Jewish Studies and Photography

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New Mexico's Crypto-Jews: Image and Memory

Photographs by Cary Herz

While photographing the Congregation Montefiore Cemetery in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1985, Cary Herz first heard whispers about "the other people." Thus began a twenty-year search for descendants of crypto-Jews, the Sephardic Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions centuries ago. Many openly professed Catholicism, but continued to practice the Jewish faith privately.

Herz's photographs and the accompanying essays honor the people whose ancestors, through families' oral histories and genealogical records, knew about their heritage. Other New Mexican Hispanics have recently begun to explore their families' customs and are only beginning to examine their possible blended lineage. To help complete her exploration, Herz sought out symbols--gravesites, artifacts, and icons--that might point toward the presence of the descendants of crypto-Jews who came to the New World. There has recently been a renewed interest in crypto-Jews, as DNA tests have revealed the Jewish heritage of a number of Hispanic New Mexicans.


Cary Herz, 1947-2008, was an award-winning professional photographer specializing in corporate and editorial photography. She was a New Mexico photo correspondent for the New York Times and worked with a variety of editorial clients, including TIME, PC World, People, Ms., Garden Design, Hispanic Business, The Discovery Channel, The Dallas Morning News, and The Houston Chronicle's Texas Magazine.

Mona Hernandez, a descendant of crypto-Jews, resides in Santa Clara County, California.

Ori Z. Soltes is a professorial lecturer in theology and art history, Georgetown University.


"(A) compelling book of photos. . . ."



"(A) fascinating book . . . handsome and empowering. . . ."


Bloomsbury Review

". . . New Mexico's Crypto-Jews is a work that merits a special place on every bookshelf of New Mexico history."


La Herencia

"The photographs and essays herein exhibit the strength, passion, and devotion that move the pride of Jews throughout the world."


Jewish Book World

"If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Herz's photos speak volumes on a neglected and shadowy aspect of New Mexican history. Her book is a visual feast that will be of interest to specialists and general readers alike."


Catholic Southwest

"In New Mexico's Crypto-Jews, Herz has accomplished her goal: 'to put a face on the invisible ones, the Anusim, to open a small window into their world, to show their pride and diversity.'"


Hadassah Magazine

"As a chronicle of recorded memories ( New Mexico's Crypto-Jews) makes an important contribution, both visually and as a fascinating compendium of this group's touchstones of identity."


Catholic Historical Review

"...a stunning tribute to the descendants of New Mexican conversos..."


SMRC Revista

"( New Mexico's Crypto-Jews) is a book rich in images, memory, and longing for connection, as well as thoughtful text. . . ."


Taos Horse-Fly

"(Cary) Herz's photography book is the first visual exploration of the descendants of Jews who fled the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition and traveled with Spanish colonial settlers to what is today New Mexico. ( New Mexico's Crypto-Jews) introduces a unique community whose Jewish identity is grounded in the Catholicism that characterizes the traditions of the American Southwest."


"( New Mexico's Crypto-Jews) is a welcome prize. . . . The fact that Herz is a descendant of Holocaust survivors means that she brings a rare and poignant Jewish sensitivity to a subject that is more often examined through Hispanic lenses. . . . Concise essays and commentaries accompany Herz's striking photographs of modern residents of New Mexico and Colorado who retain tatters and shards of Jewish religiosity and custom."


Intermountain Jewish Times

9 x 9 in. 176 pages 132 duotones