Monday, June 15, 2015

The Return of the Sephardim

expulsion spain

In fourteen hundred and ninety two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue...

The aboriginal peoples of North America may exclaim "and there goes the neighbourhood" any time they hear this. If the colonization of the Americas wasn't enough, 1492 was also the year Jews were expelled from Spain. The Inquisition of the Roman Catholic church had tortured and disenfranchised Jews who had formerly lived in peaceful coexistent with Christians. Tens of thousands were forced to convert to Christianity but the Grand Inquisitor, Torqemada, wanted the remainder of the Jews out of the country. Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella readily agreed.

Many of those expelled died in transit to other countries but those who survived often made significant contributions to their new homelands. These Jews and their descendants are known as the Sephardim, which means "Spanish" in Hebrew.

Now the Spanish government wants to welcome home Sephardic Jews, more than five centuries later, and grant them citizenship:

The Spanish parliament formally approved on Thursday a law aiming to correct a “tragic and historic” error by offering citizenship to Jews whose ancestors were expelled from the country in 1492. Yes, 523 years later, it seems, Madrid wants to do the right thing.“This law says much about who we were in the past and who we are today and what we want to be in the future, an open, diverse and tolerant Spain ” Justice Minister Rafael Catalá told reporters outside the parliament building. 

The legislation, which passed with a wide majority and with support from all the largest parties, is a rare gesture out of Europe, where anti-Semitism and other ethnic tensions have been on the rise in recent years.  It was first proposed as the Sephardic Ancestry Bill in 2012, igniting self reflection and dragging up painful memories among the global community of Sephardic Jews.

Who knows what this gesture might mean. The hope is that 90,000 Sephardic Jews will return. The cynical suggest that this is a ploy by the Spanish government to bring in people who can give a jump-start to a faltering economy. Others figure young Sephardim will use this as a gateway to the EU economy.

As Canadians we have seen how what appears to be a heart-felt apology, in our case to First Nations peoples, can ring rather hollow in the end. Let's hope that there is more substance here.

Had you been aware of this new Spanish law? Does is seem like an empty gesture to you, or will it make a difference? Are apologies important?


Judy McKnight said...

Apologies are always important - who knows the motivation behind government apologies, though in any country?

roger said...

We can always second-guess gestures made by any government, and wonder if there is a hidden agenda. I would prefer to look at it in a positive light and think of it as a genuine - if not hundreds of years late - gesture.