As a statement of gratitude for the community support he received after a car accident, Rabbi Yosef Garcia will present a talk, “Crypto Jews/Hispanic Sefardi: The Hidden Jews Among Us,” 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E. Culver St., Phoenix.

The free lecture is co-sponsored by the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

Born in Oklahoma and raised in Panama, Garcia comes from a line of Bene Anusim, Hispanic Sefardi who were hiding as Catholics due to persecution by the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. All four of Rabbi Garcia’s grandparents were Bene Anusim.

Bene Anusim means “Children of those who were forced.” They are also referred to as Crypto Jews, Morranos and Conversos, although the two latter terms are considered objectionable.

Today, these Jews of the Americas are referred to as Hispanic Sefardi.

Garcia is the co-founder and president of The Association of Crypto Jews of the Americas, as well as the spiritual leader and Rabbi of Congregation Avde Torah Jayah of Mesa, where services are in Hebrew, English and Spanish.

The synagogue and the ACJA are dedicated to assisting and enabling Bene Anusim to return to mainstream Judaism, according to Garcia. The rabbi is currently working with Bene Anusim individuals and groups throughout the American Southwest, Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Puerto Rico. His work is funded solely by private donations.

Garcia was in a head-on collision on Aug. 16, 2016, which required treatment for a concussion, cracked ribs, a broken hand, severe whiplash to his entire spine, along with deep cuts and bruises.

He said his back and neck have recovered nearly 90 percent, his ribs and right hand have healed and he is going through intensive occupational therapy. “This lecture is a way for me to thank the entire community for helping me be able to stand, walk, sit and give this lecture,” Garcia told Jewish News.

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