SEATTLE – Four years after Spain’s law to extend citizenship to Sephardic Jews was approved by its Parliament and with just a few months remaining until it expires, members of this community around the world – from New York to Zimbabwe – are becoming Spaniards.
“The whole process took me a year-and-a-half, but I just received (Spanish) citizenship. My wife is Spanish and I had the dream to be able to return to my family’s roots,” Sam Laredo, a Sephardic Jew born in Tangier, Morocco, and living in New York, told EFE.
Laredo is participating in the 5th Erensya Summit – “erensya” being the Ladino or Jewish-Spanish word for “heritage” – organized by the Sefarad-Israel Center with the cooperation of the Three Cultures Foundation, Turespaña, the Cervantes Institute and the Red de Juderias, currently being held in Seattle, where there is a large Sephardic community.
The New Yorker, who has worked in the Spanish language “all my life” and was president of the Santillana Group in the US for 25 years, is one of approximately 10,000 Sephardic Jews who, since the law entered into force in October 2015, have received Spanish citizenship or are in the process of acquiring it, according to the latest figures from the Spanish Justice Ministry.
The measures, conceived as an “historic reparation” for the decree issued by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492 expelling the Jews from Spain, allows people who can prove their Sephardic origins (using appropriate documentation and genealogical research) to obtain Spanish citizenship if they can also demonstrate knowledge of the Spanish language and Spain’s current socio-cultural situation.
The Cervantes Institute, the entity that is in charge of preparing the exams, told EFE that an “unusually high” number of those who take the exam are receiving a “passing” score on a test that, among many other things, asks how many senators are elected to Spain’s Parliament from the autonomous North African enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla or who wrote “The House of Bernarda Alba,” which is a play written by Federico Garcia Lorca.
One of the most unusual cases over the past four years, Sefarad-Israel Center director Miguel de Lucas told EFE, was the one involving a Sephardic Jew from Zimbabwe.
“We followed the entire process of the law from its origin and when there is a special case of someone very far from Spain who has no other option, we advise them. The Zimbabwe case seemed important to us because it was especially exotic,” De Lucas said.
He said that at the time the law was approved “the idea arose that there was going to be an avalanche of three million potential candidates,” something that “has not happened,” the figures showing a much more modest number of people applying for citizenship under the law.
Another of the participants at the Erensya Summit who has already presented his application for Spanish citizenship – although he is still awaiting a response – is Michael Black, a Sephardic resident of London whose family ended up in The Netherlands for about a century after being expelled from Spain and finally moved to the United Kingdom.
“At this time, my application is in the hands of the Justice Ministry. I hope that the Spanish Embassy in London calls me in the next six months to sign the necessary papers. It was a demanding process right from the start,” Black told EFE.
To gather the necessary documentation, the British subject undertook extensive research into his family roots that took him to Bordeaux, Amsterdam and Hamburg and also examined a register preserved in the UK of births, marriages and deaths in the Spanish and Portuguese communities.
“From the moment I began the application process, I’ve become more and more emotionally involved in it. My motivation at this time is even greater because of all that I’ve discovered about my family and my links with Sefarad,” the word for “Spain” in Hebrew, Black told EFE in perfect Spanish.