Connecting with ancestors, reclaiming faith. Against all odds.
A documentary by award-winning director Gabriela Böhm
A small group of South Americans long to affirm their faith. Their ancestors— European Jews—were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. Isolated in Catholic countries, rejected by local Jewish communities, they battle to become Jews regardless of the consequences.
The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America, set in Ecuador, tells the story of their attempt to regain their birthright. The group is comprised of a doctor and his wife from a small town in Ecuador and three women from Ibagué, Colombia (including a mother and daughter), who make the 36-hour, one-way trip by bus. The film begins with their yearning, explaining their connection to Judaism and why their desire to convert is so strong.
Frustrated in their attempts to become Jews, they locate Jacques Cukierkorn, a Brazilian-American rabbi from Kansas City, Missouri on the Internet. The rabbi travels around the world helping "lost Jews" reclaim their identities. Through Internet study and individual research, the rabbi has given them an immersion course in Judaism—a two-year process. Now, the group is meeting in Guayaquil, where they hope their conversions will become a reality.
But, first, Rabbi Cukierkorn must get the local Jewish community's support in facilitating the process. Two Jews besides Cukierkon must be part of the rabbinical court (Beit Din), an essential element of Jewish conversion. Initially, he meets strong resistance, but he is able to get several local Jews to reluctantly participate.
The film follows the group through the conversion process — anticipation, preparation, water purification (mikva) in the river (as curious bystanders look on) and interviews before the Beit Din. Tension runs high when one of the council members does not arrive. But, ultimately, the process proceeds; all become Jews.
Lost no more, the new converts' dreams are fulfilled. Yet they face an uncertain future.
These people who are surely Jewish spiritually, whose souls long to be Jewish, are willing to do whatever they have to…
A universal story of faith and conversion against all odds; the triumph of the human spirit.
Rabbi Michael Perlmutter
University Educator Santa Monica, CA
What they created in America was… secret societies… They practiced Judaism secretly in clandestine ways, and they kept what they could remember, what remained from one generation to another.
Professor of History
University of Saõ Paulo
They had to keep a double life… that is very complex… very difficult for the individual, it is a constant tension between what you learned in your childhood, family tension and the family in relation to society.
Director, Sephardic Culture Research and Dissemination Center, Buenos Aires