Forward Thinking

King Juan Carlos Gone — Can Sephardic Jews Still Return?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Spain’s King Juan Carlos / Getty Images

If Juan Carlos didn’t entirely reconcile Spain and the Sephardic Jews, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

The Spanish king announced his abdication this morning, 39 years into a reign that stands both as an argument for monarchy and an argument against it.

Lionized for shepherding Spain through its democratic transition in the 1970s, Juan Carlos has seen his approval ratings crater as scandals and economic crisis have eroded faith in the Spanish monarchy.

To many Sephardic Jews, the king was not only a symbol of Spain’s resurgent democracy, but of the country’s efforts to atone for the anti-Jewish sins of its past, however ham-fisted some of those efforts turned out to be.

It’s safe to say that, from a Sephardic perspective, Juan Carlos was the best Spanish king in over half a millennium. An heir to the throne of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who expelled Spain’s Jews in 1492, Juan Carlos asserted that their descendants remained a part of Spain. In 1992, the king attended a ceremony at Madrid’s main synagogue, a symbolically weighty moment in a country that actively persecuted hidden Jews for centuries.

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Should I Apply for Spanish Citizenship as Sephardic Jew?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Will I apply?

That’s what people are asking me today, as news circulates of the law the Spanish cabinet just approved to offer citizenship to Sephardic Jews.

Two weeks ago, the Forward published a long essay I wrote about this citizenship offer, which the Spanish justice and foreign ministers first proposed in 2012. I went to Spain in November 2013, at first thinking I would apply for a passport myself. When it turned out that that wasn’t yet possible, I tried figure out why the law had not been passed.

Three months after my trip, the text of the law is finally available. Spain’s Ministry of Justice posted it online today after it was approved by the Council of Ministers. It still must be voted on by the Parliament before it becomes law.

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