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The Cross by Day, the Mezuzzah by Night

The Cross by Day, the Mezuzzah by Night

by Deborah Spector Siegel

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A thrilling young adult novel that captures the horrors of the Spanish Inquisistion and the strength and determination of one young girl to preserve her family and culture at any cost.


A thrilling young adult novel that captures the horrors of the Spanish Inquisistion and the strength and determination of one young girl to preserve her family and culture at any cost.

Editorial Reviews

Ellen Mandel
Through a gripping first-person narrative, Ruth relays her feelings, her fears, and her confusion. This commanding novel jars us through its portrayal of the senseless brutality of the Spanish Inquisiton and the expulsion of Spain's Jews in the fifteenth century. It is a lesson related with suspense, emotion, and lasting impact.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Despite its melodramatic plotting and prose style, this novel merits a look for its treatment of a topic generally neglected in YA fiction: the fate of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. The narrator has spent her childhood believing herself to be Isabel Caruso de Carvallo, daughter of a good Catholic family. But when she turns 13, in 1492 (the year of the Jews' expulsion from Spain), her parents explain that she is really Ruth de Cojano, and that she and her family are Marranos--descendants of forcibly converted Jews, they now practice their religion in secrecy. Tipped off that they will soon be "questioned" (tortured) by the Inquisitors, the family makes plans to flee Spain, only to be betrayed by Isabel/Ruth's older brother, who has become a Dominican ("the most fanatical sect in all Christendom!"). The father goes to a martyr's death; the mother, along an escape route; insists on returning to her husband. Ruth, tending her baby brother, convinces other fleeing Jews that she is one of them, not one of the Marranos they despise, and feels uplifted to become part of the community. Characterizations lack all subtlety and the writing is overblown ("To think that we had been sinners all along by practicing Christianity!"). Even so, Siegel forces her audience to think about the astonishing methods and rituals Marranos devised to protect their religion, and to imagine the impact of the Expulsion Edict. Readers may end up skimming, but they'll be intrigued. Ages 12-up. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Everything Isabel has known to be true changes on her thirteenth birthday. On that day, she learns she has a Hebrew name and a second identity as a secret Marrano Jew. She lives in Seville, Spain in 1492. Her father is the royal tax collector for the city. However, no position is above the scrutiny of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Isabel's father arranges an elaborate escape plan for the family. She must prepare to leave her privileged life to join the masses of impoverished Jews departing in a forced expulsion. At first, Isabel is overcome with self-pity. How can she leave her best friend, Teresa? How can she sneak out of her Spanish homeland like a common criminal? An auto-de-fe´, a public burning of Marrano Jews, galvanizes Isabel's commitment to her Jewish heritage. When her beloved father is betrayed, the fear of leaving home is replaced by the danger of staying. Isabel must discover the courage to escape with her mother and baby brother. Abhorred by both the Christian and the Jewish community, Marrano Jews found themselves in an impossible snare. This dramatic story provides a piercing picture of Spanish-Jewish history. 1999, Jewish Publication Society, Ages 10 up, $14.95. Reviewer: Jackie Hechtkopf
This first novel by Siegel tells the story of Isabel, a young Catholic girl living in 1492 Seville, Spain. On her thirteenth birthday, Isabel discovers that her parents are Marranos, Spanish for "swine"secret Jews who practice Catholicism by day and Judaism by night. When Isabel's brother, a fanatical Dominican priest, betrays the family's secret, Isabel's father is arrested, and the remaining family must find a way to flee Spain's persecution. The author nicely contrasts King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel's edict ordering the Jews from Spain with their edict granting Columbus permission to search for a new trade route to India. Isabel is a likeable protagonist, and her inner turmoil and struggle to understand her family's faith is believable. This book is valuable for its attempt to tell the story of the Inquisition along with Spain's persecution of both Moslems and Jews in a format accessible to teens. Yet despite its good points, the novel suffers from poor editing. An unnecessary first chapter tells the entire story as an older Isabel reminisces. Better editing would have eliminated this chapter, and would have corrected minor flaws such as awkward sentence structure, chapter headings that essentially reveal the plot, and the didacticism that runs throughout the text as Isabel protests the cruelty and prejudice behind the edict ordering Jews from Spain. This point is better and more subtly illustrated through Isabel's own eyes as a witness to various events. Teen readers do not need the heavyhanded lecturing to understand the moral message. VOYA CODES: 2Q 2P J S (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; For the YA with a special interest in the subject;JuniorHigh, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 1999, The Jewish Publication Society, Ages 13 to 18, 218p, $14.95. Reviewer: Leah J. Sparks
Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Historical fiction is first and foremost a story that uses historical events as its underpinnings. Siegel's novel does not. Rather, it seems an attempt to tell about the history and atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition. The author does this dramatically and in great detail, but there is little depth of characterization, and the plot is contrived. The story takes place in 1492 when Queen Isabel has issued an edict expelling all Jews from Spain. Until her 13th birthday, Isabel de Carvallo, named after the Catholic queen, thought she was Catholic. That day, her father informs her that they are Marranos-secret Jews. She is shocked and confused at first, but eventually Judaism becomes the center of her life. Isabel's older brother has fully accepted Christianity and denies his Jewish heritage to the point of turning in his own family as they try to escape. Moral questions are raised as, for example, the hostility of the Jews toward the Marranos is described. The history of the Inquisition in Portugal around the same time forms the background for Jacqueline Greene's Out of Many Waters (1988) and One Foot Ashore (1994, both Walker). By creating gripping stories with fleshed-out characters, Greene succeeds where Siegel fails.-Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

The Jewish Publication Society
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I Reveal My True Identity

For thirteen years my name was Isabel. I was Isabel Caruso de Carvallo, of Seville, Spain, baptized in the year of my birth, 1479. Like so many other infant girls, I was named in honor of our great "Catholic Queen," Isabel of Spain. It was a proper Christian name for the daughter of good Spanish Catholics, Paulo and Maria Caruso de Carvallo. For above all things, in that cruel realm, one must be a good Catholic.

    They called me Isabel. But that was not my true name. I carried another secret name given to me also in that year of my birth: Ruth. Ruth de Cojano, descendant of the tribes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of Sara, Rebecca, and Leah, a daughter of the house of Israel. I am a Marrano, a "secret Jewess," though this astonishing fact was not revealed to me until four years ago, on the very day I turned thirteen, the age of Jewish adulthood. Only then was I told the shocking truth of things.

    Ruth—that beautiful name of the biblical heroine who adopted the Jewish faith for her own—was a name I was never allowed to hear roll lovingly from the tongue of family and friends. For you see, an Old Testament name in Seville was like the kiss of death. It was one of the "telltale signs" of the secret Jews.

    Though we Caruso de Carvallos had been practicing Christians for a hundred years, devoted to the Church and giving many tithes, our Church records were boldly marked to show that my great grandparents, Avram and Ruth de Cojano, had once been Jews converted toChristianity by force. The Church and the whole of society labeled us Cristos-Nuevos, meaning "New Christians." Only "Old Christians" in Spain may hold the coveted documents of limpieza de sangre, "purity of Christian blood." Such documents prove that a family is not tainted by the blood of Jews.

    Until the year of my thirteenth birthday, I lived nearly the whole of my childhood blissfully unaware that we were not what we seemed—good and proper Catholics. Still, I had sensed from time to time that our family was different somehow. Unusual prayers were uttered in our home. Papá and Mamá would worship at odd times and in different ways than the Church demanded. On many a Friday night, long after the servants had retired, Mamá and Papá would creep down to our cold, musty wine cellar to light candles and pray yet again. I thought them simply to be memorial candles for the many Catholic dead. And the late hour to be one of Mamá's ideas. She always did have a fondness for enlivening things, inventing new and intriguing celebrations and entertainments. Like her Christmas Eve celebration held outdoors in the courtyard, so that our guests could search for the star of Bethlehem. Our home was often filled with prominent guests and court officials. It was one of the things people loved about her—that delighted Papá and me too—her capacity for bringing mystery and excitement to ordinary events.

    How often on those Friday nights did I follow my parents, slipping downstairs to stare into the dancing candlelight beside them. Only rarely did they object to my presence. They were relaxed and unworried, secure as most Marrano families were, that their high rank in Spanish society was secure, that their small transgressions in Jewish prayer were private matters of the heart, not public crimes of shame and heresy.

    But that year before I turned thirteen, the Friday night candle-lighting ceremonies grew increasingly less pleasant and more hurried. Papá began to bolt the door after us. And my parents grew nervous and wary, as if my presence at the cellar meetings made them uncomfortable. Finally, one Friday in May, Papá commanded me sternly, "Do not mention or mark this occasion with the servants, not ever!"

    "But why, Papá?" I asked, surprised at his vehemence.

    "It would shame or embarrass them that we said so many more prayers than they,' he answered more softly, kissing me on the head.

    I thought little more of the matter. As a high official, Papá had often advised me to silence and secrecy in various matters of court discretion. Little did I know that those Friday night candles were lit to bring on the Jewish Sabbath, the holy day of rest—an act of highest heresy for Christians, punishable by death!

    That year there were other odd things that I could not ignore in my parents' behavior. There was the time my baby brother, Manuel, was baptized in the Catholic faith, a week after his birth. Mamá held him as the priest poured the baptismal waters upon his tiny forehead. Yet I saw my father, upon returning home from church, quickly wipe the holy water from his head and descend with the baby to our wine cellar with a bearded man in strange dark clothes. When I went to follow them down, Mamá pulled me back saying, "No, Isabel. You may not go this time. This is men's business." And I heard Papá latch and lock the door behind him as he did at our Friday night family meetings.

    "But why do they take the baby with them?" I asked in astonishment, for Mamá hardly ever let the baby out of her sight.

    "They talk of his future," she said curtly, in a way that told me the discussion was closed for further questioning.

    Now, of course, I know that the strange bearded man was the Marrano rabbi who was secretly brought to perform the sacred ceremony of circumcision, the ancient male covenant of the Jews.

    For as far back as I can remember our small moments of Jewish life have been enacted this way, secretly, in the dark cellar of our house. Before my very eyes, yet unknowingly to me.

    Until the day I turned thirteen, Papá and Mamá never actually told me that my family are what the Catholics scornfully call Marranos. It is the Spanish term for "swine," the animal of uncleanness which Jews are forbidden to eat. It is the word that has come to mean "secret Jews," those who have not entirely forsaken the ancient laws of Torah, who risk their lives to taste a bite of concealed matzah once a year, or to hear the words of the Passover seder or to express their love for the one God of all Creation, Adonai. For such small tendings of their souls, Marranos may be tortured, then burned alive at the stake.

    , that is what I have said: burned alive! How I cried when I learned that we were such detestable Marranos, that we would be forced to leave Seville, the glorious city of my birth; and Spain, the ancient kingdom of my ancestors. That there would be no farewell fiestas, no loving words, no parting gifts, no final tearful embrace with Teresa, my best friend, my dearest friend in all the world. That our leave-taking of our beloved homeland would be a terrible, swift escape from the fiery arms of the Inquisition.

    Papá, who had risen to the high office of royal tax collector over all Seville, began to feel watchful eyes upon him as he made his rounds about the city. Priestly spies, he told us, were everywhere. Once, returning home after dark, he came upon two men in friar's cloth peeking through our window. They scurried hastily away as my father approached, not wanting to cause alarm. They prefer to carry on their dirty work in secrecy.

    Mamá and Papá began to fear that it was only a matter of time before the spies might try to secretly bribe our servants for proof of our "impure Jewish acts." For a New Christian to incite suspicion of any kind—to wash the hands frequently as a Jew, to refuse to eat pork as a Jew, to fail to kindle a fire on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, like a Jew—is to risk the inescapable processes of torture and death.

    When I learned the truth, it was midway through the year 1492. A year of glory and fame, so many said, for Spain. Alas, for the Jews and all their descendants it was a year of infamy. It was, in fact, a year of infamy for all people not lucky enough to be born Old Christians. A ten-year war had just been won against the Moors of Islamic faith who had resided for centuries near Seville in the kingdom of Granada. All the Moors even folk we had known—were put to the sword or sold into slavery! And then two great edicts came forth from our sovereigns, King Ferdinand of Aragón and Queen Isabel of Castille.

    One royal edict was thrilling, for it granted the means for renowned explorer, Cristobal Colón, to find the passage to India and all of its riches and worldly knowledge for the progress and glory of Spain.

    But the other edict was backward and cruel: the king and queen ordered the expulsion of all the known Jewish people from Spain—tens of thousands of human beings chased away, like rats to be gotten rid of at the hands of royal exterminators.

    Think of it: our queen and king decided to brutally expel the Jews, ancient people who lived productively, in harmony, upon the land for more than fifteen hundred years, centuries before Spain knew its first Christians.

    Not that the Jewish people have been treated with much kindness in Christian Spain in recent times. For more than a hundred years the monarchy had decreed that Jews live in walled-up crumbling neighborhoods called Juderías and forced to wear humiliating pointed "Jew's hats" upon their heads and yellow circles upon their lapels when they ventured forth to earn their livelihood. Many towns—even my own Seville—no longer allow Jews or Juderías within its borders. In cities where the Juderías are allowed, Jew-haters and fanatics have been given free reign to inspire dangerous mobs to attack and murder people within their very synagogues and homes behind the Judería walls.

    But the worst was yet to come. On March 31, 1492—three months before I turned thirteen—the king and queen decreed that all Jews must leave and never come back under penalty of death. Even the king and queen's honored Jewish finance ministers, Don Abraham Senior and Don Isaac Abrabanel, were ordered to leave. The Jewish people were given only three months to flee all the kingdoms of Spain. There was much chaos and agony as they scrambled to sell their homes and belongings, to choose a foreign land for their destiny, to secure the means of travel, to say good-bye forever to the only homeland they and their ancestors had known since the time of King David.

    Then, whether very young or very old, whether sick or in the throes of childbirth, the Jewish people were forced to leave their towns and walk to the nearest ship's harbor—whether it be a few day's walk or a harrowing journey of many weeks. Huge numbers of distressed Jews clogged the roads from north to south and from east to west. Rabbis were known to move among them with words and prayers of encouragement as they walked in long, miserable streams past the gates of all the Spanish cities where they were not allowed to enter for brief rest or refreshment.

    Thus, the unmistakable crying and weeping of the passing unwanted Jews was heard daily outside the walls of our great city of Seville.

    With my own eyes I saw them, not yet knowing they were my people, as they trudged in stricken groups moving south along the roadways toward the Port of Cadiz where ships would take them away.

    Oh, how I felt the generous pity of one who feels safe from harm's way, not yet realizing that the fates of Jews and Marranos and New Christians alike are all interwoven as one, like the threads of a great tapestry.

    I had lived a sheltered life, fussed over by Mamá and the servants, spoiled by Papá, fed fine foods, and dressed in silk and brocade. Perhaps that is why, when I began to see the brutalities of life around me, the vision of the fleeing Jews came as a very great shock to me. Papá and I had been returning home together to Seville in a hired carriage when I saw them along the road. It was early April, just a day or two after the March Edict of Expulsion. Yet it was nearly three months before my thirteenth birthday. Three months before I would learn that there were immense and dangerous secrets in our family. That we ourselves, were Jews—secret Jews.

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