21,000 Sephardic Jews claim Portuguese nationality in just over a year

In a week when the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner urged Jews to avoid wearing skullcaps in public, Portugal has delivered an uplifting antidote.

In the last year and a half, 21,000 Sephardic Jews have requested Portuguese citizenship under the special amnesty launched in 2015 to welcome back descendants of Jewish families expelled from Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries (click here).

Sephardic Jews responded in droves right from the beginning, but the last 18 months have seen numbers skyrocket.

Secretary of State for Tourism Ana Mendes Godinho said “requests have grown exponentially”.

Candidacies have come from “young people and families”, she added – saying that since Portugal decided to open its doors to a faith so brutally expelled, it has managed to finalise the nationalities of over 7000 applicants.

The minister added that a number of people requesting nationality have succeeded in finding relatives living in Portugal.

There was even one family that had kept the key to their ancestors’ house in Castelo de Vide.

Building on Sephardic Jews’ clear interest in ‘returning’, Portugal has created a touristic route – Caminhos da Fé (Paths of the faith) – which combines the pilgrimage routes of Fátima and Santiago de Compostela, Maryan altars and the vestiges of Jewish heritage.

As Mendes Godinho told a visiting committee of international Sephardic leaders in Porto last week, the number of tourists from Israel in the past year has increased by 21%.

Israel is home to around 4.5 million Sephardic Jews – though the diaspora extends to “various countries and continents”.

Said one of the 31 visitors to Porto, Sephardic Jews will become “some of Portugal’s best ambassadors”.

A report from SIC television following the results of the Brexit referendum suggested that a number of nationality requests may have been motivated by fears that British Sephardic Jews would not be able to travel freely in Europe.

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