Rabbi Yosef Garcia, president of the Association of Crypto-Jews of the Americas and founder of Avdey Torah Jayah in Chandler died on Monday. He was 62.
Born in Oklahoma and raised in Panama, Garcia came from a line of crypto-Jews. Also known as Bene Anusim, crypto-Jews are descendents of Sephardi Jews who converted to Catholicism to survive the Inquisition. All four of Garcia’s grandparents were Bene Anusim, which translates to “children of those who were forced.”
Garcia was an altar boy in Panama, and he didn’t find out about his Jewish heritage until he was a teenager. After he left the Catholic Church, Garcia worked as a commercial fisherman and then immigrated to the United States, where he served in the Air Force as a telecommunications specialist.
Garcia was ordained as a rabbi in the ’90s. He opened his first congregation called Avdey Torah Hayah in Portland, Oregon. After nine years in Oregon, he moved to Phoenix in 2005 and opened Avde Torah Jayah, a Sephardic synagogue in Chandler serving Spanish-speaking Jews.
Throughout his career as a rabbi, Garcia welcomed many other crypto-Jews into the faith through a “ceremony of return.” He also served on the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix.
Garcia is survived by his wife, Yvonne, and his son, James.
A funeral will be held Friday, June 21, at 10 a.m. at Beth Israel Cemetery.