What the Book is About:
One hundred and fifty years after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Manuel Nunez and his family are living as secret Jews in Seville. If the officers of the Inquisition find out that the Nunezes are only pretending to be Christian, then the Nunezes will be tortured and possibly killed! Manuel must be courageous and resourceful; nobody can be trusted, not even his neighbor, the beautiful Violetta. This fast-paced story is packed with adventure, as Manuel and his family hide their true identity from friends, neighbors, servants, and even from certain members of their own family.
Jewish Content and Values
- Spanish Jewry in the 17th Century: The book’s Historical Afterward explains the background of Jews living in Catholic Spain in the 17th century.
- Jewish Holidays and Tradition: Manuel and his family celebrate Jewish holidays and traditions in secret, hiding their observance in many creative ways at great risk to their lives. On Shabbat (the Sabbath), Manuel’s mother sits by the spindle in front of a window, pretending to work, and she always asks the servants to light the kitchen fires so that she appears to be cooking. On Jewish fast days, the kitchen is filled with food, so the servants won’t suspect that the family is not eating; and Remedios, Manuel’s older sister, does all the family’s baking to prevent the maids from noticing that the family doesn’t eat lard.
- Pidyon Shvuyim (redeeming prisoners): Violetta’s sister, Leonor, is imprisoned at the Triana Fortress, serving out a five-year sentence. Aldino, Manuel’s Moorish friend, is able to rescue Leneor so that she can join her family and they can all escape together from Spain.
Positive Role Models
- Manuel, the main character, is proud of his heritage. After he learns that he is Jewish, he is excited to participate in Jewish ritual and looks forward to celebrating Sukkot and learning more about the tefillot (prayers). Even though it’s difficult for him to kiss the cross at church and join Lopez’s gang, he does his best to hide his secret and protect his family.
- Dr. Rodrigo Nunez, Manuel’s father, is a very capable and caring physician who risks his own life to help save the people of Seville from the Black Plague.
- Aldino, Manuel’s Moorish friend, rescues Leonor, Violetta’s sister, even though he knows that the monks will punish him severely.
- This book contains a few (not very detailed) descriptions of torture and death at the hands of the Inquisition, which might be challenging for some young readers.
Topics To Discuss
- Manuel is almost twelve years old, and for most of his life he didn’t even know that he was Jewish! In Catholic Spain, most secretly Jewish families waited until their children were mature enough to protect their family’s secret before teaching them about their heritage. Can you imagine living your whole life believing in one religion and then suddenly discovering that you actually belong to another? Have you ever had to keep a secret? Is it ever okay to keep a secret? Why or why not?
More For You
Spanish Jewry today: In a commendable effort to rectify a historical wrong, Spain is inviting descendants of Sephardic Jews to apply for Spanish nationality. Over 500 years after the Inquisition, the descendants of those original Jews expelled from Spain could number in the millions! However, Spain will not require applicants to actually establish residency in the country; the new Jewish Spaniards will be allowed to maintain dual citizenship.