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After 500 years, Spain offers olive branch to crypto-Jews

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Human history is filled with great accomplishments and littered with terrible, cruel failures. Unfortunately, many of the greatest known failures have been directed at the Jews.

Spain is now trying to offer some recompense for its persecution of Jews five centuries ago, calling it a “historic mistake.”

And Luis Portero – an attorney from Málaga, Spain, who is a strong believer in the idea that it’s never too late to admit a wrong and at least try to make amends – was in Albuquerque last week spreading the word.

In 1492, the Spanish monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand did more than finance the first sea voyage of Christopher Columbus. They also gave Jews the choice of converting to Catholicism, leaving the country or facing death.

In October, a law was enacted in Spain that will restore Spanish citizenship, with all its rights and privileges, to people who can demonstrate that their ancestors were among those who were victims of the long-ago persecutions and who still have language and cultural ties to the nation. An estimated 3.5 million Jews with Spanish ancestry, known as Sephardic Jews, are spread around the world.

Luis Portero, special counsel for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, speaks about a new Spanish immigration law that allows citizenship for descendants of Jews forced to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Luis Portero, special counsel for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, speaks about a new Spanish immigration law that allows citizenship for descendants of Jews forced to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Portero thinks that quite a few may be New Mexicans who will qualify for this dual-citizenship offer.

Many of those who traveled the hard road north 400 years ago from New Spain – now, Mexico – to settle in New Mexico came from families that originated in Spain. Some of those were descendants of people who had fled the expulsion and worshipped in secret or were conversos (forced converts). Today, these people are generally called crypto-Jews.

Some indications that this happened in New Mexico include the practice even today by some Catholic families of lighting candles on Friday evenings and the presence of a Star of David on some old headstones in some northern New Mexico cemeteries.

But more than indications or family legends will be required to receive Spanish citizenship.

There are required documents that will need to be translated into Spanish and then apostilled, or certified, by the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, a Spanish-language test, and a test of basic knowledge of Spanish culture and history, among requirements. Go to the Journal’s Web edition,, to find some links with detailed information.

Luis Portero, special counsel for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, speaks at Congregation Nahalat Shalom on Jan. 24 about a new Spanish law that grants crypto-Jews the "right to return." (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Luis Portero, special counsel for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, speaks at Congregation Nahalat Shalom on Jan. 24 about a new Spanish law that grants crypto-Jews the “right to return.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Fortunately for New Mexicans, Albuquerque is one of just a few places in the United States that have their own Instituto Cervantes, a Spanish government institute to promote the study of Spanish language and culture. Albuquerque’s is at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. There, the tests can be studied for and taken. You won’t have to travel for that.

But you will have to travel to Spain at least once to complete and sign the paperwork.

So far, Portero’s travels to meet with Jews and crypto-Jews have taken him to Israel, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Peru, Chile and several U.S. cities where it is suspected that there may be communities of crypto-Jews.

“The trip to Albuquerque is very important to me, because the crypto-Jewish community is very large here and they have a terrific opportunity to not only become Spanish citizens, but to heal the wounds of the past,” Portero said. “I hope it will be a reason for those who have been in hiding to step out and say, ‘I’m proud to be a crypto-Jew.’ ”

Several dozen people from as far away as Colorado attended a meeting on Jan. 24 at Congregation Nahalat Shalom, where Portero presented information about the citizenship opportunity. He said he was pleased with the questions that were asked and expects a large number of applicants to come from this area.

Portero, the lead attorney of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, is not a Jew; he’s Catholic. And he’s doing all this work and travel pro-bono. For him, reaching out to wronged people is personal.

He is a descendant on his father’s side of a family that was expelled from Toledo in 1451 for being Jewish and that eventually converted to Christianity. But he became dedicated to the cause of righting humanity’s wrongs, old or new, after his father was assassinated in 2000.

“My brother and I became committed activists in the fight against terrorism after my father was killed by ETA, the Basque terrorist group,” he said. “The Portero family is taking criminal action against ETA for crimes against humanity. … The work on this project closes the cycle for me.”

So, why seek dual Spanish and American citizenship?

Well, you don’t have to pay any taxes to Spain or ever live there, but if you ever want to move across the pond and buy a home, you can.

Or, if you’re ever traveling in Spain and need emergency medical care, it’s free to citizens.

Or, if you want to attend a university that is in a European Union country, you need only meet the requirements of its member states.

I’ve heard from several people of both U.S. major political parties that the winner of this year’s presidential election could be the straw that finally drives them to another country.

Just think, if you have dual citizenship, no matter who wins you’d have a place to go.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or


Provided by La Federación de Comunidades Judías de España (


June 24, 2015, law granting Spanish citizenship to Sephardic Jews of Spanish ancestry


What does Sephardi mean?

Sepharad, in Hebrew, means Spain, therefore, Sephardic means Spanish. The term Sephardim refers to those Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula until 1942 and to their descendants.

What is a naturalization letter?

It is one of the methods of acquiring Spanish citizenship. It is ex gratia and not subject to the general rules of administrative procedure. Naturalization shall be granted or not, discretionally, by the Spanish Government, through a Royal Decree, after analyzing the concurrence of exceptional circumstances.

Eligibility: Who may apply

Who can apply for Spanish citizenship as a result of the Citizenship Law for Sephardi Jews?

You may apply if you prove your Sephardic origin and a special connection with Spain, even if you do not have legal residence in Spain.

Can a non-Jewish person apply?

Yes, he or she may apply. The Law is open to Jewish and non-Jewish people of Sephardic origin, provided that they can prove their Sephardic origin and a special connection with Spain.

I know my ancestors were Jewish, but I am not. Can I apply for Spanish citizenship according with the new Law?

Yes, you may apply. The practice of a religion by the applicant is not an issue, but you have to provide evidence of your Sephardic background and of your special connection with Spain.


What is the time frame to submit my application?

Applicants must submit their applications within 3 years from October 1, 2015, effective date of the Law. Deadline date may be extended for an additional year if so agreed by the Spanish Council of Ministers.

How long time will it take for the Spanish Administration to decide on my application?

The General Directorate for Registers and Notaries (DGRN) shall decide within twelve (12) months from the date that your case is referred to its offices, together with the reports sent by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Presidency. This actually means that a decision on your case could take up to fifteen (15) months from the filing date of your application.


Do I need a lawyer or an agent?

No, you do not. Applicants may apply in person. However, some recommend that applicants should have legal advise.

How do I start the procedure?

First of all, you need to compile all the necessary documents and then have access to the website of the Ministry of Justice in Spain, where you or your advisor will be able to submit your application.

Which are the steps that I need to follow in order to submit my application?

The procedure will be electronic, pursuant to Article 2 of the Law.

The processing of your application will go through five different stages or steps:

First: Submission of the application and attached documents through the website that the Ministry of Justice will operate for this purpose.

Second: The Ministry of Justice shall send your application to the DGRN, which will provide you with a reference number for your file and the Notary Public before whom you need to appear in Spain, according to the Notary preference indicated in your application.

Third: The Notary Public will receive your application and documents attached, and will study your case to determine if you meet the requirements of the Law. The Notary will coordinate with you or your advisor a date to meet in order to sign an affidavit. The original documents that you filed online with your application will be attached to the aforesaid affidavit. The Notary will send an electronic copy of the affidavit signed by the Notary and the applicant to the DGRN.

Fourth: The DGRN will request a report from the Ministry of Interior and another one from the Ministry of Presidency and will make a reasoned decision on your application. If the DGRN grants you the Spanish citizenship an electronic copy of the decision will be sent to you (or your advisor) as well as to the Consulate of Spain in the country where you live.

Fifth: You will be requested to show up before the applicable Spanish Consulate in your country of residence within one (1) year from the notice date of your decision. You will request from the Consulate of Spain registration of your Spanish citizenship. To that effect, you will provide a new clearance of no criminal record, and will swear or promise allegiance to the King and obedience to the Spanish Constitution and laws. You will receive your new Spanish Passport in a few weeks.

What happens if I do not timely appear before the Consulate of Spain in order to request registration of my Spanish citizenship and to receive my passport?

The procedure will be considered as expired and your rights to acquire your Spanish citizenship will be waived. If this happens, you would have to file a new application and start over the process again in order to acquire your Spanish citizenship.


How much is the fee that the Spanish Government will charge in order to process my file?

The Spanish Administration shall charge a processing fee of 100 Euros to take your case. This fee will be charged when filing your application, regardless of whatever decision is made on your case.

The Ministry of Justice will manage the fee, and will establish how to satisfy payment of the processing fee.

Documents necessary

What documents are necessary to meet the requirements of the Law?

The Law requires that you provide evidence of your Sephardic origin and of your special connection with Spain.

Which documents may prove my Sephardic background?

In order to prove your Sephardic background, you may attach to your application some of the following documents:

a) Certificate or letter issued by the President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain (FCJE).

b) Certificate or letter issued by the President of the Sephardic Congregation or Temple of the city of residence or city of birth of the applicant.

c) Certificate or letter signed by a competent rabbinical authority, legally recognized in the country of origin or country of residence of the applicant.

In cases b) and c), you may request an additional certificate from the FCJE proving that the President and/or Rabbi issuing your certificates are authorities capable of doing so in your Sephardic community. Alternatively, when you do not provide this certificate issued by the FCJE, you may attach to your application the following documents:

  • Copy of the original Articles of Association of the foreign religious entity.

  • Certificate of the foreign entity including the names of the people appointed as legal representatives.

  • Certificate, or document, proving that the foreign entity is legally recognized in the country of origin or country of residence of the applicant.

  • And, a certificate issued by the legal representative of such entity showing the signatory Rabbi actually and currently holds such position according to the requirements established by the religious entity.

The FCJE will charge a processing fee of 50 Euros for every certificate issued in favor of the applicant. If applicant requests a certificate from the FCJE to attest his or her Sephardic origin, and an additional certificate to prove that the President and/or Rabbi from his or her Sephardic Temple or congregation are recognized authorities in the country of origin or country of residence of the applicant, then the processing fee for the issuance of the two certificates will be 100 Euros.

The documents shall be submitted in Spanish language, or translated into Spanish by a sworn translator. Additionally, please note that all foreign documents must be attested by a certified Notary Public in the country of origin or country of residence of the applicant. In addition, all foreign documents must be apostilled or, when applicable, legalized. Otherwise, foreign documents will not be valid in Spain.

Are there any other documents that may prove my Sephardic origin?

Yes. You may attach to your application the following:

– Letter signed by the President or Rabbi of your Sephardic congregation or Temple in your country of origin or country of residence, proving that you speak fluent Judeo Spanish (Ladino) or “Haketia” as your family language. This letter may be signed by any other Sephardic entity, such as any Sephardic Educational Center.

– The “ketubah” (Jewish marriage certificate), provided that it states that marriage took place in accordance with Castilian traditions.

– A reasoned report issued by a competent entity showing that your last name come from a Sephardic lineage.

– Any other document that may clearly show your Sephardic origin.

Special connection with Spain

What documents may evidence my special connection with Spain?

In order to prove your special connection with Spain, you may attach to your application some of the following documents:

a) Certificates issued by officially recognized public or private educational institutions that may prove that you studied Spanish History or Culture.

b) Evidence of knowledge of Ladino or “Haketia” languages.

c) Any evidence proving that you or your first-degree ascendants were included in the list of Sephardic families protected by the Spanish government, as referred to in the Spanish Decree-Law of December 29, 1948 –related to Egyptian and Greek families–, or in the list of those who gained naturalization by means of the Spanish Royal Decree of December 20, 1924.

d) Your kinship with somebody included in any of the lists of families protected, as mentioned in paragraph c) above.

e) Proof of your engagement in charitable, cultural or economic activities in favor of Spanish or Spain-based people or organizations, or within Spanish territory. For example, certificates proving that you took part in conferences or activities regarding Spanish culture, certificates proving that you studied in Spain, any evidence of your business with a Spanish person or company, evidence that you purchased assets in Spain, among others.

f) Evidence showing that you developed charitable, cultural or economic activities in favor of organizations aimed at promoting the study, preservation and spreading of the Sephardic culture.

g) Any other circumstances clearly evidencing that you have a special connection with Spain. For example, if you can prove your kinship to a Spanish parent or son, your title of a property in Spain, etc.

Additional requirements

Are there any other additional requirements? Do I have to attach any additional documents to my application?

Yes. In addition to documents evidencing your Sephardic origin and your special connection with Spain, you are required to submit the following documents:

  • Birth certificate.

  • Clearance of no criminal record issued by your country of birth and, if applicable, by the country/ies of residence of the applicant for the last five years.

Said documents must be translated into Spanish language by a sworn translator and apostilled or legalized.

  • DELE Certificate issued by the Cervantes Institute, showing that you passed an exam to prove basic knowledge of Spanish (at least A2 level or higher).

  • Certificate issued by the Cervantes Institute, showing that you passed a civics exam to prove basic knowledge the knowledge about the Spanish Constitution and Spanish social and cultural life.

Both tests will be designed and managed by the Instituto Cervantes.

Applicants who come from countries or territories where Spanish is the official language will be exempt from taking the Spanish language exam, but not from the exam on constitutional, social and cultural aspects of Spanish life.

Instituto Cervantes – Tests

How can I be informed about the Spanish language exams and the knowledge exam on constitutional, social and cultural aspects of Spanish life that I must pass in order to fulfill the requirements established by Law?

You may ask at any office or accredited center of the Instituto Cervantes around the world.

Must all applicants take the Spanish language and citizenship –knowledge of Spanish constitution– exams?

No. Applicants under eighteen (18) years of age and those without full legal capacity are not required to take and pass the two exams.

Additionally, any applicants who are nationals of countries or territories where Spanish language is official, shall be exempt from taking the Spanish language test, but not from passing the test on constitutional, social and cultural aspects of Spanish life.

How much will the crash courses and exams cost at the Cervantes Institute?

The information related to Spanish language courses and DELE exams of basic knowledge of Spanish –European A2 level or higher– is now available on the website of the Instituto Cervantes.

Birth certificate and Criminal records

How old may the birth certificates and clearance of no criminal records be in order to be valid in Spain?

Any birth certificates and clearance of no criminal records that you submitted with your application should be no more than three (3) months old prior to the application. The starting date for counting the three-month period will be the date of issuance of the document by the competent authorities, but not the sealing date of the Apostille or legalization.

Should my application consist of some or all of the documents proving my Sephardic origin and my special connection with Spain?

The Law clearly states that the Spanish Administration will carry out a joint assessment of any documents submitted. Therefore, you are highly recommended to attach to your application as many documents as possible to show that you meet the requirements established by Law.

Sephardic last names

How do I know if my last name is of Sephardic origin?

The best thing you can do is making a consultation to an expert or academic entities with experience in the area. There are some organizations in many different countries, which are professionals in that field. Enquiries may also be addressed to Genealogy departments at universities or academic institutions, either in the country of origin or in the country of residence of the applicant.

My last name is included in the list of Sephardic surnames available on the Internet. Is that enough?

Any list of alleged Sephardic surnames published on any website is not a valid supporting evidence.

Should you believe that your surname is of Sephardic origin, we recommend that you gather and assemble any supporting documents and refer to any experienced Jewish genealogical entity that may reasonably prove that your family name descends from those who were unjustly expelled from Spain since 1492.

Can a DNA test prove my Sephardic origin?

A DNA test is not recommended as supporting evidence of your alleged Sephardic origin.

Citizenship via residence in Spain

I am residing in Spain and I have a Sephardic origin. I want to apply for Spanish citizenship. What should I do?

If you are a Sephardic Jew and you have been legally residing in Spain for two (2) or more years, you can apply for Spanish citizenship via residence. You may also apply for Spanish citizenship in accordance with the new Law on granting the Spanish nationality to Sephardim.

Click on the following link to check the requirements of nationality via legal residence.

Is it necessary that I submit any supporting evidence that I have a Sephardic origin when applying for Spanish citizenship via residence?

Yes. An applicant is required to provide the same documentation to apply for Spanish citizenship via legal residence of two (2) years.

Can I apply from Spain for Spanish citizenship according to the new Law if I am Sephardi?

Yes, you may apply from Spain. You have to meet the same requirements established by Law as for those residing abroad.

Naturalization letters awaiting resolution

I submitted my application before this Law was passed. What should I do?

If you submitted your application before the entry into force of the new Law via letter of naturalization and you are awaiting a resolution on your case, you may check the status of your application by clicking the following status link

As of October 1, 2015, those applicants whose applications are not decided may choose to continue the procedure as established in the new Law. You are to request a change of procedures and submit all documents required by Article 1 of the new Law, provided that you did not previously submitted those documents.

Applicants are recommended to request, personally or through any authorized person having a power of attorney, from the DGRN a detailed breakdown of the original documents submitted when you filed your application, so that you may determine what additional documents are to be attached to the affidavit, as set out in Article 2 of the Law.

Please note, however, that the Spanish Government has promised to decide on all pending 4,300 applications for citizenship via letter of naturalization by the third week of September of 2015. Sources from the Spanish Government say that decisions on all applications pending will be published in the Spanish Official Gazette some time in the second half of September of 2015.

The ‘Right of Return’ for Sephardic Jews

By Luis Portero

Lead Attorney, Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain

On June 25, 2015 Spain published its law granting Spanish nationality to the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain or forced to convert to Christianity since 1492.1 Also known as the “Right of Return” for Sephardic Jews (Sepharad means Spain in Hebrew), the new law opens a window of three years during which qualifying applicants may submit applications for Spanish citizenship and its associated benefits: a Spanish passport, the right to live, study and work in Spain and any other country of the European Union, and even the right of free access to emergency health care in Spain, among others.

The law is the culmination a long process through which the Spanish government has sought to reach out to the Sephardim, a process that dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century.  It recognizes the ties between Spain and the Sephardim, and is designed to establish “a linking point between the Spaniards of today and the descendants of those who were unjustly expelled in 1492.” The law seeks reconciliation and intends to open a new era of coexistence and fruitful relations between Judaism and Spain. It makes reference to the story of Sepharad, a repentant mother who acknowledged the cruelty and injustice of the massive expulsion that started in 1492. Her words, addressed to Sephardic descendants, are similar to those found in the Christian parable of the prodigal son: “In 1492 I sinned gravely against heaven and against you.  I no longer deserve to be called your Mother, but I want you to know that I deeply regret irreparable damage that I have caused you. I open Sepharad’s doors to any Sephardim who may have the desire to return. I wish to embrace you and I wish to return passports that were always yours.

I worked hard with Isaac Querub [President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain (FCJE)], former Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, and the Sepharad-Israel House in Madrid to make this law a reality and, while it did not meet all of our expectations, it does fairly balance the expectations of the worldwide Sephardic communities and the concerns of the Spanish government, which will need to handle a very high number of applications. FCJE estimates that between 50,000 and 90,000 will be received.

The new law opens a window for Sephardim to acquire Spanish citizenship, for they are Spanish brothers who never stopped being Spaniards. They nostalgically carried Spain into their hearts and held little rancor towards the country that caused their migration. The law is comprised of a lyrically beautiful preamble and two articles. The first article sets forth the requirements: applicants must prove their Sephardic origin and a special connection to Spain. In addition, non Spanish-speaking applicants are required to pass two tests, one to prove basic working knowledge of Spanish language and another to evaluate basic knowledge of the Spanish Constitution and Spanish social and cultural life. The second article sets out the rules of procedure or steps to take in order to acquire the Spanish citizenship.

Some Sephardic voices in the United States have criticized the law, speculating that its intent is to attract Jewish capital to help rebuild the Spanish economy. Others suggest that Spain is anti-Semitic, and claim that it causes undue hardship through its condition of requiring the two exams.2 However, these claims lack merit since Spain’s economy has already recovered and is expected to have a GDP growth of 2.6 percent in 2016.3 Additionally, the Law does not require residence in Spain or a renouncement of previous nationality or citizenship. For example, any applicant who acquires the Spanish citizenship is allowed to maintain his or her US passport and to live in the United States. Moreover, many countries require similar language and civics tests to applicants who wish to acquire their citizenships, including the US. Finally, the Spanish Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and Spain’s Criminal Code was recently reformed to pursue all kind of anti-Semitic actions.

The new law simply seeks to permanently close the wounds caused by one of one of the Spain’s largest mistakes in its history.

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