What’s Portuguese for Cohen?

A major new tool can help Brazilians learn about their possible Iberian Jewish origins: the "Dictionary of Sephardic Surnames," a 528-page tome featuring some 17,000 surnames of Sephardic Jewish families from Portugal, Spain and Italy and their descendants.

Written in Portuguese and English, the dictionary is the fruit of a research project started in 1995 by Brazilian historians Guilherme Faiguenboim and Paulo Valadares and Italian historian Anna Rosa Campagnano. Faiguenboim and Campagnano are Jewish. Valadares is of Portuguese "New Christian" — or Marrano — ancestry.

According to Faiguenboim, a founding member of the Brazilian Jewish Genealogical Society, the initial idea was to explore about 1,000 Sephardic surnames. After seven years of work, the team had more than 16,000 names.

The first part of the book features a historical introduction. The second tells about the Sephardic dispersion from the edicts of expulsion until the 20th century. The book ends with the dictionary itself, preceded by an explanation of the names’ origins.

For each entry, readers can find where the first references to the family name were found and the name’s subsequent path around the world. It also lists famous bearers of the family name through history.

According to Faiguenboim, historians say that 10 percent to 30 percent of the Portuguese population was Jewish before Jews were forced in 1496 to leave the country or be baptized. Many of them fled to Northern Africa and, beginning in the early 1500s, also to Brazil, Portugal’s major colony. According to historians, several Jews were among the sailors on the very first Portuguese caravel fleets to the New World.

Most non-Jewish Brazilians presume that they have Jewish ancestry because they have surnames that Jews were known to have used in the past to hide their Jewishness. However, such names — like Oliveira, Souza, Cardoso, and even Silva, the most typical Brazilian name of all — often are common among non-Jewish Brazilians.

Faiguenboim says that not everyone with a family name in the dictionary is of Jewish ancestry.

"But if a person is recognized as Jewish, his or her name will certainly be there," he said.

Keeping Jews in the Flock

Brace yourselves, people: We’re about to celebrate a holiday that touts intermarriage. Yep, our beloved Queen Esther married a goy — minus the ol’ now-a-Jew sniparoo. According to today’s Jewish demographic reports, that puts Esther in the "Bad Jew" category.

We’re told repeatedly that intermarriage is the death knell of the Jewish people, but let’s face it: Jews have been intermarrying since the beginning of our tribe 4,000 years ago. Marrying "out" is precisely how we got Jews with looks covering the gamut from blonde hair and blue eyes to black skin and nappy hair. It’s also one of the reasons that Hitler hated us: We were at it again, blending with the local race, destroying its ethnic purity.

Even that sorely desired Messiah we’re always yappin’ about is going to be the descendant of King David, who in turn is the descendant of Ruth. Well lookie here: Ruth was a Moabite! If that’s not heaven’s approval of intermarriage, I don’t know what is.

True, Ruth took on the Jewish faith. But were she around these days, her children (that’s right folks, the ancestors of the Messiah) would not be allowed to enroll in any number of Orthodox Jewish schools. After all, Ruth never did the dunk. The way we’re looking at things today, her conversion was not kosher.

Another thought to consider: Until recently, conversion to Judaism was based on patriarchal concepts of marriage: A man "took" a wife, so he could "take" that wife from whatever tribe and religion he wanted. The woman automatically would be subsumed by her husband’s identity, religious affiliation and way of life. Not exactly what I would call a heartfelt, spiritually conscious entry into Judaism. Nonetheless, we consider the descendants of such a woman to be Jewish — including descendants of those women who predated the days of the mikvah, the ritual immersion bath.

The way I see things, we’re losing Jews not because of intermarriage today, but because of how we’re treating Jews who intermarry today. Our community is following the "I’m losing a daughter" routine, instead of the more pleasant and expansive option, "I’m gaining a son." As a result, we’re casting out interfaith couples and their children.

Rather than ostracize and sit shiva for someone who marries a non-Jew, why not invite the non-Jewish spouse to learn about and practice the wonders and joys of our precious heritage? Why not ensure that the couple’s children will grow up with Jewish holiday celebrations, religious teachings and values?

I have known plenty of Jewish youth who have given their hearts and souls to the Jewish community, just to be told they are not "really Jewish," because their mothers come from non-Jewish backgrounds. Only exceptionally strong youngsters have the spiritual wherewithal to continue to affiliate with the Jewish community, following such an onslaught of rejection. And

we wonder where all the Jews are going.

As for myself, I guess I should not have been shocked when I got hate mail several months back, following an article I published about my Arab Muslim boyfriend and me. I was especially struck by the letter of a woman who had admired my outstanding contributions to the Jewish community … until she read that article. Suddenly, she was ready to turn me into the authorities and publicly damn me to hell. Good thing my Judaism was stronger than her interfaith vitriol. Reactions like hers can, and have, sent Jews running away from us.

Ironically, interfaith relationships can bring Jews closer to our tradition. My friend Rebecca, for example, was a thoroughly secular Jew until she got involved with Jamal, a Muslim man. Inspired by his religious devotion, Rebecca began exploring her own religion. Not long after marrying Jamal, she began celebrating Shabbat, attending Orthodox services and moving toward keeping kosher.

True, interfaith coupledom is not the easiest path to take, especially when each person cares about her/his own religion, and even more especially when kids are involved. But that’s all the more reason for us to be a loving and embracing community — to help families pass on the Jewish torch.

There are so many factors involved in finding a partner, and finding one’s mate is such an individual decision. In a world of violence and decay, let’s congratulate those of us who have managed to find love, respect and laughter. Rather than spending our energy on condemning intermarriage, let’s put it into creating a Jewish community where all of us will want to stay.

Loolwa Khazzoom, the editor of “The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage” (www.loolwa.com/anthology), will read from her new anthology, “Unveiling the Crossroads,” on Thursday, March 18, 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, $10 (general), $5 (members and students), call (323) 655-8587.

Linking to the Past

Darlene Basch has always had a fiery independent streak. Born and raised in Queens, the former Darlene Chakin was taking the F train by herself into Manhattan well before she had her Bat Mitzvah. Basch’s mother, a Holocaust survivor, wanted young Darlene to be able to rely on herself, just in case.Time has abated neither Basch’s drive nor her connection to the Holocaust. Basch recently created Descendants of the Shoah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining global links among survivor offspring. And while Descendants is in its nascent stage, Basch said that “a lot will happen in the coming year that will blast this organization into the public’s eyes.”

For instance, Descendants will mount a major annual conference, the first ever aimed at the third and fourth generations. “Chicago 2002: Living the Legacy,” co-sponsored by the Association of Descendants of the Shoah–Illinois, will focus on issues such as how elders can discuss the Holocaust with their offspring.Working with descendants is not a new endeavor for the trained therapist, who has been active with the issues of her peers for more than two decades. But with Descendants, Basch wants to take her interest to a new level. She is currently translating her link to the past into computer links at the Descendants’ Web site that will keep survivors’ kin connected with each other and with information crucial to their past and their future.

Helping shape her vision has been her experience working for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Foundation from 1994-1998. Carol Stohlberg, director of major gifts at Survivors, credits Basch for crystallizing key policy at Survivors.

“She was instrumental to the methodology of the interview itself, the training process, the reviewing process,” Stohlberg said.

“Darlene was deeply sensitive to concerns of Survivors Foundation,” said Dr. Michael Berenbaum, president of the Berenbaum Group and former CEO of Survivors of the Shoah Foundation. “She was able to communicate a sense of responsibility and respect that allowed us not only to work professionally but with spiritual integrity. She is one of the reasons Survivors of the Shoah has succeeded.”

The Holocaust had long been a verboten topic in the Chakin family. Basch’s mother never discussed her concentration camp experiences, not even to her husband. It was only while working at Spielberg’s foundation that Basch finally convinced her mother to tell her story, a harrowing odyssey that included internment at Treblinka, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Terezin.

“I got all her friends to talk, and she was angry that she didn’t do it first,” Basch recalled. She added that the Spielberg connection was “a real motivator” for many survivors to open up, often for the first time.Basch graduated from Cornell University in 1976 and received her master’s in social work at UC Berkeley. While in her 20’s, she became involved with descendants’ issues and helped found the Bay Area’s Generation to Generation, a nonprofit that still exists. She was “fueled by feeling that this was my crowd. Our backgrounds were decimated, destroyed. In those days, we were the largest group of non-group-joiners.”

It was during one of these meetings that she met Loren Basch, her husband of 20 years.

In early 1987, the Basches came to L.A., where Loren had been installed as the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ United Jewish Fund. Basch took time off to raise her boys, now 16 and 13. When Basch caught wind of Spielberg’s mission to start Survivors, she wrote a letter to the filmmaker.”I wrote, you have to have me,” recalled Basch, “because this is the culmination of my life.”

As Survivors branched out with offices all over the world, Basch globetrotted to make sure that interviewers employed the proper interviewing techniques.

“I can’t think of a better way to travel than through the Jewish community of the world,” continued Basch.

“I found that our lives may look different on the outside, [but] our internal issues are similar.”

Descendants of the Shoah is very important to Basch, because she has always found intrinsic value in creating cross-generational dialogue about the Holocaust. In fact, while Basch worked at Survivors, her oldest son — without mom’s prompting — volunteered to intern. Basch was pleased that her own child expressed an interest in what has been her life’s mission.

“People would always say to me, ‘Why are you so involved in this hobby?'” Basch said with a wide smile and a sparkle in her eyes. “My hobby was really my passion.”

For more information about Descendants of the Shoah, write to descendantsorg@aol.comor visit www.descendants.org . Darlene Basch will conduct “Healing in the Aftermath of the Shoah: A Workshop for Sons and Daughters of Survivors,” on Sun., Feb. 4, 1-5 p.m., in Pacific Palisades. To register, call (323) 937-4974.