“How we missed you!”
That was how King Felipe VI addressed representatives of Spain’s Jewish community to celebrate new legislation allowing people of Sephardic origin to obtain Spanish citizenship.
Speaking at a special ceremony held inside Madrid’s Royal Palace on Monday, the Spanish monarch said it was “a privilege” to be able to write “a new page in history.”
The Sephardic ancestry law, which went into effect on October 1, comes more than five centuries after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.
Felipe VI also thanked Sephardic Jews for having preserved their old language, Ladino, “like a prized treasure,” and for teaching their own children “to love this Spanish homeland.”
“I want to tell you that you’re back home, that you have returned home forever.”
A royal decree signed just a day after the law went into effect has already allowed 4,307 individuals from Venezuela, Turkey, Brazil and other countries to obtain Spanish nationality by virtue of their family background. Another 583 applicants are pending a reply.
In March of this year, the Justice Ministry estimated that up to 90,000 people across the globe might be eligible for citizenship if they can prove they are direct descendants of the expelled Jews.
Applicants must be able to demonstrate that they are Sephardic either through a Jewish community certificate, by speaking Ladino, having a Sephardic surname, or by possessing an ancestor’s birth or marriage certificate according to Castile tradition. But they must also demonstrate current links to Spain through family connections, knowledge of Spanish, or contributions made to Spanish organizations.
Isaac Querub, president of the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities, noted that the Sephardim have never expressed resentment against Spain in these 500 years despite having become “the Spaniards without a homeland.”
Justice Minister Rafael Catalá, who was also present at the ceremony, said that the new law does not wish to forget the mistakes of the past but to avoid them in future.
“Returning to Sefarad is no longer a pipe dream,” said Catalá.
The exact number of Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 is the subject of controversy. The latest studies talk about 100,000; many of those who initially left were later allowed to return, on condition of renouncing their religion.
English version by Susana Urra.