Following-up on the New York Times’ exposé, join the American Sephardi Federation for an exclusive briefing on the situation in Spain as the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) bureaucratically dismantles the Sephardic citizenship law, betraying Spain’s promise to atone for the Alhambra Decree and the horrors of the Inquisition. The event took place on 5 August at 1PM EDT and featured:
• Sara Koplik, Ph.D., Director of the Sephardic Heritage Program, Jewish Federation of New Mexico
• Jason Guberman, Executive Director American Sephardi Federation
• Rabbi Dr. Rob Lennick, CEO Jewish Federation of New Mexico
• The Honorable Teresa Leger Fernandez (NM-3)
• Genie Milgrom, President of Tarbut Sefarad – Fermoselle, Spain; Outgoing President of Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies
• Jason Silva, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, philosopher, influencer, and futurist
• Professor Emeritus Don Arnulfo Ramirez of Louisiana State University
• Professor Cristina Miriam Ramirez
• Dr. Cesar David Ciriano Vela, Spanish immigration attorney
Tens of thousands of Inquisition survivor descendants are now being cynically rejected or even cruelly having their citizenship revoked, after investing years of time and money to comply with Spain’s rigorous application process. The Spanish government’s illegal actions are a fresh insult to historical injury, especially for the Anusim (Crypto-Jews), those who are no longer Jewish on account of the forced conversion and centuries of persecution endured by their ancestors.
This is a matter of life and death for Venezuelan Sephardic refugees in Spain, who have already been threatened with deportation.
Join the ASF for a timely discussion with those directly involved and please add your name to our #SpainPromsies campaign demanding Spain’s government uphold the rule of law by honoring its promises to descendants of Inquisition survivors.
An integral partner of and based at New York’s Center for Jewish History, the American Sephardi Federation represents Greater Sephardic voices in Jewish communal and diplomatic affairs as a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and World Jewish Congress.
“How can it be that Jews, whose ancestors were cruelly banished from Spain in the late Middle Ages & lived in exile in Muslim or Christian countries, have insisted on preserving a Spanish identity of sorts…?”
This is the question of A.B. Yehoshua, the noted Sephardi-Israeli writer who is from a multi-generational Jerusalem family, and whose Moroccan and Salonican roots extend back to the Iberian Peninsula.
“It is as if they had said to those who drove them out: you succeeded in expelling us physically from Spain, but you will never succeed in expelling Spain from inside of us.”
Indeed, I am speaking with you live from the American Sephardi Federation and Association Mimouna’s office in Rabat, Morocco, a country in which Sepharadim have repeatedly found refugee from Spanish persecution.
Already in the late seventh century, the Toledan Church’s anti-Jewish legislation, coercing conversions and targeting children for abduction, compelled Jews to come here. It was not until the Muslim conquest of Spain that some of these Jewish refugees returned.
Over many of the ensuing roughly eight hundred years, Sepharadim created a seriously Jewish yet cosmopolitan Judaism, and, in partnership with Muslims and Christians, the Golden Age convivencia, whose enlightenment ideal, if inconsistent reality, continues to inspire.
After all, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides), the Andalusian Sephardi philosopher and eventually physician at the court of Sultan Saladin, was forcibly converted by the Almohads in Spain and escaped Islamist extremism by coming with his family to Morocco, where he was a student at one of the world’s oldest Islamic university’s, al-Qarawiyyin, at Fez.
Sephardic Jewish refugees, known as “M’Gorashim” or exiles, returned to Morocco again after the Reconquista, and have left an indelible mark, from the poetry and songs of Hakatia (the Northern Moroccan version of Ladino) to the Lazama Synagogue in Marrakech, Slat Attia in Essaouira, and the Matrouz tradition.
And not only here.
In the ASF’s National Sephardic Library and Archives at the Center for Jewish History we have records of the Halabi Syrian Sephardic Jews who commemorate the Alhambra Decree or Edict of Expulsion during Hanukkah by lighting extra candles; photos of a Curiel born in Turkey, who was married in Pakistan and lived in India; information about the former chief rabbi of Iran’s Sephardic lineage back to Spain; and, of course, the music of Gaston Ghrenassia, better known as Enrico Macias, who is a modern day exile from Constantine, Algeria.
We also have, in our Louis N. Levy rare books collection, the works of Manasseh ben Israel, a converso or Crypto-Jew who became a rabbi, founded the first Hebrew press at Amsterdam, was a friend of Rembrandt, champion of free thought and liberal learning, and, as a diplomat, was instrumental in reversing the injustice of England’s expulsion of Jews in 1290 roughly four hundred years later.
Today’s event, part of the ASF’s #SpainPromises campaign, is central to the American Sephardi Federation’s mission both to preserve and perpetuate the history, traditions, and rich mosaic culture of Greater Sephardic communities, as well as to represent Sephardic voices in Jewish communal and diplomatic affairs, as a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and World Jewish Congress.
We are honored to be joined by many distinguished speakers and over 500 attendees, as well as to present this program in partnership with the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, who has done such vital work supporting the descendants of Inquisition survivors throughout this process.
We are especially grateful to have with us Congresswoman Teresa Ledger Fernandez, a leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. A 17th generation New Mexican, Representative Fernandez, as approximately 40% of her district, has a heritage rooted in surviving the Inquisition. Following in the formidable footsteps of Doña Gracia Nasi, Congresswoman Fernandez is courageously championing the cause of justice for Sephardic Jews, including those with converso backgrounds.
As we mark 529 years since the Alhambra Decree, it is easy to forget the insidiously bureaucratic nature of the Spanish Inquisition. The depravity was in the details, not merely discrimination but denunciations leading to death. There are centuries worth of documents attesting to Spain’s relentless persecution of descendants of Inquisition survivors, who were tortured and murdered, including at autos-da-fé, which not always but infamously featured the public immolation of victims.
Passage of the Law of Return was a remarkable gesture after centuries of attempting to eliminate Jews and extinguish the Jewish spirit.
The response to the law was equally extraordinary, as Spain’s sincerity in seeking attornment for past sins was taken seriously. Those who had hid from persecution not only started to trust Spain with their vital information; they even looked passed the irony of being asked to prove and pay to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.
In 2015, on 30 November, a date now synonymous with commemorating the exodus of Jewish refugees from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, and other Middle Eastern states in the last century, King Felipe VI gave a speech where he welcomed Sephardic Jews and their descendants back to Spain.
“Dear Sephardim, thank you for your loyalty …” he said. “Thank you for having kept like a precious treasure your language and your customs. They are ours too. Thank you too for making love prevail over rancor and for teaching your children to love this country.”
He continued saying: “How we’ve missed you … I want to tell you today that you’ve come back home – your own home forever.”
These words rang true for five years. Over 55,000 people from across the world spent considerable time and thousands of Euros fulfilling the rigorous requirements of the application process. Now the warm welcome home that King Felipe VI promised has turned into a door slammed shut. The current, ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) is dismantling the Sephardic citizenship law two years after it officially ended.
Descendants of Inquisition survivors are being rejected, visas are being revoked, & thousands more will likely have their applications expire without a formal response. Over one hundred people who swore allegiance to the King of Spain have already lost their citizenship. This is a matter of life & death for Venezuela Sephardic refugees, who have already purportedly been threatened with deportation.
We are very concerned about these changes, for applicants across the globe, but also for Spain itself. A law that unanimously passed Congress and worked well for its full tenure, is now being destroyed and all the good will generated by the program replaced by a sense of betrayal. This puts into question the role of the notario (essentially a magistrate judge) in Spain’s legal system. It also brings into question the extent of antisemitism in Spain’s ruling PSOE party and its partner Podemos, who are aligned with the antisemitic BDS movement, the Khomeinist regime in Iran, Cuba, and Algeria.
Thank you for joining us today and we hope you will support our efforts to hold the Spanish government accountable to the rule of law and ensure Spain keeps its promises to Sepharadim and Anusim.