‘Hidden Jew’ Robert Powell celebrates his 65-year-old mitzvah bar

At age 65, Robert Powell celebrated his mitzvah bar at Chabad in Wisconsin. After his mother fled the Holocaust, she decided to hide her Jewish heritage from her children completely. Powell has only recently discovered his true roots.

He explained what the significant event meant to him: “For me, I carry my life on my back – my mitzvah bar is a arrival, a test, a homecoming. My mitzvah bar firmly connects the past with the present. If we don’t understand where we came from, how do we know who we really are? “

After the Holocaust, many people in Poland hid their Jews because of the suffering they suffered under Nazism, followed by waves of antisemitic oppression under Communism.

Moreover, during the German occupation, thousands of Jewish children were raised for adoption by Polish neighbors or institutions and apparently grew up as Polish Catholics.

Stories like that go back even further than World War II. Many people who fled the Spanish 500 years ago have also denied their identities.

In the world where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken, there are countless numbers of Bnei Anusim. Historians refer to them with the infamous term “Marranos,” because their Iberian Jewish ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries.

There are other communities as well, from 7,000 Bnei Menashe in northeastern India, who are of lost Israeli descent, to the 15,000 Subbotnik rule of the former Soviet Union, who are the descendants of Russian peasants who turned to Judaism two centuries ago.

Powell is not then, by himself an experience. Many organizations, databases, rabbits, and synagogues aim to help people like Powell “come home” to Judaism.

“My ancestors overcame many obstacles – oppression, fear, tyranny,” Powell said proudly. “But they persevered, and did so with honor, bravery and determination to keep our Jewish heritage alive. Our legacy. Our Jews. It is up to me to honor them by living fully and openly as we have always been and always will be. “

Michael Freund contributed to this report.