Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told the audience at a Hannukah celebration on Sunday evening that she is descended from Sephardic Jews who fled Spain during the Inquisition.
At the event organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice in Queens, New York, the newly elected Democratic congresswoman described how Jews fleeing persecution arrived in Puerto Rico, where cultures would blend and some outwardly practicing Catholics would also keep a menorah at home.
“One of the things that we discovered about ourselves is that a very long time ago, generations and generations ago, my family consisted of Sephardic Jews,” she said.
In a lighthearted moment, Ocasio-Cortez then seemed to respond to an audience member who said they had always suspected she was Jewish.
“I knew it! I sensed it!” she said, to laughs from the audience.
At Hanukkah event with @JFREJNYC in an moving speech, @Ocasio2018 shares that her family were Sephardic Jews who fled to Puerto Rico. “So many of our destinies are tied beyond our understanding” pic.twitter.com/68bjuCFnDD
— Taly Krupkin (@TalyKrupkin) December 10, 2018
“So many of our destinies are tied beyond our understanding,” she said, according to a tweet from a Haaretz journalist.
The Spanish Inquisition was a campaign of persecution against Jews and other non-Christians that the Catholic Church and the Spanish royal house initiated in 1492.
The Democratic superstar, who is the youngest woman elected to Congress, also danced Israeli folk dance the hora for the first time at the event.
“What a beautiful and touching evening we shared tonight for our community Chanukah celebration,” she tweeted. “Thank you Rabbi Mia for the opportunity of helping you light the shamash, and thank you @JFRASJNYC for assembling the festivities! May tonight’s light and hope spark many others.”
She then posted a video of herself dancing the hora with the caption: “Plus I can never turn down an opportunity to try a new dance!”
Plus I can never turn down an opportunity to try a new dance! ???????? pic.twitter.com/qwTXLXGrDb
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 9, 2018
“We can’t wait to bring light together to DC,” the far-left Jewish organization wrote.
Ocasio-Cortez’s comments in the past on Israel have prompted criticism from the right and left.
Although she has commented infrequently on foreign affairs, in May she called the killing of Palestinian protesters by Israeli troops on the Gaza border fence a “massacre.”
Then in July, Ocasio-Cortez decried the “occupation of Palestine” during a television interview, but stumbled when pressed to explain what she meant.
Appearing July 13 on PBS’s “Firing Line,” Ocasio-Cortez admitted that she was “not the expert” on the issue, drawing accusations that she was “clueless.”
On “Firing Line,” host Margaret Hoover asked Ocasio-Cortez “What is your position on Israel?” Ocasio-Cortez responded, “I believe absolutely in Israel’s right to exist.” She added: “I am a proponent of a two-state solution.” The candidate said her previous position on the Gaza clashes “is not a referendum on the State of Israel.”
When pressed to explain herself further she said “I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue,” and “I just look at things through a human rights lens and I may not use the right words… Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night.”
However, in August she was cheered at an event at the New York’s Jewish museum, albeit one that did not touch on Israel or the Jewish community.
Earlier this year, then-candidate for the New York State Senate Julia Salazar came under fire after an online Jewish magazine said she had been inconsistent in describing her place of birth and Jewish background, and that her Jewish and “immigrant” identity were “largely self-created.”