The Dona Gracia Project

Commemorating a Remarkable Jewish Woman

Congregation B'nai Zion in El Paso, TX, (visit its website) where Rabbi Stephen A. Leon hopes to create a learning center, named after Dona Gracia, to assist contemporary conversos planning to return to the Jewish world.


Learning Jewish rituals

Learning basic Hebrew

Understanding the prayers

Learning their history

Finding rabbis who understand their needs

Finding congregations that have others who have also returned

Understanding the process of return

Learning materials for conversos preparing to return to Judaism

Helping conversos return to Judaism - an important task facing Dona Gracia that is still with us today.

In December, 2009, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism (see USCJ website) passed a resolution encouraging member congregations to provide programs that would enable them to learn about the history and issues facing the b’nai anousim, hundreds of whom now wish to return to Judaism. These are the descendents of the forced converts from the 15-16th centuries, many of whom live in the southwest of the United States, Mexico, Southern Italy and South America.

To this end, we propose creating learning/​curriculum materials that could be used as text-based lessons for adult education programming, and for older students (grade six and above) in their Hebrew schools. Two different packages would therefore be developed: one for the returning conversos and another for the Hebrew school students.

The adult education portion would serve to educate the b’nai anousim themselves about their own past – which is also a need that has not yet been met. And it would include some basic fundementals about living a Jewish life.

These materials would be created as four-part mini courses, each session lasting one to one and a half hours. They would contain the basic history of conversos that would include the customs, rituals, personalities, and issues covering the unique history of these people; with the one for the returning conversos also covering the background of the prayers, rituals, festivals and the like.

In particular we would include a session on the life and mission of Dona Gracia Nasi, arguably the leading personality of the b’nai anousim, whose original sixteenth century leadership, assistance in saving the lives of hundreds of them and returning them to the Jewish fold, plus her attempt to create a modern state of Israel, is an inspiration for conversos today.

Also included would be handouts for further discussion, activities for the students, and illustrations offered in PowerPoint format that could be projected onto a screen, or included in tht texts to keep them lively and inter-active.

There would also be a (regularly updated) resource list of speakers, films and events that congregations could use to develop special events. These would offered as fee-based downloads in pdf format (for easier and less-costly distribution). But they could also be offered in printed form, as booklets, if extra funds were available.

The creation of the packages would be led, written and produced by Andrée Aelion Brooks, an author, journalist, lecturer and educator ( Brooks has created a successful package of learning materials for children that are now in use in over 600 schools nationwide ( . She has also taught mini-courses on the topic, most recently at the Jewish Community Center of the Upper West Side in New York City.

A prior discussion with a director at USCJ, suggests these could be promoted, in part, through their central office and would be welcomed by members. They could also be promoted and offered to Reform and Orthodox congregations as well. However, to keep the price of the packages as a low as possible, and thus make them attractive, funding would be needed to cover the actual production costs.

To disuss the budget, contributions and details,
contact Harriet Porto:

How to reach us?

Upcoming Events
July 5 - 11
A session on Dona Gracia will be part of a week-long program studying Jews in the Renaissance. Berkshire Hills Adult Vacation Center, Copake, N.Y.
August 3 - 5
Ninth annual conference of anousim/conversos. Congregation B'nai Zion, El Paso, TX. Details contact Sonya Loya,
Numerous programs for Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, at the Hotel Elegante, Albuquerque, N.M. Contact Sonya for dates and details at: Email: