Preservation Case Studies
Intro to MIAP
Profs. Besser and Harris
Kara Van Malssen
The Hidden Jews of New Mexico
by Nan Rubin and Ben Shapiro
Nan Rubin is both a public radio producer and a social activist.
For more than 20 years, she has been involved in media management, nonprofit
development, and public broadcast production. She has acted as either
producer or project director for many widely-acclaimed and award-winning
media projects that deal with topics such as prejudice, race, and religion.
Her most recent project, “Living Voices,” is a public radio series of profiles
of American Indians, produced through The National Museum of the American
Indian/Smithsonian Institution. Rubin also runs Community Media Services,
a business that provides management, fundraising, and technical services
to various media organizations. Rubin is Jewish, and she is very active in
issues of rights and equality for Jewish people worldwide. She is a founder
and secretary of the Board of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a New
York City organization that addresses issues relating to race within the
Jewish community and racism within the city as a whole.
For this case study, we focused on one of Rubin's more controversial
and lauded programs, created in collaboration with award-winning producer
Ben Shapiro. “The Hidden Jews of New Mexico” is a three-part series of thirty-minute
public radio broadcasts that was produced over a period of ten years.
This program explores the legacy of the Jews of Spain, who were forced by
the Inquisition to emigrate or convert in 1492. About half the Jews
in Spain converted, and about half of these “conversos” were crypto-Jews,
individuals who had the outward appearance of being Catholic but secretly
continued to practice Jewish rituals in their homes and passed their true
faith down to their children. Other Jews immigrated to Mexico,
and from Mexico to New Mexico as the Inquisition expanded to Mexico City.
“The Hidden Jews of New Mexico” explores the heritage of a community
of people living in New Mexico who believe they are descendents of hidden
Jews, Sephardic Jews who ostensibly converted to Catholicism but secretly
passed down a legacy of Jewish practices. Though at first these people
were reluctant to share their 500-year-old secret, the success of the first
program prompted more and more people to come out and say they, too, are
hidden Jews and want to know more about their history. Even though
the program was completed in 1996, and hasn't aired since 1998, Nan Rubin
still gets multiple calls, e-mails, and letters every week from people who
want to know more. “The Hidden Jews” was noted about a decade ago to be the
third most popular program ever to be aired on NPR, and it has generated
an enormous amount of interest and controversy worldwide. It has become an
important part of the scholarly debate on “who is a Jew?,” a question that
will be the subject of Rubin and Shapiro’s next radio program.
It should be noted that many some academics believe that the stories of people
who say they are crypto-Jews do not prove the existence of such a community
and the whole idea of hidden Jews in New Mexico is bogus.
Process and Retention:
In 1986, Nan Rubin was living in Denver and Ben Shapiro was in Albuquerque.
Rumors of secret Jews living in the region reached them, and they resolved
to hunt down answers. As they began their search, Shapiro met Stanley Hordes,
former state historian of New Mexico, who was putting together a team of
researchers at the University of New Mexico to explore this subject, and
the two producers were permitted to join the team. The colonial history
of New Mexico was well documented, and they knew that many of the early settlers
were Jewish. The question was whether they remained Jewish for five
hundred years. Through this research team, Shapiro and Rubin were able
to find people willing to share their stories, though they wished to remain
It was conceived as only a single program when production began in 1986.
The first program, “Search for the Buried Past: The Hidden Jews of New Mexico,”
was initially broadcast in 1988. There were two versions of this original
piece: a twelve-minute version broadcast on National Public Radio's All
Things Considered and a thirty-minute piece for distribution. The
initial broadcast on NPR received such a huge response that the producers
decided to put the program out on satellite for local stations to air.
They decided the best way to promote the program would be to air it around
Yom Kippur. It was so well received that the program was aired again
in the spring around Passover and continued to air every year afterward,
with an increasing number of stations picking it up each time.
Rubin and Shapiro were then approached by some of the original subjects they
had interviewed about doing another program in 1992, the 500th anniversary
of the expulsion of Jews from Spain. Many events were planned in Spain
as the Jews were invited to come back and the Edict of Expulsion was finally
officially rescinded. Dennis Duran, who spoke on the first part of
“The Hidden Jews,” attended these events and brought back audio for the second
program, “The Hidden Jews of New Mexico: Rekindling the Spirit.” After
this broadcast in 1992, Nan Rubin received a flood of letters from people
who thought they were secret Jews and had amazing stories. This
response prompted the
original interviewees to change their minds about their anonymity.
Subsequently, they allowed Nan Rubin to give out their personal information
to those interested in learning more.
Another interesting result of the broadcast was the creation of an organization
called The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies. This society received
an invitation to meet with the crypto-Jews of Portugal in a community called
Belmonte. For political reasons in 1497, the king of Portugal forced the
Jews there to convert and gave them a 50-year grace period to do so.
Many converted superficially but secretly continued to practice Judaism.
In 1995, Rubin and Shapiro traveled with two of the original interview subjects,
Gloria Trujillo and Ramon Salas, along with a cameraman, to Spain and Portugal,
where they began production of the third program, “The Hidden Jews of New
Mexico: Return to Iberia.” In this part of the series, Gloria and Ramon
explored the Spanish archives to find traces of their family lineage and
hopefully evidence of their Jewish heritage. They also visited
Belmonte and learned the history of the hidden Jews there. This final
section of the program was broadcast in 1996.
Because they didn't quite know how to organize the 30+ hours of sound recorded
for each program, transcripts were made of the original interviews, and decisions
on what to use were based on a careful review of these. A script for
narration was created after final selections were made and a general story
outline emerged, sometimes with the assistance of advisor Jay Allison.
Ultimately, the final programs came to fruition in the editing room. There
are four types of sound recorded for the programs: narration, actuality,
ambiance, and music. The actuality and the ambiance were primarily recorded
on location on broadcast quality cassette, while most of the narration was
recorded in the studio on 1/4" reel-to-reel audio tape. All sounds
were transferred to 1/4" tape for editing. The three segments of the program
were edited manually in Ben Shapiro’s studio in a process called multi-tracking,
which involves the physical cutting of tape with a razor blade, transferring
the cuts to a master mix, then tweaking the various tracks on a mixer.
For the music, Rubin and Shapiro worked with ethnomusicologist Rowena Rivera.
She had been doing research on music of the Southwest and brought in some
very interesting recordings both from the holdings at the University of New
Mexico and from her own private collection. She believes that much
of New Mexico's traditional music was influenced by the colonial Jews. The
music Shapiro and Rubin used was on vinyl (78s and 33s) and 1/4" tapes of
contemporary musicians. This material also had to be transferred to
1/4" tape for editing. All of the original audio content used in the
three programs was recorded specifically for these shows. They did
not use any material from a sound library or foley sound.
The interviews in their entirety, final narration, recordings of the music,
and final ambient sounds are currently in Ben Shapiro’s possession, and Rubin
doesn’t know how he is storing them (though he is aware of recommended methods
of storing audio tape and, presumably, is following them). Shapiro also has
footage recorded during the 1995 trip to Spain and Portugal; he had entertained
the possibility of developing it into a television documentary, so a cameraman
accompanied Rubin and Shapiro on their journey. Rubin isn’t sure in which
format these recordings were made.
Rubin retains the still photographs she took on their trip to Spain and Portugal;
she has the original slides in her office and a few hard copies on file.
She also keeps a sub-master copy of the original audio recording programs
on a broadcast-quality audio cassette (for use in dubbing copies on an as-needed
basis). These are kept in a box in her office. A dub house called
Sound Greetings also maintains a high-quality master cassette that can be
used for making copies. They specialize in audio and video duplication,
and Rubin has relied on them in the past to mass-produce copies for distribution;
however, the version of the recordings that they have on file contains the
wrong credits. In addition, Rubin has on file paper copies of fundraising
materials, letters and e-mails she received, publicity materials she created,
and budgets, payments, and other administrative paperwork. Individual consumers
can purchase transcripts or cassettes of the series (to date, more than 1,000
copies of the series have been sold); clips are available online; and Nan
Rubin’s Web site, http://www.nanrubin.com, provides an overview of the series
and its production.
As Nan Rubin says, “There’s something about the power of audio that reaches
people in this deep emotional place.” This is evident in the ongoing
impact of these programs. Today, years after they were originally aired,
people are requesting copies and are being affected by the works. The
fact that controversies rage over whether or not the Crypto-Jews exist in
New Mexico and the over the question of “who is a Jew?” show that these works
will prove important artifacts in the history of the evolution of the Jewish
identity. Not only are these programs useful to individuals grappling
with their own search for history and identity, but the stories and the resources
cited in these works may also be useful to scholars of Jewish history, colonial
history, or related disciplines. As such, Rubin makes a point of keeping
her bibliography updated and readily available for any interested individuals.
The programs are also vital recordings of an exciting moment in New Mexican
history: the uncovering of a new layer of meaning, a new culture brought
to light, a new aspect added to the rich history of New Mexico. Finally,
the search for identity, for a connection to the past and one’s place in
the present, is a theme that isn’t confined to Jewish or Hispanic families
in New Mexico. It resonates today as an industrial, transglobal world increasingly
estranges people from the unique traditions and beliefs of their heritage.
“The Hidden Jews of New Mexico” is a romantic story of searching for and
finding one’s roots, of establishing a connection with the past in a world
dominated by evolving technologies and populated by McDonald’s.
Due to the unstable nature of 1/4” magnetic tape and the impending obsolescence
of the required playback machines, we advise that Rubin and Shaprio look
into storage alternatives for these recordings. She suggested transfer
onto CD for use in dubbing and to save wear-and-tear on the original masters.
We also suggest that they investigate appropriate storage for the original
works in a climate-controlled facility. We advise that they update
the credits on the copy being held by Sound Greetings, as Rubin mentioned
specifically that the new credits are important to the work. As for
the more important extant paper objects, such as photographs, faxes, letters,
transcripts, scripts, and fundraising proposals, we suggest they look into
back-up preservation solutions for these fragile documents.
Had we been working with Rubin and Shapiro from the onset of this project,
we would have kept the original recordings and master copies, as they have.
We would have also maintained the paper library that Rubin has in her office,
but with increased organization. Rubin discussed their reasons
for not keeping, for example, the bad takes of narration recording--basically,
that it has no practical, symbolic, or preservational use. We agree
with this statement and agree that material such as this could be safely
discarded. Overall, Rubin and Shapiro have kept the crucial elements
of the production. Only the most important paper materials should be saved,
such as the transcripts, scripts, faxes, fundraising letters, promotional
materials (which always delight media studies scholars), and perhaps a few
of the letters of response that people have sent. The content of the
two very full drawers in Rubin's office would have to be carefully looked
through to determine which materials have the most value.