Over 130,000 ‘Sephardic’ Jews accept Spain’s offer and apply for citizenship

The descendants of those exiled over 500 years ago for refusing to convert to Catholicism are mostly from Latin America.  

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Some 132,000 descendants of Spanish Jews who were forced into exile over 500 years ago have applied for citizenship in the land of their ancestors by the September 30 deadline set by a law passed by Spain in 2015, the country’s Justice Ministry announced on Tuesday.

The law was specifically enacted “with the intention to amend the actions carried out by Spain in 1492 that expelled Jews from the Iberian Peninsula.”

The expulsion that was ordered that year by Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for all Jews who would not convert to Catholicism looms large in Jewish history. It is estimated that some 200,000 fled, including such luminaries as Don Isaac Abarbanel, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers and commentators on the Bible, who served as the royal state treasurer.

It took until 1968 for the Spanish government to formally revoke what was known as the Alhambra Decree, and explicitly allow Jews to practice their faith openly once again as an officially registered religion.

Most of those taking advantage of the 2015 invitation come from Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico. Applicants do not have to be residents of Spain, nor do they have to give up their current citizenship to gain a Spanish passport.

However, Ashley Perry, president of Reconectar, an organization that assists in reconnecting descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews with the Jewish World and Israel, says that there are several other requirements that must be met to take up the offer.

“They have to know the Spanish language, have cultural proficiency and have at least one visit to Spain,” he told World Israel News.

“Portugal, which has a similar law, that is open-ended for now, is much easier. You just need some proof of ancestry” along with the legal paperwork, he added.

Perry, who says his original family name is Perez, can trace his ancestry back to the 15th century. His brother has already received Portuguese citizenship and he is in the midst of the process himself.

When asked why people would want to apply for such citizenship, Perry gave several possibilities.

“Some simply want to get a European passport, to be able to travel or live in Europe freely,” he said.

“It’s also problematic to be a Jew right now in Turkey or Venezuela – though Venezuela is difficult right now in general. But some want to rectify a historic wrong.  Their ancestors were expelled, and they feel that this is closing a circle,” Perry added.

Including himself in the last group, he said, “The language, culture, and history are a very central part of our identity, so now that they are welcoming us back, we want to do it.”