My name is Esther Malka, and even though I might look to passers-by like any other savta (grandmother) walking the streets of Jerusalem, the twists and turns of our family’s story have been anything but ordinary.

As I relate in my first story, “Discovering My Jewish Roots,” it all goes back to when I was growing up in Moline, Ill., a small, sleepy Midwest town, in what appeared to be an ordinary middle-class Protestant family, and where I must have seemed like any other student in the local public middle school.

But my life changed suddenly when aThe twists and turns of our story have been anything but ordinary Jewish girl my age, Lena, came to our town, became my best friend, and the warmth of her family and shul became the inspiration for my quest to explore the Jewish way of life.

On leaving home for college and discovering the local Chabad connection on our campus, I delved in earnest into learning about the Torah and mitzvot, and eventually was converted by an Orthodox beit din, after which I was blessed to start a Jewish home of my own, with children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Now I must come out with a big confession: Throughout all my years as a convert, living a life of Torah, I was so happy with the choice I had made to join the Jewish people and was reaping much nachas from seeing my family grow into fine upstanding Jews who follow in G‑d’s ways.

But ... I always felt a bit different (actually, a lot different) than the people in the community around me because I had no Jewish ancestors like everyone else. No bubbies and zaidies from the old country, no family traditions handed down to me. This left an empty feeling way down inside that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

After my mother-in-law, Chava Rivka, passed away in 2013, I went to visit her grave in the old Russian Jewish cemetery in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. I saw all the holy Jewish graves of people’s loved ones from years gone by, and I felt my first twinge of jealousy. What I wouldn’t give to have a Jewish ancestor to whom I could look back in pride, and whom I could visit at his or her grave!

And then came the day three years ago (as I recounted in my first story) when my daughter, Brucha, and I discovered, through entering the name of my French great-grandmother, Emilie Pellissier, on a genealogy website, that she had a whole slew of ancestors I had never been told about. Ones with Catalan and Portuguese Jewish and crypto-Jewish names!

Only then did this memory come back to me: I was sitting at the dining-room table in my grandmother Marie’s old house in New Jersey, waiting patiently. My grandmother and her sister, Louise, had asked me there because they had something important to tell me. They seemed to be having a heated discussion in the next room, evidently concerning exactly what to say to me. I could just catch, from where I was sitting, what my grandmother was saying to her sister, “All right, but please! Leave the Spanish part out of it.”

And this is how I grew up not knowing about any of this. (My own mother, who might have told me, sadly passed away when I was not yet 2.)

Going back to our discovery: Starting with Emilie’s last name Pellissier (which I discovered was really Catalan, not French), we were able to trace back to her grandmother Adeline Roman (Portuguese) and her mother, Anne Astruc. This name, I discovered, is a Sefardi name still found in France, Catalonia and Majorca. It means “born under a lucky star.”

I realize that most people probably haven’t heard of the name Astruc. But to my surprise, I recently met a man from Marseilles, France, who told me that there are people there with that name—and they are all religious Jews.

All this was quite overwhelming, to say the least. I had suddenly discovered that we were Spanish. Naturally, I began to do a lot of reading on the subject of the history of the Jews in Spain and Portugal, and about the crypto Jews who had remained after the Spanish Expulsion.

I remembered some customs that my grandmother kept (which I had been under the assumption were French Huguenot in origin) resembled those practiced by the crypto Jews, such as shunning pork, and not drinking milk with a meat meal.

I happened upon an article on about the famous Tortosa Debate that had taken place on the 17th of Tammuz in the 1400s in Spain, and I learned that one of the rabbis who had led the debate between the Jews and the church was a certain Rabbi Astruc HaLevi.

I was astonished. A rabbi with the name Astruc. Could it be?

I began to search for information on thatA rabbi with the same name. Could it be? name. I discovered that Rabbi Abba Marhi from the Benveniste family of France and Catalonia was a famous Torah scholar who lived in Lunel and Montpelier, France. He took for himself the last name Astruc, and his descendants kept this name.

But was this Rabbi Abba Marhi Astruc my ancestor? How could I possibly trace my family through the centuries with nothing to go on? It seemed impossible.

I was able to find Rabbi Abba Marhi on our genealogy site, where a French Jewish man, François, whose family claims Rabbi Astruc as a relative, had entered information about him. Evidently, Rabbi Abba Marhi couldn’t have been the one who lead the Tortosa debate since he died in 1306, and the debate had taken place in the 1400s.

I contacted François, and he gave me more information. Abba Marhi had been involved in a dispute with the philosophers of Spain. He felt that the Jews of Spain, particularly the young people, were becoming too preoccupied with Greek philosophy, and that this was weakening the faith of Spanish Jewry. He petitioned the Spanish Rabbis to make a ban on anyone below the age of 25 from studying Greek philosophy, and they did so. However, this greatly angered many Spanish Jews, and threatened to create a schism between French and Spanish Jewry. This division was only avoided by the fact that just at that time, France expelled its Jews, and Rabbi Astruc was forced to locate from Montpelier to Perpignan, the French mainland capital of Majorca, where he died in 1306.

Rabbi Duran-Astruc, Abba Marhi’s grandson, went to live on the Island of Majorca itself, where his son, Rav Avraham, was born in the capital, Palma, and where his son, in turn, Rabbi Astruc (also known as Astrugon) was the rabbi of the community of Palma.

This point in history began a dark time for the Jews of Majorca, who had always been famous for their map-makers and sea-faring merchants. In advance of what would later become widespread throughout Spain, the Church conducted a pogrom of forced conversions by the sword in Majorca in 1435, during which all the Jews there were either killed or forcibly converted to the Catholic belief. Rabbi Astrugon, as leader of the community, was publicly burned at the stake in an auto-da-fé or “act of faith.”

When I read this, I was shocked and greatly saddened. Imagine the courage that this must have taken, to stand up in such a heroic way. I still inwardly shudder when I think about it.

Since learning of this, I have been lighting a candle for Rabbi Astrugon and do mitzvot in his merit, contemplating the supreme sacrifice he made by choosing to die in the flames rather than profess belief in something other than the One G‑d.

I asked myself again, could this have been an ancestor, or someone in the family? Could perhaps his supreme sacrifice have paved the way for our family to return to Judaism after 500 years? Because the fact that we did return is nothing short of miracle.

Meanwhile, during this whole journey of discovery, I made another journey: coming to live in Jerusalem, where I feel very close to G‑d. Not only does He direct my path, as He always does, but one can openly see it and feel it, and I feel doubly blessed.

Recently, I’ve had the great merit to assist a rabbi here in Jerusalem who helps Spanish converts. This has been very rewarding for me since it allows me to feel that I can “give back” in a direct and meaningful way for what G‑d has done for me and my family.

Soon after I started this work, I began having recurring dreams that were vague, but I had them every night for a week.

In my dream, which felt like it was coming from the very distant past, I sensed a strange, ancient energy and that someone wanted me to do something. I vaguely saw two graves. The dream kept repeating, so I didn’t forget it.

Fast-forward six months, and now, the rabbi that I’ve been assisting is in the middle of construction on a new building for his community. I had the idea to ask him to inscribe a plaque there in memory of Rav Astrugon, who gave his life al Kiddush Hashem—in merit of all those who sacrificed for the true belief in One G‑d. I asked for Rav Abba Marhi as well since he labored so hard to try to prevent the Spanish assimilation.

The rabbi agreed to the plaques, andThe dreams have stopped somehow, the dreams have stopped. I’m left, from all this, with a very real sense that I do indeed have Jewish ancestors that look down from their place on high and care very much about what I do. I like to imagine that they get tremendous pleasure that finally, we have “come home.”

For now, in our times, there has come to be a veritable “explosion” in that many, many Spanish-speaking people from all over the world are converting to Judaism.

The path to conversion hasn’t been easy for many of these people; in fact, it’s often a very long and difficult road to get to their goal. When I hear their stories of how many have sacrificed much effort to embrace the ways of the Torah, I am struck by how much conviction these people have. Where did this come from? I like to think that it must have been forged in the fires of those conversos or crypto Jews who gave their very lives to prove their unshakable faith in the One G‑d.

(Dedicated in memory of Rabbi Abba Marhi Astruc and Rabbi Astrugon Astruc.)