Rabbi Yosef Wallis in Los Angeles
Last week, Rabbi Yosef Wallis – CEO of the international kiruv organization, Arachim – visited Los Angeles and brought his unique inspiration to the local Jewish community. Rabbi Wallis’s life story was featured in Rabbi Nachman Seltzer’s book Incredible! From the Bronx to Bnei Brak: The amazing true story of Rabbi Yossi Wallis. During his visit, Rabbi Wallis shared more details of his fascinating life story with his eager audience.
On Monday, March 20, Rabbi Wallis spoke at Congregation Etz Chaim of Hancock Park. He told the story of his quest for information about the fate of his ancestor, Rafael Vallis, and the surprising consequence of his discoveries.
Rabbi Wallis first heard about Rafael Vallis from his father, who told him about an old sefer passed from generation to generation in his family. Inside, an ancestor had listed the names of previous ancestors, and at the top of the list was the name of Rafael Vallis of Majorca, Spain.
Rafael Vallis lived as a secret Jew in the times of the Inquisition. Unfortunately, he was caught, tortured, and burned at the stake. The Inquisition had maintained detailed records of the interrogations and tortures, which are still kept in the archives at a university in Madrid.
In 1992, the Spanish government opened up the archives to researchers. Several Israeli professors went to Madrid to study the archives, and their findings were reported in the newspapers. Rabbi Wallis’s son was reading a newspaper article when he spotted a familiar name – Rafael Vallis was mentioned as the last Jew burned at the stake in Majorca, Spain. Rabbi Wallis’s son mentioned the article to his father, who contacted the researchers in order to find out more about his ancestor.
With the help of newspaper reporters who spoke Spanish, Rabbi Wallis got hold of the file on Rafael Vallis. It was a 1000-page long document detailing Rafael’s life, “crime,” and the horrible tortures he was subjected to. Rabbi Wallis found out that the last name Vallis was given to his ancestors by the church when they were forcibly converted to Christianity.
Rabbi Wallis decided to visit Majorca and look for other descendants of hidden Jews. Amazingly enough, the first Jew he met there also had the last name Vallis, and was also a direct descendant of Rafael. Both Rabbi Wallis and his newfound cousin were delighted to meet each other, although the Majorcan cousin did not consider himself Jewish.
Moreover, Rabbi Wallis discovered that the “new Christians,” as the converted Jews were called, were never allowed to integrate into the Christian community. For many generations, they married only among themselves. After consulting the highest halachic authorities it was determined that all of the 20,000 descendants of hidden Jews currently living in Majorca were fully halachically Jewish and could resume the Jewish lifestyle without going through a conversion.
Drawing on his Arachim resources, Rabbi Wallis organized kiruv seminars in Majorca, teaching the Majorcan Jews about yiddishkeit from scratch. Thus, as a result of Rabbi Wallis’s personal quest, many Jews were able to return to their heritage.
While in Los Angeles, Rabbi Wallis also spoke in schools, mesmerizing the students with his amazing stories.