King Felipe (center) receives an award from the Latin America Jewish Congress in a ceremony in Buenos Aires on March 26, 2019.
(photo credit: COURTESY/LATIN AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS)
The Latin American Jewish Congress bestowed its Shalom Prize on King Felipe VI of Spain on Tuesday night in recognition of the citizenship law passed by the Spanish government in October 2015 allowing all Sephardi Jews and their descendants across the globe to obtain Spanish citizenship.
Tens of thousands of Jews were expelled by the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in 1492 and fled to North Africa, Italy and the Ottoman Empire, eventually constituting a large Diaspora of Sephardi Jews around the world.
The award was given to King Felipe in a ceremony in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the king talked of how the citizenship law had helped make Spain whole again.
“We have been working for some time to recover Spain’s Jewish heritage. Restoring these ancestral bonds is like reviving a part of Spain’s soul,” said King Felipe.
“The impact that this law is generating in the heart of Jewish people worldwide, exceeded any dimensions that we could ever imagine.”
It is thought that some 10,000 people have received citizenship under the law, mostly from Venezuela and Turkey, as well as from Israel. It is set to expire in October this year, and in total some 15,000 to 20,000 people are expected to gain Spanish citizenship under the law.
Adrián Werthein – president of the Latin American Jewish Congress – presented the award to his King Felipe, and expressed sentiment that Spain played an important part in Jewish history.
“Spain is part of Jewish history and the Jewish people are part of the history of Spain. This initiative tells the Sephardim around the world: you are, and always were, Spaniards,” said Werthein.
“This gesture towards the Sephardi Jews represent an example of commitment to the reconstruction of the identity of those who – dozens of generations ago – were expelled from Spain,” he added.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Argentina Rabbi Yitzhak Sacca, who was present at the ceremony, said that although large numbers of Sephardi Jews have not claimed Spanish citizenship through the law, it was of important symbolic importance to the Sephardi Jewish community, especially those who speak Spanish and Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language derived from Spanish.
“The law is about historic justice,” he told The Jerusalem Post
, saying that many Spanish-speaking Sephardi Jews always felt a strong connection to Spain, its culture and the era in which Jews flourished in the region, but that these feelings were always tempered however by the expulsion from Spain more than 500 years ago.
“It has closed a circle of pain. Sephardi Jews love Spain... but felt a sense of rejection because of the expulsion. This law corrected that,” said Sacca.
“To receive citizenship and a passport closes that circle and allows Sephardi Jews feel proud of that heritage.”
David Hatchwell – former president of the Jewish community of Madrid and president of the Fundación Hispanojudía, which promotes good relations between Israel, Spain and Latin America – added that the law was also designed to help Spain deal with its past.
“Spain passed the law as a measure of reconciliation with its past, as well as with the present Jewish people,” he said.
“It was done with the objective of giving a clear message that Spain embraces its Jewish past and welcomes Jews today and in the future.”
During the ceremony in Buenos Aires, one member of the Sephardi Jewish community in Argentina presented King Felipe with a key to his family’s property in Toledo, Spain, that had been passed down through the many generations of his family for the last 500 years.
Claudio Epelman, executive director of the LAJC, said following the ceremony that “The steps taken by Spain are an appreciation of the Jewish contributions to the Spanish cultural heritage, and the restitution of citizenship to the Sephardi Jews closes a gap valuing the Jewish presence in the Iberian Peninsula.”
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