Ceyda, Sargon and son Kevin

500 years later, the Habibs are looking for a house in Portugal

It is from Turkey that more applications are received for Portuguese nationality from descendants of Jews forced to leave the country in the 15th century. Half of the Habib family of Istanbul is already Portuguese. They came one after the other from the country from which they finally left. They walked the streets of Lisbon very attentively: “Are they like us?”

CATARINA GOMES Text and RUI GAUDÊNCIO Photography in Istanbul January 29, 2017, 7:35
Translation from the original in Portuguese published here

Ceyda, Sargon and son Kevin
Ceyda, Sargon and son Kevin

Not to boast, but Sargon Metin has a way to choose “the right gift for the right person”. A gift he brought from Mongolia, for example, had the power to leave a friend in tears. But to have offered to Ceyda Habib a cock of Barceló’s, which he brought from Portugal, first time they went out together, was too much. Sargon could not have guessed that Ceyda would receive the phone call from a cousin revealing, “We came from Portugal”, and that, because of this information, her whole family could try to be Portuguese, and return.

When things became more serious with the one who was now his girlfriend, Sargon, who is an entrepreneur, wanted to take Ceyda on a ten-day trip to the country from which he had brought the rooster and where he had worked for three years. Ceyda swears, “when I arrived in Lisbon the first time, a touristic city, like London or Paris, I felt: this is my home. It was a strange Lisbon.”

There are grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and great-great-great- grandparents. We no longer speak of great-great-great-great grandparents. What is the name of a family member who lived 500 years ago?

There is no way to designate this relative who, Ceyda learned from her cousin in April 2015, had the name Jacob Ibn Habib, who was born in 1460 in the Castilian town of Zamora but who, in order to live safely with his family, moved to Lisbon after 1492. It is on this date that the Catholic kings Isabel and Ferdinand, monarchs of Castile, Leon and Aragon, order: “Let Jews and Jews of all ages living in our mist depart with their sons and daughters, relatives of all ages and who do not dare to return to our lands. Should any Jew be found in this land or return, he shall be condemned to death.”

It was because Jacob had been an illustrious rabbi of Lisbon, the last, who left traces of his life, unlike humbler ancestors, that Ceyda, and her whole family, could try to become Portuguese. “A great rabbi! I would never think of such a thing, ever. I imagined that my ancestors were merchants, “confesses Refik Habib, Ceyda’s father, who is an entrepreneur in Istanbul, and also by chance, had once been to Portugal. For the wedding of Cousin Arik, who is Turkish, and Rita, a Portuguese. “Tell me what is the likelihood of a Turk falling in love with a Portuguese woman in India and getting married in Mafra?” Asks Ceyda, counting coincidences, which, to her, after learning of Jacob, have become significant. “Everything pushes us to Portugal.”

“Let’s be Portuguese,” Ceyda’s father told his family when he learned of his ancestor´s life in Lisbon. This because, in an act of historical reparation, since March 2015 the Portuguese government has granted nationality to anyone who can prove that they are part of the Sephardic Jews of the fifteenth century which were forced to leave these territories now known as Spain and Portugal (Sefarad was the name by which the Iberian Peninsula was known, hence the term “Sephardim”). Spain had already legally allowed the possibility of acquiring nationality for several years, but by the end of 2015 it also created a new law.

The couple Refik and Sevim Habib, Ceyda parents, at there home in Istanbul
The couple Refik and Sevim Habib, Ceyda parents, at there home in Istanbul

Imagine a refugee camp in Alto Alentejo 

However much the hypothesis of the Habib family becoming Portuguese might have become plausible, its concreteness appeared almost like a legend, Ceyda recalls. After all, there were many Jews living in Turkey who had applied for Spanish nationality and some were waiting seven, eight years.

It was said that Portuguese law was equally complicated. Refib Habib recalls that theories have emerged that the Portuguese authorities demanded videos to prove that Ladino was spoken (a language used by the Sephardim expelled from Spain and Portugal), and even DNA tests. It was two months of family meetings to collect enough material to prove their connection to this distant family.

We are all sitting down to dinner in Ceyda’s parents’ large apartment in a private condominium in Istanbul with security guards at the door. At the table of a room, decorated in gold and white, I wonder if they can imagine what the life of these ancestors was like. There is no facial image of Jacob. Did he have a beard, being a rabbi? A single book was named after him, Ein Yaakov-Inspirational and Ethical Teachings of the Talmud, a classic of Jewish religious literature.

When I arrived in Lisbon this first time, a city that is touristic, like London or Paris, I felt: here is my home. It was strange Lisbon. ” Ceyda Habib

The truth is that, from the horror of persecution of the Jews, the Holocaust is much more present and emotional than the time of the Inquisition, says Refik. In the first case, there are photographs; there are films, of 500 years ago. “It’s a sad but very old story.” One must imagine.

To return to this Portuguese past of the Jews fleeing from Spain, we must use what we know, which is familiar to us in the present. Let us then take a field of Syrian refugees, those who appear on television, it may be in Greece, and place it, for example, in the Alto Alentejo, one of the escape routes for Jews from Spain. The scenario would not be much different.

It is Susana Bastos Mateus, historian of Alberto Benveniste professor of Sephardic Studies, at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Lisbon, who suggests the comparison: at the gates of the village of Castelo de Vide, for example, there is news that a gigantic encampment of about four to five thousand people who had been left homeless had settled there and were waiting for authorization of D. Manuel I to enter the country, where, it was said, the Jews could live in peace.

Many ended up settling in the border area of: Bragança, Elvas, Idanha-a-Nova. Others headed to the coast. It is not known what route the Habibs took to arrive, safely by car, to Portugal. It is true that the family would settle in Lisbon, we do not know where, but one can guess. Jacob and his family would probably live in the “Baixa” of Lisbon, where the main Jewish quarter was located (the space / area where today stands Rua Augusta); having become the grand rabbi of Lisbon, perhaps he lived near the synagogue (which was somewhere which today is known as Rua da Madalena).

But the calm did not last long. The Jews had several myths; Jewish men have menstruation like women; Jews kill children; The Jews smell of the death of Christ. They were popular medieval myths at the time, states Susana Bastos Mateus, some of them reutilized by Nazism. Another would be the one that, after the baptism, even the skin of the Jews improved.

Not even the devil of Gil Vicente

Manuel I orders the expulsion of the Jews in 1496, thus wanting to “purify” the country. It was a condition for Princess Isabel, daughter of Catholic kings, to marry the Portuguese monarch.

But D. Manuel I’s policy all ambiguity. On the one hand, have them leave; in reality, preventing them from leaving. What it does is officially extinguish the existence of Jews, artificially creating an entirely “Christian” society.

The process, which begins in 1497, a year after the supposed expulsion, is done with forced baptisms. It starts with children aged between 4 to 14 years old. Some were, in addition to being baptized, where forcibly removed from their parents and handed over to Christian families.

“Parents, driven to despair, wandered like madmen. Many preferred to kill their children with their own hands, they threw them into wells or rivers, killing themselves afterwards, “quotes Esther Mucznik, former president of the Israelite Community of Lisbon, in his book Grácia Nasi – The Portuguese Jew of the 16th Century who Challenged His Own Destiny (Sphere of Books).

After the youngest, D. Manuel I decrees that the children up to the age of 25 years be removed from their families. It will be in this way that another ancestor of Ceyda, Levi, the son of Jacob, will be baptized, stripped of his family at the age of 17 in 1497. “A great rabbi should not be subjected to this,” Sargon comments at the family dinner table, imagining what the religious might feel, escape as a matter of honor. In an American edition of the book Ein Yaakov (of the Rowman & Littlefield publishing house), it states that Jacob got away recovering his son and fleeing from Portugal, not explaining how.

Was there a massacre of Jews in Lisbon? “Asks the Habib family at the table. They did not   know.

Officially eradicating the Jewish faith, it also wanted to destroy physical evidence of their presence. The synagogues were deactivated, the on in Lisbon was even destroyed, the Jewish cemetery of Lisbon was turned into pasture for animals. The stones, used to erect the Hospital of All Saints, as the historian says.

Although many Jews were forced to convert had changed their names to Christian names, attended mass, it was known who the ex-Jews were, whom they called new Christians. The Portuguese society remained divided, the “old Christians” looking suspiciously at the new Christians.

It is this cultural attitude of suspicion and intolerance that will lead to the massacre of Lisbon, on April 19, 1506, thus proving that “integration had not resulted,” continues Susana Bastos Mateus. “Was there a massacre of Jews in Lisbon?” Asks the Habib family at the table. They did not know.

I read the Habib pieces of historical accounts of those days: from dead thrown to the bonfires when they were still alive; of pregnant women thrown out of the windows onto spears. And how “the crudeness was so great that even the boys and the children who were in the cradle executed, taking them by the legs, cracking them to pieces and smashing them against the walls” (Damião de Góis). At this part, Ceyda shudders, perhaps because in the room there are three children, two of them babies: her son Kevin, of four months, and her nephews Rayn, of two and a half months, and Jamie, of four years, who brings the toys to the table.

All sources point to more than a thousand dead people, writes Susana Bastos Mateus and Paulo Mendes Pinto in The Massacre of the Jews (Alêtheia Editores).

Moris Levi
Moris Levi

Moris Levi, the vice president of the Jewish community in Turkey, does not care to hear the accounts of the happenings of the Portuguese massacre, because he has nothing to add. “Lisbon, Girona, Venice. By my accounts, he was a mathematician. At that time, in Europe, there was a massacre of Jews every three years. “

“To kill Jews was normal in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,” the two historians write in the same book, explaining that the Moors were the “external enemy” and that “within the inner cities there was the internal enemy, the Jew.” “The other should be banned.” Symptomatic is that not even the devil of Gil Vicente lets in his boat of hell “the Jew”, for being this “very bad person”.

Make our kingdoms free

Many Jews leave Portugal after the Lisbon massacre. The following year is the year in which D. Manuel I authorises them, to leave the country. In the decision is a message that can, if we want, have a premonitory reading: “And those who will make our kingdoms free when they want, and come to them as well; and in them to be; and in their comings and goings shall not receive oppression, constraint.” Further on: “Those who later become “will be” favored and well treated”

Exit form Portugal’s will be constant throughout these years, but there will be another peak with the installation of the Inquisition in Portugal in 1536.

Largo de São Domingos, in Lisbon monument marks the massacre of Jews in 1506 Pedro Elias
Largo de São Domingos, in Lisbon monument marks the massacre of Jews in 1506 Pedro Elias

Since 2008, in the Largo de São Domingos, in Lisbon, there has been a monument marking the 1506 massacre. Next to it, there are two Guineans selling peanuts and okra, a man asking for charity from Canadians and a couple sipping the Ginginha which is sold there. In his book Identity and Memory in the Jewish Community of Lisbon (from 2014) there is a Jewish interviewee who confesses to the author, Xenia Venusta de Carvalho, never having been able to go to the National Theatre. “Because of the Inquisition,” because it was “there that they were burned.”

But from the time of the Holy Office there are no physical marks in the city. Here, where the National Theatre Dona Maria II takes to the scene The Last Days of Humanity was once the seat of the Holy Office. Public processions of penitentiaries, dressed in white robes with their own face painted in flames, were coming out of the room, anticipating what was to come later. “Yes, it was as theatrical as that,” comments historian Susana Bastos Mateus. There were painters hired to replicate the fiery faces of the condemned in cloths that hung like screens in the central nave of the Church of St. Dominic, which retains the name, many of them restored.

Somewhere here, next to the river, where the Chafariz D’el Rei continues, and where today two backpackers pass behind and there is a traffic sign forbidding to stop / park, the fires are lit. The ashes of the bodies were not even removed. They were so impure that they could not be touched, Susana Bastos Mateus recalls, the wind and the tides were used to remove them to the Tagus.

The fire was not the most common penalty. The main one was the “abjurations”, declarations of the confessed to say that erred and wants to be pardoned, this took place in Terreiro do Paço, with individual podiums.

As punishment, many Jews were also sent to the “penitential quarters”, so that they could be “re-educated”. This would be where today the Street of the General Schools makes a curve that follows the line of the tram nº 28, in Alfama. Forbidden to contact with the outside, they were in cells from which they could not leave, except to go to Mass and hear prayers.


Clandestine escape routes

After the massacre, D. Manuel I only authorizes persecuted Jews to leave Portugal, who went to Christian kingdoms, fearing that in the land of Moors they could return to being Jewish.

True clandestine escape routes were created, involving small vessels of fishermen, who then transported Jews to ships off the coast. Jews already settled in called other Jews, as has always happened in the migrations.

There were those who sailed from North Africa or northern Europe, from Antwerp, England, then from Flanders, Amsterdam, then Italy, says Susana Bastos Mateus.

Many left, but many stayed. Proof of that? A study published in 2008 in the American Journal of Human Genetics showed that, on average, 35% of men in southern Portugal and 25% in the North have Sephardic Jewish genes. Which means that many have mingled, surviving in this way of religious intolerance.

Escape routes of Sephardic Jews (from Portugal and Spain)
Green = Migration during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Red = Migration during the 15th and 16th centuries

Escape routes of Sephardic Jews (from Portugal and Spain)
Escape routes of Sephardic Jews (from Portugal and Spain)

Escape routes of Sephardic Jews (from Portugal and Spain)

For many who wanted and managed to escape, the Ottoman Empire emerged as one of the final major destinations. From there came news that it was an oasis of tranquility, a haven of shelter. There, unlike Christian Europe, they were allowed to be free Jews, provided they paid their taxes.

This explains why Turkey is the country where most requests for Portuguese citizenship come from, about 40% of the total (2103 out of 5566 which were submitted from March 2016 to December last year). Next is Israel and Brazil.

It is not certain the date of the escape of the Habib family from Portugal, but the final destiny was Thessaloniki, which now is known as Greece but at that time was part of the extensive Ottoman Empire. The ancestor Jacob would die there at the age of 56, around 1516, before completing the book that would immortalize him. It would be his son Levi, who would reach the age of 65 and would also be a rabbi, who would finish the task. The work, which would make the family traceable in time by its Turkish descendants so many centuries later, has since been published over a hundred times. These Habibs would no longer return to their home, either in Spain or in Portugal.

A key from generation to generation

The idea that some families of Sephardic Jews would have kept the key to their original houses which they had been forced to abandon, hoping to one day return to their lands. They would be keys passed down from generation to generation over five centuries.

The Portuguese-Brazilian Jewish writer Tatiana Salem Levy, whose family was from Castelo de Vide, in the fifteenth century fled to Smyrna, now Turkey, has always heard of the key to her Portuguese house. It has always been said that it disappeared in a fire, but that it existed.

Tatiana Salem Levy
Tatiana Salem Levy

The coordinator of the Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Research Culture Centre in Istanbul, Karen Sarhon, is all sarcastic when it comes to this subject. The Spanish asked her the question: “Do you have the key to the house? The key to the house?! She’s a realist. “It’s caustic when she says,” It’s up to someone in there head to imagine a person being chased, not being able to carry anything with them in a suitcase, carrying a big rusty key in the back. It’s nonsense, “more so the idea of a family having kept the key for 520 years. I am not stupid”.

In the museum of the synagogue of Castelo de Vide, former president of the Israeli Community of Lisbon, Esther Mucznik, is quoted of speaking about the keys. “Real or mythical, they feed the imagination, transforming the past into a paradise.” “In all dispersion of people, there are myths,” he tells us.

“The key is symbolic. It can be a key, a quilt, even if it no longer exists physically. There is a story about this object in the family, “says Susana Bastos Mateus. One of the “means of proof” provided for in the Portuguese law, which gives nationality to descendants of Sephardic Jews, is precisely “the oral tradition of the family.”

A language that is a house

More than the keys, the important thing is the history of the key or other stories, and these were passed on from generation to generation. In Ladino the great proof of belonging to this persecuted minority is not physical, says scholar Karen Sarhon, it is immaterial. It’s called “Ladino.”

And it is extraordinary that it has survived, says the researcher who since 2005 runs one of the few newspapers in Ladino in the world, El Amaneser (The Dawn), a monthly supplement sold with the Jewish weekly newspaper Shalom. “They pointed to the extinction of the ladino 40 years ago. It has not happened yet, “she smiles, because Ladino has stopped being a language in Turkey. It is a language not taught at school, it is confined to household and to women. With the compulsory learning of the Turkish language by the Jews, in the first half of twentieth century, Ladino was disappearing.

Ladino is still spoken as the mother tongue of Turkish Jews in their 70s and 80s, the generation in their 60s still dominates it, the generation around 40 still understands and speak, but the younger generations no longer speak it. But it’s still something that unites them. “Incorporating this cultural community.” Karen Sarhon, 58, is not her native language, as was her grandmother’s but she feels it´s her duty to keep and to cultivate this language without a country.

Ladino is a language, which has maps of the places where these Jews passed in their successive exiles. “Mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Turkish. It’s a very humanistic language, “says Moris Levi, vice-president of the Jewish community in Turkey.”For us, this language psychologically represents the idea of home.”

Most of the words come from Spanish decent (hence also called Spanish Jew), but some are closer to medieval than to contemporary language. Moris Levi recalls how, when he visited Spain a few years ago on business, and used the word “aldikéra”, surprised that nobody knew this word. To him, he meant “pocket.” What he discovered was that this word remained in the rogue but had disappeared from the Spaniard, who had adopted the word pocket only. It would be a word that, when the Jews left what is now Spain, would designate a bag from which the seeds were taken, explains Levi. It was a word coming directly from the “Spain” of the middle Ages that nobody recognized in Spain of the 21st century.

In the Ladino-Turkish Dictionary, edited by Karen Sarhon, words have, whenever possible, their origin explained. Ladino has Portuguese, less than Turkish, where they have lived for five centuries, but it has. Sephardic Jews in Turkey continue to use the “still and now” in Portuguese instead of the Spanish. Portuguese words with altered spelling, such as “izolado”, “risko”, “encorajar”, “desbafar (desabafar)”, “mobilizar”, “reskaldo” have survived in the ladino of today. Speaking Ladino is another “means of proof” according to Portuguese law.

An excursion through Portuguese lands

Since last September Ceyda Habib, her father and brother-in-law are officially Portuguese. There are still two Habibs missing, her mother and her sister Deniz also received nationality. The basis of the process for each is the same; it’s Jacob, and Ladino. While waiting to be all-Portuguese they organized themselves and, last year, went on a trip to the country from where, after all, they came. Even Mia the dog, which Ceyda insists that also appears in the photograph.

Ceyda remembers how, during these Portuguese days, the whole family was walking in the streets, in Lisbon, in Porto, watching people and looking at the faces of the Portuguese. “Do we look like them? Are they like us? “

She says she realized yes, that they came from there. “There is a way of speaking and acting, even of walking, of living, which is different from that of other European countries,” for example England, France.

I want Kevin to grow up in both worlds, that’s my wish, let’s leave everything as it is in Turkey Ceyda Habib

Ceyda’s husband, Sargon Metin, has a family in Strasbourg and, when they go to visit them in the French city, Ceyda says she feels that “it’s a different world. It’s so quiet, we can hear ourselves walking. People talk very quietly. “It is not like in Portugal, “where you hear people talking. The Turks speak loudly. I want energy. “It is because, in fact, they feel more Turkish than Jews, explains Ceyda. And so they feel more at home in Portugal than with Jews in France, “who are more different from us.” “The Portuguese are similar to the Turks, we are Mediterranean.” Portugal has more to do with them even than Israel, where she confesses that she felt more foreign because she does not speak Hebrew. “When you speak Ladino with a Spaniard; they say it’s not Spanish, when you speak Ladino with a Portuguese, they say it’s not Portuguese.”Being neither, it made them feel more at ease in Portugal.

And Ceyda, who already speaks badly Ladino, remembers what happened to her mother in Lisbon. The whole family was at the Colombo shopping centre, on the second floor, the restaurant, and every member of the family wanted to satisfy their appetite. Sargon, the service translator – because he learned Portuguese during his stay – had as his mission to accompany each of the diners to the restaurant of his choice, he had to translate the requests and wait for them to be delivered. Ceyda chose to eat pasta; the father chose the meat carvery, and the sister chose chicken.

“My mother-in-law was last. She was starved and furious. She was tired of waiting for her guide, “recalls Sargon. She does not speak English, but she does speaks French, but few realize it. And then she decided to go, alone, to make her own request in Ladino, it would have been a slice of quiche, she does not remember well, what she remembers is that they realized it. And how important it was.

“She came very happy,” with her tray, her daughter recalls. She had succeeded in making him understand in Ladino. “It was a good thing that happened to me, to be understood,” says his mother, Sevim. It was a sign that something, in spite of so many past centuries, was approaching them.

From that episode, Sevim Habib began to talk to the people on the street. “In Portugal, my mother was happy.” She went on to say to the family, “I can go alone,” the couple Ceyda and Sargon remember.

Sargon would tell them, when he started to going to their house and heard the grandmother talking to the children, “but you are speaking Portuguese,” and they would say, “No, we’re talking ladino.”

“It will not be difficult to adapt,” concludes Ceyda. It is what they have decided already. After this family recognition visit, she and Sargon started looking for a house in Portugal. The rest of the family is doing the same, the parents, Ceyda’s sister and brother-in-law. At dinner, many questions are about house prices; they ask for advice on the best areas of Lisbon.

To be “Miguel”

Much has been transformed from Turkey since the first dinner of boyfriends in which Sargon offered to Ceyda the cock of Barcelos. They got married. Four months ago they had a baby. Who was born in a day of change in Turkey.

The days of the children’s births are always special; they are like episodes that are repeated in the family. But the day that Kevin came into the world was not only unique because he was born.

Ceyda and Sargon tell the story anecdotally, now that it’s over. It was Ceyda’s mother, at the bedside of her parturient daughter trying to reassure her in a bizarre way, they say. “Calm down, there is not an earthquake.” The hospital shivered.

“It was not an earthquake, it was bombs and jets flying over the hospital that made the windows flicker,” Sargon recalls. It was on the day of the “coup d’état” in Turkey, June 15, 2016.

Ceyda, Sargon and son Kevin, who also gave the name Michael, already thinking about Portugal, where he could be called “Miguel”

Hardly knowing what was happening, they ran to the hospital. At the time of the planned caesarean, at the Acibadem hospital, the operating theatre was full of stroke victims. Kevin would be born on June 16 at 4:45 p.m.

The climate in Turkey has been different since then. It is not they who say it. It is the press reporting it every day: “Turkey decrees prison for 100 military for coup “, “170 newspapers, magazines and television channels closed, 125 journalists arrested”, “Turkey closes NGOs and asks for life imprisonment for writers “Turkey investigates 10,000 people for” terrorist activities “,” After the failed coup, the government has already suspended, fired and detained about 35,000 people from the army, police and justice.”

Ceyda and Sargon decided to call Kevin their son, but also Michael. The addition of the second name was already thinking about Portugal, so that one day he could be called “Miguel”.

“I want Kevin to grow up in both worlds, that’s my wish, let’s leave everything as it is in Turkey,” but they want to have a house in Portugal. The idea is to live half the time in Portugal, the other half in Turkey. “Let’s come and go.”

Sargon and Ceyda are a kind of pioneers on this return journey. “I am like a bridge to them,” says Ceyda, who in the meantime has become the representative of the Israelite Community of Oporto in Turkey, one of the entities that in Portugal certify candidates qualified to continue with the process of acquiring nationality.

What the law asks

“How is Portugal? What’s life like there? How is the economy? Insurance? The schools? “, Ask the couple many of the Portuguese candidates who are waiting. In the list of Turkish Jewish families waiting to be Portuguese, are Faro, Franco, Karmona, Moreno, Casado, Pinhas, Ventura, Sarda, Gomel (de Gomes?), Ferara (Ferreira?). Of a community of about 16,500 Sephardic Jews in Turkey, 2103 have entered processes to try to become Portuguese (figures from the Portuguese Ministry of Justice), which means about 13% of the community.

When someone in Turkey misses their nicknames because they do not sound Turkish and asks them where they came from, the ready-to-use answer is: “My ancestors came from Spain.” If many Sephardic Jews did not know very well the difference Between Portugal and Spain, with the two new laws have discovered it.

Portugal granted until December last year Portuguese nationality to 431 Sephardic Jews, about 63% are Turks (271 citizens); Spain conceded it to three, summarizes lawyer of Turkish origin Yoram Zara, who lives in Israel and also handles cases of Turkish citizens.

Five hundred years later, Portuguese law came to make the Sephardic Jews in Turkey discover Portugal as a more generous country in admitting their historical error, says lawyer Yoram Zara. “Portuguese law is much more reasonable.”

Spain had legally opened the door to the granting of citizenship a few years ago, by royal decree, but only in 2015 would attribute, at one time, nationality to 4522 people. But the new Spanish law requires a test of knowledge of language and culture, which obliges you to attend a notary in Spain, which is why the main candidates come from countries like Argentina and Venezuela and not from countries like Turkey.

Spanish law is looked at with some criticism. Some Turkish Jews, who prefer not to be identified, say that it is unfair that a country that expelled them, 500 years ago now requires them to know about a culture they do not know or should know. In the multiple-choice test, questions such as “Who is the current King of Spain? What is Penelope Cruz’s profession? What is the main export from Spain? “Portugal does not require Portuguese to be spoken, even if culture is known. What is called for is evidence of this distant ancestry.

In this way, the new law came to make them take an interest in Portugal. “There will be hundreds of Turkish Jews buying houses, properties in Portugal, thinking of establishing their businesses in the country,” says Yoram Zara. Visiting the country.

Yoram Zara, himself a Portuguese citizen since December last year under this law, agrees with a recent article in the Turkish press that shows how Istanbul looks like Lisbon: “The two are hill-like cities; A bridge that joins the two banks, there are roasted chestnuts on the street in cold weather, the pavement is made of small stones. “” Lisbon is a bit oriental, “he says.

But wanting to try to be Portuguese depends a lot on age and has to do with need. There are differences in motivations between the older and the younger. Those who no longer need and those who may still need.

The roots of the Albukrek

Viktor always knew that his Albukrek came from some Albuquerque’s gone from Portugal. The centuries had changed his spelling, the “what” happened to “k” because the Turk does not have that syllable. He has always heard of his most famous namesake, the viceroy of India Afonso de Albuquerque. It was a family joke, between father and son, “[our ancestor] had so many lands and left us nothing.”

When the son, an environmental engineer living in Canada, was in Portugal about four years ago, whenever there was a signboard with the familiar nickname written in the old sent pictures. Joking at the caption: “One more of our streets.”

The Portuguese origin of the family has always been an almost folkloric episode, with no consequences for their lives, even when, recently, their friends began to ask Viktor Albukrek: “Why don’t you ring the doorbell of Portugal? Seize the opportunity”. “What a chance?” He says, asking.

Viktor and Rahel Albukrek
Viktor and Rahel Albukrek

Viktor and Rahel Albukrek no longer think about returning: “We do not have the strength to move, I do not intend to change our country, our roots are here”

Viktor Albukrek, 85, points to the wall next to the pink-old couch, adorned with a white lacy doily – painted with beige paint which is disappearing. He thought it was a good idea to paint fresh, but the woman Rahel insisted it best to leave it as is. It’s too late for renovations. “We do not have the strength to paint the walls, to move houses, I do not intend to change the country,” says Viktor. In the unlikely event of ever returning to Portugal, he will do as he always did: “I ask for a visa.”

The time of the great voyages ended for the couple, says Viktor, who has accumulated boxes of hotel matches from around the world in an ashtray of the world, Crown Princess Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne Meridian, Nairobi International Hotel, Palace of Madrid.

“Our roots are here,” says Viktor. His wife, Rahel Albukrek, was ill. She was a tour guide, like him, “I spoke French, Spanish, English, Ladino and Turkish. The AVC took French, Spanish, English and Ladino. I was with the Turk. “

But Viktor Albukrek has a curiosity; almost everyone has it, with a hint of distrust, of those who dwelt to think that generosity must have an explanation. “Why did Portugal make this law?” “Was there pressure from Israel?” I reply that there was a popular petition and that the parties unanimously approved it in Parliament.

Regardless of the motives, Viktor says, “It is a satisfaction to feel that they are opening the doors of return to the Jews, to let them return”. For the elders, the importance is symbolic, he says. It is the closing of a cycle.


A relic deposited in the hands

She had no intention of becoming that old lady’s Portuguese. She was sick with cancer, 82 years old arrived with her husband David and a nurse to the Alentejo village of Castelo de Vide. The former mayor of the village, Carolino Tapadejo, himself a descendant of Jews expelled from Toledo, realized that it was the last trip he would make. Saw it on 31 May 2015.

“He wanted to come and say good-bye to his land, a land where he had never been.” And he had an object he wanted “to return,” recalls the former mayor. It was a rusty black key that would open the door to the family’s Portuguese home.

Said the lady, named Esther Cohen, whose family had fled from Portugal to now fifteenth-century Turkey, which had been handed down from generation to generation by women. Besides the key, the names of the neighbors of 500 years ago had arrived to him. The lady knew that on Rua da Fonte, she still knew the name, her distant family would live next to “an Ana, a Benta, Arrenega, Tristão and a Cliff”, recalls Carolino Tapadejo, who carefully pointed these names.

The ex-mayor had always heard of the key story, never thought it existed. “Imagine what that chilling moment was, to see this lady crying, her, her husband, and the nurse, to deposit the wonderful relic in my hands, accompanied by a smaller one, certainly from a closet.” To the Alentejo village because he had no children to leave.

Carolino Tapadejo took it and headed for the street that had kept the name 500 years ago, is the one that leads from the synagogue (which is now a museum) to the Fountain of the Village. The street is in the northern part of the village, where the Jewish quarter was, because it was the darkest, wettest, steepest part,and tried it from door to door. “What are you doing here?” Asked the inhabitants who know him well because that house is home to his in-laws. “I’m going to see if the key comes in.” They did not care if he had tried it on 14 locks. None opened. The houses are in the same place; the wooden doors will have rotted with time. “I’d love it if a door had opened.”

He wanted to come and say good-bye to his land, a land where he had never been.” Carolino Tapadejo on Esther Cohen

Whenever Carolino Tapadejo makes guided tours to the less sunny side of Castelo de Vide, the story of Esther Cohen is the latest addition. The key is only waiting to have an exhibitor just for her in the museum- synagogue.

Opportunities for the children

If for the elders the law serves mainly for its symbolism, for the youngsters a Portuguese passport can still change lives.

We’re in the middle of the interview with Karen Sarhon at the Shalom newspaper’s facility, and Gila Barokaa Erbes, a library worker, hangs around us. Anxious air, asking several questions “from where are they?”, “From Portugal?”; “Are they Portuguese from Portugal?” I answer yes. And Gila jokes: “But it is as if it were the coming of the Messiah.” He says he needs our help. Has no money to pay a lawyer and translator and is trying to do everything alone processing it with Google translator, you know that it´s a linguistic adviser with flaws, but it´s what I have. “Do they realize this?” He says, showing a document written in Portuguese that, at least, can be said to have flaws.

Gila Barokaa Erbes
Gila Barokaa Erbes

In the chestnut chest of a lady who follows her everywhere, four letters come from Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 198, Lisbon, Institute of Records and Notaries. Her husband’s family is descended from a Baroque family that time turned into Barokaa.

Gila, 56, has two children, one is autistic. It is more for the healthy child who is doing everything to be Portuguese. Having a European passport is an open door of opportunity. It’s Schengen. But it seems to him that the process never ends. “I want this to end.”

Many Turkish Jews have their children to study abroad, in the United States, in Israel, but they are on the verge of having to return, because the Turkish passport is not the easiest in terms of mobility, explains Karen Sarhon.

To be Portuguese or Spanish is to be able to circulate, is to be able to be without accountability, without asking for visas. Is to be able to choose to master in Spain, as now the daughter of Karen Sarhon, since her mother became Spanish. “The law is especially important for our children,” says the investigator. And more do not say. These are interrupted conversations. Despite the questions.


“We do not know if we can help, to be Portuguese…” (Gila Barokaa Erbes); “We never know tomorrow” (Refik Habib). “We never know the future.” (Ceyda Habib Metin).

These are cliché phrases that could be spoken by anyone in any country, in the coffee shop, or on the bus, but when Jews pronounce them today living in Turkey they gain another dimension. They are sentences that end in reticence that have to serve as end points. They are full of unanswered conversations that cannot be filled.

P2 was in Istanbul the week the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), moved forward with a bill that wanted to suspend convictions of accused of sexual assault of minors, provided the perpetrator married the victim. He turned back.

In the cosmopolitan Istiklal Avenue, there is a discreet collection of signatures against the proposed law, where the approach of someone to ask what is, is perceived, is looked at with fear. “It is against the law of children,” respond laconically.

In conversations with Sephardic Jews, everyone fleshes out questions about the political situation in Turkey. The name of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is never uttered, is even avoided.

“There is a sense of concern,” says lawyer Yoram Zara, who speaks at will because he lives in Israel. “Turkey is becoming less and less a democracy, less and less worldly. Jews are of course pro-secularization, pro-freedom of speech, and this does not make them identify with the Islamic party in power. “

What is being watched “is the Islamization of society”. There are those who feel that the sound of the loudspeakers of the mosques from which it is called for the five prayers of the day has risen in volume. “They also feel that Turkey is more unstable, with the terrorist attacks,” says Zara. All reasons to be prepared.

Neve Salom synagogue
Neve Salom synagogue

Discreetly Jews

Neve Salom is the largest synagogue in Istanbul and yet it has nothing to do with it. The same for the Shalom newspaper, which is at number 12 in Istanbul, where even when entering the hall of the building you see a sign indicating that we are in the right place. They are two modest places. This is a purposefully discreet community. “My father always said, you are Jewish, be careful, speak quietly, be discreet,” says Gila.

The synagogue and the newspaper are also two protected spaces. At Neve Salom there is a security guard at the door, inside a metal detector until a black armored door opens, the thickness of a wide wall, the passport is held hostage. In the Shalom building, it’s the porter who confirms that this is the right place before we open our suitcases and pass them a metal detector telling us to go to the third floor where the staircase is interrupted by a gray railing. The other doorbell is then struck, and there is someone who opens the door, and only the inside of the wall on the wall is written in full with the logo of the Jewish newspaper.

Experience has shown them that it is safer to be Jewish inside doors. It is not the craze of persecution. In 1986, 22 people who were praying in Neve Salom, with bombs allegedly from Hamas, died; In 2003, two bombers struck the streets of the synagogues Neve Salom and Bet Israel, 23 people died, about 600 wounded, allegedly attributed to al-Qaeda.

Mois Gabay, Tourist Guide
Mois Gabay, Tourist Guide

One thing is the political climate, another is the social environment. And there is no better thermometer for measuring levels of intolerance, for anti-Semitism in concrete, says Mois Gabay, who is tour guide and chronicler of Shalom, than to ride a taxi and listen to their drivers and of course social networks. And there, yes, note the rise in conspiracy theories involving Israel and the Jews in general, a minority accustomed to scapegoating. As a chronicler, he has come to defend the criminalization of anti-Semitic hate speech, with the right to impose fines, and an education system that does not show Jews as “others.” “After all, we’ve been living here since the Inquisition. I love Istanbul, my roots are here. “

There are districts of Istanbul where you first try to understand whether it is safe to say that your name is Moses, a name that comes from Moses – “my name is very Jewish, I must be careful”; in places where he feels less comfortable, Mois is Musa.

In addition to the political and social climate, Esther Muscznik believes there is “a fear that has become almost visceral, instinctive. The Jews are always afraid that in any part of the world they will have to leave.” To think of this possibility became “atavistic.”

“Every Jew has in his training this sort of pain of expulsion, I do not know whether the word is ‘fear’ or ‘ghost.’ They have been expelled many times from many places, “says Tatiana Salem Levy. Since the expulsion from Egypt. The Inquisition. The Holocaust. “It marks the identity of a people. Being Jewish is also thinking about expulsion. “

Being a Jew then is also living this uneasiness, an existential startle, says Karen Sarhon. “We are the wandering people, never accepted, who never had a home. It is part of our heritage: we are the ones who can be sent away at any moment. “

That is why, for many of them, having a Portuguese or Spanish passport comes as a kind of insurance, a plan

“You never know,” says Michael Rothwell, a member of the board of the Israelite Community of Porto, “if the country that Expelled them in the fifteenth century may be the same that saves them in the twenty-first century. ” For Gila Erbes Barokaa, “Portuguese law may be the key.”

Original Portuguese Words in Ladino
Abafar; Alfinete; Ainda; Agora; Asender Bafo; Banir
Desbafo (desabafo); Desbafar (desabafar) Enkorajar; Enforkar; Eskureser; Eskurid’ád Ferir; Feríd’o; Ferrujém; Ferrujénto; Fronya Izolado; Izolamento; Izolarse
Mobilizar; Mófo Próva
Redijir; Reskaldo; Remorso; Risko; Riskar
Source: Ladino-Turkish Dictionary, edited by Karen Saron, authored by Klara Peraya

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