Seattle’s Doreen Alhadeff returns home after becoming the first American to reach the final stage of a process that allows Sephardic Jews to become Spanish citizens, that nation’s effort to make amends for the expulsion of Jews during the Inquisition.
Seattleite Doreen Alhadeff got back from Spain on Feb. 15 with a historic accomplishment in hand: She had become the first American — and now one of only seven people in the world — to reach the final stage of a process that allows Sephardic Jews to become Spanish citizens.
A week earlier, the 65-year-old real-estate broker had presented a notary in the seaside town of Torremolinos in southern Spain with documentation showing she had met all the requirements of a Sephardic citizenship law that went into effect in October.
A Seattle rabbi had testified to her Sephardic heritage. She had passed Spanish language and culture tests. And she had demonstrated a special interest in Spain by living there for two months last year to prepare for a conference she helped organize.
The notary duly signed off on her application, all but ensuring her a Spanish passport, expected to arrive in April.
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“I was pretty excited,” Alhadeff said, recalling the eventful day, which ended by going to the Torremolinos mayor’s office to receive congratulations. She said she thought of her grandmother, who in 1906 traveled from Istanbul to Seattle, becoming the first Sephardic woman to arrive.
She also saw it as a symbolic moment. “To be able to get something that was taken from you was important.”
Spain, like Portugal, is extending citizenship to Sephardic Jews as reparation for the mass expulsion that occurred during the Inquisition. Spain’s law, however, has tougher requirements, such as the language and culture tests.
And that is likely the reason that fewer than expected Sephardim have so far applied for citizenship, according to Luis Portero, a lawyer in Spain who has advised the government on the law.
The Spanish government has said it expected more than 90,000 applicants in the four years it is granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews. But as of January, just over 1,000 have started an application, according to figures from the Spanish Ministry of Justice.
Many of them have come from Spanish-speaking countries, like Argentina.
Some local Sephardic Jews also expressed reluctance to align themselves with a country that kicked out their ancestors, and say they feel a greater sense of belonging to Turkey or other countries that welcomed those who were expelled.
Yet to the extent that American Jews will take Spain up on its offer, those in Seattle are “going to be leading the pack,” said Luis Fernando Esteban, the honorary consul for Spain in Washington and Oregon.
The Sephardic population around Puget Sound is the nation’s third largest, after those in New York and Los Angeles. With about 5,000 people, it represents 8 percent of the region’s overall Jewish population, according to a 2014 Jewish Federation survey.
Two of the three U.S. synagogues certified by the Spanish government to verify applicants’ Sephardic heritage are in Seattle. The Spanish language and culture tests are given in only four cities in the U.S., one being Seattle. During the last test in January, someone came from Miami to take it.
Another crucial factor: Alhadeff is here. The member of a prominent Sephardic family, she has been an enthusiastic ambassador of the citizenship law, meeting with various Jewish groups to provide information.
After completing the process herself, she said she is now working on getting Spanish passports for her grandchildren.