the Museum’s representations that there were no Jews in Florida until the arrival of the British in 1763.  This reflects the understanding of the National  Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia and other sources that make no mention of the significance of even a muted Jewish existence of any sort in Northeast Florida prior to early nineteenth century. 

Seen as an essential role of the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society, making the importance of our region in the context of the history of American Jewry known, is one of the very reasons, the Society came into existence.  “In such areas as early Jewish settlement through the early history of American Public Education and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Northeast Florida rarely seems to be mentioned,” says Rabbi Shapiro.  “If we don’t speak up now, the future of our past is doomed!” 

SAJHS Adds “Jewish Component” To 447th Anniversary Of The Founding of St. Augustine!

Carl Lindenfeld with Pre-Columbian Arrowhead

Moises Sztylerman at SAAA Dig

Anniversary celebrations of the founding of the first European city in what would become the United States of America, have long had major Catholic components. After all, the founding of St. Augustine, Florida was celebrated with the first Catholic Mass on soil that would become the USA. The founders came to advance Catholicism in North America. Catholic clergy were important leaders of the enterprise that was begun by Pedro Menendez de Aviles on September 8, 1565 in establishing a Spanish presence on continental North America.
The St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society, SAJHS, hopes to make the 447th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine a little bit different from the previous 446 celebrations by noting the possibility, and some suggest the likelihood, that this is also the 447th anniversary of the first Jews/Marranos/Crypto-Jews/Conversos/New Christians arriving and settling in what was to become the United States!

SAJHS will hold a special program on from 4 p.m. until 5 p.m. Thursday, September 6th open to the public on the eve of the larger celebration. September 8th, the actual date of the anniversary falls, this year, on Shabbat. Thus the 60 minute SAJHS program, that will include a tour of the latest archaeological sites presented by the St. Augustine Archaeological Association’s Carl Lindenfeld and Moises Sztylerman, will be held at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, 11 Magnolia Avenue, St. Augustine, 7 tenths of a mile north of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, on Thursday, September 6th . All are welcome to attend; this event is open to the public. The entry fees to the Park are published at and range from no cost for St. Johns County residents to $12 for those who are not residents of St. Johns County. Seniors (over 60), students, children, active military and AAA members receive special rates. Further information about this event is available at 904-797-6770. When you enter the Archaeological Park you will be setting foot on the place where U.S. history began!

Lindenfeld and Sztylerman, Directors of the St. Augustine Archaeological Society, SAAA, are among those who actively dig at archaeological sites around St. Augustine in the quest to understand the past of the United States’ first European city. Their advanced knowledge provides some of the clues to the puzzle over whether or not Jews first came to the First Coast as early as 1565.

The SAAA was established in 1985 by professional and avocational archaeologists – as well as other interested community members – to encourage wider participation in documenting and preserving our area’s unique history. The SAAA helps professional archaeologists in area excavations and assists in the analysis of recovered material from the prehistoric period to the recent past. The Association also offers monthly public lectures concerning local, national and international topics and organizes member field trips to archaeological and historic sites. SAAA and publishes a quarterly newsletter that highlights recent excavations or research carried out in Northeast Florida and offers educational outreach to schools, community and civic groups. SAAA members range from professional to avocational and even “armchair” archaeologists – anyone who shares an interest in (and a respect for) the people who first settled the area. The SAAA, a not-for-profit organization, is the regional chapter of the Florida Anthropological Society.

All are welcome to join in marking what may be the 447th anniversary of the settlement of Jews on continental North America.

The Genetic Legacy of Jewish Catholics

Moment magazine home SCIENCE WATCH

July/August 2012

The Genetic Legacy of Jewish Catholics

When Francesc Calafell, a geneticist at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, first began swabbing cheeks as part of an effort to study the genetic makeup of men across the Iberian Peninsula, the project was purely an academic exercise. Together with a team of researchers across Europe, he published a 2008 paper in a well-respected journal, the findings of which surprised everyone, himself included: 20 percent of Catholic men in Spain and Portugal had Y chromosomes that indicated they were of Sephardic Jewish ancestry. “We expected very low numbers because of the pogroms in the 14th century and then the expulsion,” Calafell says, referring to the Spanish Inquisition, which resulted in mass forced conversion and displacement of Jews. “And yet even though ethnically and religiously the Jewish legacy vanished some time ago, it seems that the Jewish genetic legacy in Spain has persisted.”

The results were even more surprising for personal reasons: Calafell’s own Y chromosome indicated that he likely has Jewish ancestors. “It’s a relatively small percentage of my ancestry, but it definitely made me curious,” says Calafell, who was raised Catholic.

Calafell is hardly an anomaly. At the time of the expulsion of 1492, Sephardi Jewry comprised the vast majority of world Jewry, totaling about 400,000 people. “These people didn’t just die,” says Jon Entine, author ofAbraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of The Chosen People. Their descendants are alive and well today, where they live in considerable numbers across Spain, Portugal, Italy and in large concentrations in what was then hailed as the New World, where many fled in hopes of practicing their faith.

“It’s impossible to say how many people are descendants of Jews, but there are a lot of Catholics running around who have Jewish descent,” says Bennett Greenspan, president and CEO of Family Tree DNA, a genetic testing service. “Certainly, the number of people of Jewish descent is much larger than the number of Jews today.” He says that some estimates put this number as high as 10 million in Brazil alone.

The advent of accessible and affordable genetic testing has buttressed claims of Jewish ancestry, once solely based on anecdotal evidence such as family traditions of lighting candles on Friday night, refraining from eating pork or covering mirrors after someone dies. “Anyone can go online and for about $130 find out a lot of things you want to know—and maybe some things you don’t want to know—about who your ancestors are,” says Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, which sends emissaries throughout the world to seek out “lost Jews” who may be descendants of Jewish victims of persecution, exile and forced conversion, with the hopes of returning them to the Jewish community. “There are a lot more of us out there than we realize,” he adds.

With Shavei Israel’s help, members of a community in Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain, have returned to the Jewish fold. The group, known as the Chueta, long held that its ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism in the 15th century. Genetic analysis confirmed this, leading to official recognition. Last year, Rabbi Nissim Karlewitz, a noted ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Israel, recognized them as Jews, says Freund, allowing them to sidestep a full conversion process.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello hopes to test Italians with possible Jewish roots in Calabria, a hilly region in the toe of Italy’s boot to which Spanish and Portuguese Jews fled, only to face an imported Inquisition. Aiello, who now runs the Italian Jewish Cultural Center in Calabria, was raised as a Catholic in Pittsburgh, but her father, an immigrant from the region, had Jewish roots. As a child, she remembers him looking for three stars at nightfall and saying, “Baruch, baruch, baruch.” On his deathbed, he made her promise that her daughter, his granddaughter, “would not be lost to the Jewish people.” Aiello organizes Shabbat retreats and revives traditions such as Hamishi seder, a crypto-Jewish Passover gathering that was celebrated on the fifth night, rather than first, when it was less likely to be noticed. “We’re all bnei anusim [children of forced conversion] and we had our roots stolen from us,” she says. “There are Jews like me across Italy, and it’s my goal to re-sew them into the tapestry of the Jewish people.”

Increasing numbers of people are taking advantage of testing to expand their knowledge of their family backgrounds. “I can’t explain it, but I can tell you there’s a lot of interest—all the way from a general curiosity [about Judaism] to ‘I want to fight in the Israeli army’ to everything in between,” says Greenspan. At a time of growing secularism and the declining hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, having Jewish “blood” is seen as a positive rather than a social risk. Freund attributes this to a postmodern need to reconnect with tribalism. “We want to—we need to—identify with people other than ourselves,” he says.

Not everyone who discovers more about his or her past through molecular analysis in a petri dish feels a call to return to the ancestral faith. Calafell, for one, has no intention of converting but welcomes this additional knowledge about his heritage. “DNA is like a ouija board,” says Entine. “People read into it whatever they want. For some, it affirms their identity as a Jew, and for others, it’s just an interesting mosaic, another way to understand human identity. The meaningfulness is somewhat arbitrary. Identity is something we choose. It’s not imposed on us by our DNA.”

Original found at

SAJHS Membership Form

St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society-SAJHS

Membership Form

Thank You, for considering joining. We are embarking on a quest to change Jewish

American History in the United States. Our membership is open and all are welcome.

Please review our SAJHS Mission Statement:

Educate our community about the significance and meaning of Marranos, Conversos,Crypto-Jews,

New Christians and how their existence in Spain, five centuries ago, impacts us today.

Explore and investigate the plausibility and possibility that the first Jews in what would become

the United States of America, came ashore here in St. Augustine, Florida.
Educate others about the role Jews played in the founding of St. Augustine the development of

the community as a whole and to represent Jewish interests in the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine.
Educate the community about the role of Jews in the founding of St. Augustine with the objective

of rewriting conventional Jewish history that currently claims that the first Jews came to what

would become the U. S. A. during the first week of September, 1654 at New Amsterdam (later, New York City) and

To promote greater understanding and knowledge of Jewish history in St. Augustine within a broad context.

Annual Dues (check, cash, money order): $9.00 Students and Seniors 55+, $18.00 Individuals,

$36.00 Families (per household) payable to SAJHS


Mail form/payment to: SAJHS, % Carol Rovinsky, 146 Creekside Drive, St. Augustine, Fl. 32086


Please print clearly.   DATE: ___________

NAME: _________________________________________________________________

ADDRESS: ______________________________________________________________

CITY, STATE, Zip: ________________________________________________________

PHONE: ________________________ PHONE: _______________________

EMAIL ADDRESS: ______________________________________________

An area/skill where I would like to contribute to the Society is: _____________________


Thank You,

SAJHS Board of Directors

Visit us on the Web:


Reading Names Into the Night

ImageImageImageImageDozens of area residents gathered on the eve of the internationally recognized Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, in the Gazebo on the campus of Flagler College to read the names of victims of the evil that befell European Jewry from 1933 through the conclusion of World War II in May, 1945.  Thousands of names were read from lists provided by Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel in a program created in a partnership between International B’nai Brith and the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society called “Unto Every Person There Is A Name.”

Since 1989 on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, B’nai B’rith International has been the North American sponsor of “Unto Every Person, There Is a Name” ceremonies.

Participants name the victims and where and when they were born and died. The ceremonies occur on the 27th day of the month of Nissan on the Jewish calendar. These observances, created by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, honor more victims each year, as the project collects more names.

Reading of names of victims at public ceremonies around the world, give these victims an identity that has been lost forever.

Ceremonies during which names of Holocaust victims are recited, together with such information as age, place of birth and place of death, personalize the tragedy of the Holocaust. Emphasis is thus put on the millions of men, women and children who were lost to the Jewish people and not solely on the cold, intangibility embodied in the term “The Six Million.”

Through the recitation of individual names of victims of the Nazi genocide, “Unto Every Person There Is A Name” Yom Hashoah ceremonies help to educate and influence young people. Many have not met a survivor of the Holocaust and heard the personal experience of those who choose to share their experience to educate the youth of today. This program is also an effective tool to counter the efforts of Holocaust deniers who seek to convince the world that the Holocaust never occurred. It also serves to perpetuate the memory and respond to those who say that we should close this chapter in history.

The Holocaust is a tragedy whose size defies comprehension: Six million Jews were killed. One and half million children. Billions of dollars in property were confiscated. Tens of thousands of books were destroyed. Thousand of Jewish communities were obliterated – forever.

“Unto Every Person There is a Name” gives names back to those who were stripped of their identities before they were robbed of their lives. By reciting their names, ages and birthplaces, we remember that each victim was an individual, a son or daughter, a sister or brother, a child or a parent. Each had hopes and dreams and, like all people, each clung to life. On Yom Hashoah, B’nai B’rith members throughout the world read some of the names of the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust. Murdered, systematically and brutally, because they were born Jewish. We also recall non-Jews murdered because they, too, did not fit into Hitler’s perverse vision.

Yom HaShoah Holocaust Memorial, Wednesday April 18th-7 p.m.

Site of April 18, 2012 Yom HaShoah Holocaust Commemoration

The Flagler College Gazebo on the West Lawn, site of the Yom HaShoah Holocaust Memorial, April 18, 2012

Since 1989 on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, B’nai B’rith International has been the North American sponsor of “Unto Every Person, There Is a Name” ceremonies, including the commemoration planned by the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society on Wednesday, April 18th at 7 p.m. in the Flagler College Gazebo.Participants name the victims and where and when they were born and died. The ceremonies occur on the 27th day of the month of Nissan on the Jewish calendar. These observances, created by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, honor more victims each year, as the project collects more names.

The campaign to collect names of victims is especially important. This year Yad Vashem, the Jewish National Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem reports that the name recovery project has now reached the watershed mark of 4 million names. The victims are memorialized on Pages of Testimony.

Reading of names of victims at public ceremonies give these victims an identity that
has been lost forever.

Yad Vashem is making a major push to try to find 1 million additional names (there is no expectation of finding all 6 million). In some countries, Yad Vashem has encountered resistance to opening national and local archives to allow experts to sift through records for names.

Efforts will be made this year to have a survivor present personal testimony and talk about the importance of keeping the memory alive. This is also an opportunity to connect the second and third generation of survivors.

B’nai B’rith International through its Center for Jewish Identity and its World Center in Jerusalem is proud to be the North American sponsor of the program on behalf of Yad Vashem.  B’nai B’rith sponsorship is made possible by the generous support of Kurt and Tessye (of blessed memory) Simon. The St, Augustine Jewish Historical Society is proud to be the local partner in this international effort.

These community events are held in public locations such as parks, government buildings, and at synagogues and Jewish community centers and college and university campuses. Communities are encouraged to add the Unto Every Person program to Yom Hashoah observances.


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