The synagogue of El Transito in Toledo, Spain
An American member of Congress is among 6, 000 descendants of Jews forced out by the Spanish inquisition who have contacted the authorities about acquiring Spanish nationality. Report in The World:
Today in Spain there are only some 40,000 Jews. The head of the
Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities told Spanish TV that the new
offer of immediate citizenship for descendants had created a buzz in
Jewish communities around the world.
“I can tell you that in less than a month we have received about
6,000 inquiries, among which I would highlight one from an American
member of Congress,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Federation could not say who that Congressman
was. But one American who has looked into the possibility of becoming
Spanish is Doreen Carvajal, a reporter with the New York Times in Paris.
Some years ago she learned she had Sephardic Jewish roots. She began
to investigate, even moved to Spain and wrote a book about her
experience, called “The Forgetting River.”
“My initial reaction was that it was a really thrilling moment,”
Carvajal said. “That it was an act of justice. They held this news
conference with top ministers to offer automatic citizenship to
descendents of all Sephardic Jews who left during inquisition. Point
blank done. 363 It was a romantic notion on my part. I told my husband, I
think I’m going to try and get the passport because it closes a circle.
It was very poetic,” Carvajal said.
But Carvajal says that when she contacted Spain’s Jewish Federation, she learned she didn’t qualify. Not yet anyway.
Part of Carvajal’s family was Sephardic Jew. But when they left
Spain for Costa Rica, they converted to Catholicism, at least
officially, out of fear of Spanish Inquisitors. The Inquisition hunted
down and persecuted Jews even in the far-off Spanish colonies.
So, Carvajal is technically the descendant of converts or, conversos.
She’s not a practising Jew herself. She says she was told she’d have
to convert to become Spanish.
“I felt like another it was act of being forced,” she said. “Here are
the these people, the descendants of the anousim, the forced ones, the
conversos, being told you have to do this, you have to be a certain
religion? So what happens if you’re a secular Jew? It was a bittersweet
moment for me when I realized there were a lot of clauses there and it
really wasn’t an automatic offer for everyone.”
Isaac Querub, the president of Spain’s Jewish Federation, did not
respond to multiple requests for interviews. Nor has Spain’s Justice
Ministry commented on why some descendants are excluded from the
Carvajal says she’s been left to wonder whether Spain just wants to
attract Jewish wealth, from known Sephardic enclaves that have survived
in place like Venezuela and Turkey.
Maria Josep Estanyol, an historian on Jews at the University of
Barcelona, says she’s not sure why Spain is splitting hairs now. But
she says it is well known that when Spain expelled the Jews in 1492 it
had disastrous effect on the economy.