Sephardic Jews – Over 37,000 foreigners asked for Portuguese passport

Turkey and Israel lead the requests of 37,731 Jews who in four years have applied for Portuguese nationality. In 2015, the law began to grant nationality to the descendants of Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula 500 years ago.

David Mendoza speaks “bad Portuguese with a Brazilian accent”. “It is a Portuguese learned mostly from reading the Inquisition documents, “explains this 56-year-old Briton who lives and works in London as a genealogist specializing in the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the Iberian late 15th century and early 16th century. Since, in March 2015, the law conferring the right to Portuguese nationality by naturalization of the descendants of those Jews started to work, the requests do not stop to arrive. By June, 7819 Jewish descendants had obtained Portuguese passports by this means. But these are only a small portion (20.7%) of the 37,731 applications submitted to the Office of Registries and the Notary (IRN) and whose proceedings are still ongoing.

Applications come mainly from Israel and Turkey, but also from Brazil, Argentina, the United States of America, and more recently from the United Kingdom, among other countries. “The overwhelming majority of applicants are between 20 and 45 years old. They are a young generation, in full working life, with a constituted family,” said Michael Rothwell, the member of the board of the Israeli Community of Porto, who is responsible for certifying these processes, namely for the validation of the documentation attesting to the belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin, was characterized by the PUBLIC. Note that in the IRN only enter the requirements already duly founded and documented, leaving behind all those who bump into the impossibility to prove the offspring.

The ride of this phenomenon, guarantees, “the Jewish community has grown throughout the country, notably in desertified zones”. But because “migratory phenomena have generated hostile movements in Europe”, he refuses to point out concrete examples, claiming that “in general, people chose Portugal to live in peace”, and many retain “traumatic memories gathered in other latitudes and not are really interested in being known. “

Asked about the motivations behind what he calls a “21st Century Return to Sepharad,” Rothwell points out “sentimental reasons and the intention to reside in the country or to have a second address there.”

It is thus a kind of silent return, which, but beyond obtaining nationality (which in some cases leads to the decision to buy a house in Portugal, or to extend its business to the country, namely in the field of real estate rehabilitation), assumes manifestations visible to the naked eye, if not because it led to the creation of a tourist itinerary specifically aimed at this “niche market”.

Jewish tourism

In April, TAP opened a daily flight between Lisbon and Tel Aviv. And according to data provided to the PUBLIC by the National Institute of Statistics, last year Portuguese hotels welcomed 119,799 Israeli guests (17,865 in 2008). Similarly, tourists from Turkey increased from 8,340 in 2008 to 39,453, ten years later. It is impossible to determine to what extent this increase derives from the demand for Portuguese nationality and the increase in Jewish tourism, but the signs that Portugal has been affirming its Jewish heritage on the international scene is, for example, the fact that the Hotel da Música, in Porto, recently bet on a restaurant whose clientele is “980/0 or 99% made up of Jews”, as João guarantees. Duarte, responsible for the hotel’s kosher project, where he also opened a grocery store for Jewish food.

“It was a project launched five years ago to respond to the growing demand we were feeling,” he says, explaining that at the restaurant, “employees are aware that a Jew does not eat shellfish or fish with scales and does not mix meat with milk.” and ensuring that “cutlery for kosher customers is not mixed with others”. Similarly, during the Shabatt (religious rest period extending from Friday at sunset to Saturday night), “the staff know they have to open their doors because Jews don’t use anything electronic, they don’t walk around. elevator, nor tear anything, so toilet paper is replaced by tissues “.

Even more than in large cities, the reinforcement of the Jewish presence has assumed visible expression in areas such as Trancoso, Belmonte, which preserves very strong signs of the Jewish presence, and Castelo de Vide, among others. In this Alentejo municipality, the mayor, António Pita, guarantees that the bet on what he calls “tourism of emotions” led to the fact that in 2017, the Israelites were already the second foreign nationality to visit the medieval synagogue of the municipality, following the Spanish. In the same logic of promoting the Jewish heritage of the municipality, the municipality invested one million euros in a project called the House of Inquisition, which is scheduled to open in early 2020. “From the Holy Office Rules we will show what were the procedures followed by inquisitors, from jail to self-defense”, he explains.

The Garcia de Orta interpretation center, another descendant of Sephardic Jews who was born in Castelo de Vida after his parents were expelled from Spain, is another of the planned projects. On the private side, two four- and five-star hotels are under construction for Jewish tourism, at a time when Castelo de Vide already has some Jews among its residents. “The county has appeared in newspapers such as The Washington Post and the New York Times and this has helped us to receive more descendants of these expelled Jews who are interested in redeeming this time. “

The president of the Trás-os-Montes Jewish Studies Center, Ruth Calvão, is more than used to pointing the direction of Jerusalem to the Jews visiting Portugal in this attempt to reconstruct the path of their ancestors. “They call me a lot asking for help to start the process of obtaining nationality. And it’s funny because when they come here to visit the country they talk a lot about the feeling that they have to be at home,” he describes, adding new motivations to those already pointed out by Michael. Rothwell said: “A Portuguese passport makes it easier for you to enter Europe. Many ask you to focus on your children so that they can come to study in Europe, others for emotional reasons, as if seeking justice. One day a Jew living in Zurich, Switzerland, who does not need, for financial or business reasons, to have Portuguese nationality, told me that when he called his parents living in Israel to say that he already had the Portuguese passport , the father was very moved because he felt that the ancestors had been done justice who had fled to what is today Turkey. “

From Turkey comes, together with Israel, the largest number of nationality applications. Of the 466 requests entered in 2015, about 45% came from Turkey (212 requests) and of the remaining 32% came from Israel (149 requests). The following year, orders rose to 5100, of which 41% from Turkey (2103) and 41.5% from Israel (2021). In 2017, of the 7044 new orders, 21.4% (1511) came from Turkey and 57% (3999) from Israel. This preponderance is due, on the one hand, to the greater ease that Jews who have settled in Turkey and Israel have to prove their membership of a community of Portuguese origin. “There are communities that have been destroyed, as well as their synagogues, which has led to much of this documentation being lost,”reminds Ruth Calvão.

Security and business

In the case of Turkey, says the president of the Jewish Studies Center, it weighs mainly on the political instability of the country. “People no longer feel safe as Jews. If there is an opportunity to get another nationality, for more European, take advantage of it,” he says. In the case of Israel, the search for a second nationality will have to do with these symbolic reasons, as well as new investment and business opportunities.

Initially residual, orders from Brazil have increased (1022 in 2018) as well as from the United Kingdom. These went from seven orders in 2016 to 130 last year. In the first six months of this year, 74 requests had already arrived from the United Kingdom. It is an increase that has been interpreted as a reaction to Brexit and the search for a passport that guarantees free movement within the Union’s borders.

European David Mendoza does not corroborate this thesis: “Honestly, I think curiosity is the biggest reason.” Based on the requests of the descendants who ask him to help them reconstruct the Sephardic origins, he concludes that what the law did was to increase the “interest in the knowledge of Portuguese origins”. But it admits to know cases where the application for nationality contains the intention of living in Portugal or doing business here, besides the security that can come from a European passport. “Some of these people who apply have been refugees at certain times in their lives and want to play it safe.”

The process of granting nationality can be slow. In his case, Mendoza had no particular difficulty in attesting to Sephardic ancestry, not least because the Jewish community to which he belongs is organized around the Bevis Marks synagogue, built in London in 1702 by the first Sephardic from Spain and Portugal. “My ancestors never spoke rogue, but Portuguese. And our traditions are Portuguese, and there are several services that are advertised in old Portuguese,” reports the PUBLIC, claiming to be able to go back until 1650 in the records of their ancestors. One of his ancestors, Miguel de Mendonça, was burned alive in Lisbon in 1731 while some of his brothers moved from Amsterdam to London. “I’ve been to Portugal a few times and it’s funny because whenever I go out in Lisbon or the Algarve, I always meet someone who looks like my father or grandfather,” he jokes.

When asked what he intends to do with the Portuguese passport, David hesitates: “I don’t think I will do much with him, like most people, but honestly, I don’t know,” he answers point-blank. Later, by email, adds a handful of reasons for the request. “London is prohibitively expensive and, as I want to start a new business in the area of ​​technologies, I will be able to take advantage of Portugal’s skilled labor force in this area,” he lists. And, amid allusions to the desire to improve his Portuguese, he assumes that the fear of seeing anti-Semitism worsen in England also weighed on the decision: “Especially in a scenario of government led by [Jeremy] Corbyn.”

Translated from the original found here.

Israelis already in second place among candidates for Portuguese nationality

Israeli citizens are now in second place in the list of those who in 2018 submitted applications to obtain Portuguese nationality, reveals a report by the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras – SEF (Foreigners and Borders Service), released on Friday. This position was previously occupied by Cape Verde.

In 2018 the number of applications submitted to the SEF increased by 11%, from 37,262 in 2017 to 41,324 last year. Brazil remains in the first place (11,586). In the top 5 it is followed by Israel (4289), Cape Verde (4259), Angola (1953) and Ukraine (1849). Turkey also appears on this list, although in seventh place, with a record of 1141 requests.

The presence of Israeli and Turkish citizens among the new candidates to the Portuguese nationality will be due mainly to the possibility of this being granted to descendants of Sephardic Jews who, for religious reasons, were expelled from Portugal from the end of the fifteenth century. This door was opened in 2015 and since then, according to Government data, 33 thousand requests have already been presented, of which about 10 thousand had a favourable order.

SEF points out that, as a whole, the “pronounced growth in applications for nationality is intrinsically associated” with the legislative changes approved in recent years, which have broadened the universe of potential new Portuguese citizens.

Among these novelties, particular importance is attached to the grandchildren of Portuguese born abroad who, because they have this status, can apply for nationality and obtain it if, at the same time, they demonstrate that they have “an effective connection with the national community” and that they have not committed crimes that are punishable by sentences of three or more years in prison. 

The SEF is responsible for issuing an opinion on the procedures for granting Portuguese nationality. In 2018 it issued 32,414 favourable and 1425 unfavourable opinions. The unfavourable opinions are generally due to reasons of internal security or to the fact that the candidates do not have a residence permit.

Following the applications to obtain nationality by naturalisation, which are the majority (70%), there are those motivated by marriage or de facto union with a Portuguese national (16%) and those based on the so-called original allocation (9%), which includes, for example, the children of Portuguese born abroad.

Regarding applications for nationality “by the effect of will”, which are those motivated by marriage or partnership, Brazilians come first (3418). Next, but with much lower numbers, are Angolans (524) and Cape Verdeans (432).

The SEF is one of several services where applications for obtaining Portuguese nationality can be submitted, which in total rose 176,285 in 2018, about 38,000 more than those registered in the previous year.

Translated from the original in portuguese found here.

Minor’s connection to Portugal – ages 6-13

Minors at this age are required to show a certain connection to Portugal.

These are manners in which our clients have shown connection to Portugal. This is not an exhaustive list, and it is hard to know if all or some of these will be sufficient:

  1. Pictures of the minor in Portugal.
  2. Membership of  Sport Lisboa e Benfica – 26 Euro per year
  3. Online course in European Portuguese – 20$
  4. Associate membership of the synagogue of Porto – 215 Euro.
    The membership card can take up to four months to arrive. However, this can be added to the file after submission.

Costs might change. 

In a year and a half, 21,000 Sephardic Jews applied for Portuguese nationality

In the last year and a half, 21,000 Sephardic Jews applied for Portuguese nationality under a programme launched in 2015 for this purpose and aimed at the descendants of this community, expelled from the country in the 15th and early 16th centuries. In the first four months of this year, seven thousand applications were received, adding to the almost 14 thousand registered in the year of 2018, showing an expediting interest in this programme. “The requests have grown exponentially,” said Ana Mendes Godinho, Secretary of State for Tourism.

“They are young people and families with links to Portugal”, and since the beginning of the programme a total of “33 thousand applications have been received and more than seven thousand Sephardic Jews have been granted Portuguese nationality”, she revealed. The leader highlighted the links between these citizens and the country, emphasizing that there are several cases in which they find relatives. In fact, she said, there is a family of Sephardic Jews who had still kept the key to their house in Castelo de Vide.

Ana Mendes Godinho, who today accompanied a delegation of 31 leaders of international Sephardic communities in Porto on a visit to Portugal, underlined tourism’s commitment to attracting these citizens, within the program Paths of Faith, which includes the paths of Fátima and Santiago de Compostela, the Marian altars and the Jewish heritage. As mentioned by her, there has already been a 21% increase in tourists from Israel this year. Nearly 4.5 million Sephardic people live in Israel.

The Sephardic Diaspora extends over several countries and continents, according to the estimations of Hayim Cohen, president of the Sephardic Federation of Israel, that the number of Jews of this lineage (from the Iberian Peninsula) is around 20 million. Hayim Cohen, who has been traveling around the country and the most relevant places in terms of Jewish heritage for a week, has declared himself delighted with the national territory and its history. “We will be the best ambassadors in Portugal”, he said.

Translated from the Portuguese found here.

Islamic leader requests that the Portuguese law for Sephardic Jews be extended to Muslims

In an interview with Lusa, Ahmed Mohamed Al-Tayyeb, Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Cairo, argued that the facilitated access to Portuguese citizenship granted to descendants of Jews expelled from Portugal should be extended to Muslims, whose ancestors were expelled from the country in the past.
“Muslims that are descendants of Muslim families from that time also have the right to appeal to entities and claim their rights”, stated the dean of Al-zhar, in an interview with Lusa.
During the XII, XIII and XIV centuries, many Muslims and Mozarabs were massacred in or expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, in the context of religious radicalization of the Catholic Church to the time, which also led to the expulsion of Jews that continued to profess the Jewish faith.
In recent years, Portugal apologized for expelling the Jews, and, in March 2015, the country issued an order granting the right to citizenship to the descendants of these families.
According to data from the Institute of Registration and Notary Affairs, since 2016, a total of 2.160 Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, which were expelled from Portugal during the XVI century, have acquired Portuguese nationality.
For Al-Tayyeb, “there should be citizenship justice, regardless of religious or ethnic origin of the person concerned”.
On Thursday, the dean of Al-Azhar university, Cairo, the largest normative reference of Sunni Islam, met with the President of the Republic, and several Portuguese officials.
While commending the meetings, the dean expressed belief that the Portuguese state will extended the reach of the legislation.
“I think it should be the same for everyone. Citizenship is based on a social contract, which does not recognize discrimination of any kind”, he said.

Translated from the original in Portuguese found here