On my first trip to Cape Verde, I discovered the Cashew fruit. I had always known the cashew, which is pronounced “Caju” in Portuguese, to be a nut. But it’s actually a fruit AND a nut. All these years, I believed the cashew was only a nut – Who knew?!?!? It was during this same trip that I first realized my own Jewish ancestry – Who knew?!?!? All this time I believed my family was Catholic but, as I learned more of my ancestry, I realized that many of our traditions were, in fact, based in the Jewish faith.
So, if you’re born and raised in the Catholic Church but practiced Jewish traditions, are you Catholic or Jewish? This is a questions that many Cape Verdeans may begin asking themselves as we begin to seriously consider the impact of Jewish ancestry in Cape Verde. I jokingly referred to being a “CaJu” with a friend of mine, who also recently found out about his Jewish roots. Is it possible to be Catholic AND Jewish – basically, a “Ca-Ju”?
I was baptized in the Church, confirmed in the Church, and went to Catholic schools all the way through high school. But when it came to certain practices, what my family practiced differed a bit from what I was being taught in school. The starkest difference was the practice of the Nodjadu, or mourning period, which closely resembles the Jewish practice of sitting Shiva. As with many traditions passed down through my family, I cannot imagine doing things any differently.
Last week, I was honored to participate in the Annual Cape Verdean Jewish Sedar in Boston and was struck by the truth of this reality. I am a descendant of two groups of very strong people who survived a history of indescribable horrors for merely being who they were. So it was with great pride that I spoke to this group of Jews and Cape Verdeans about our shared history. Because of our ancestors, we all have the freedom to be and to live how we’d like to. We are free to worship how we’d like. And I am free to be a Catholic or a Jew and even a “CaJu” if I please.