New Mexico’s first Jewish population consisted of hidden Sephardi Jews (so-called ‘crypto-Jews’) attempting to escape persecution from the Inquisition. When the Inquisition was brought to Mexico City many of these Jewish people attempted to escape north and ended up in what is now New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The takeover of the southwest by the United States ushered in a new era of religious freedom for the Jewish population that was previously repressed. Many Sephardi Jews could at last openly declare their Jewish identities and new Ashkenazi immigrants from Eastern Europe began arriving too. Presently, the Jewish community of New Mexico is home to several synagogues - Sephardi as well as Ashkenazi - day schools, an annual Klezmer festival, and an estimated 24,000 Jewish people.
To learn more about the history of Sephardi Jews in the Americas, you can visit the New Mexico History Museum from now until December 31st, 2016 to see their exhibit, “Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, The Inquisition, and New World Identities”.