Descendants of Spanish Jews Rediscover their Roots

Descendants of Spanish Jews Rediscover their Roots

Tens of millions of descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, whose ancestors were forcibly converted from the 14th Century onwards, can now apply for and receive a Certificate of Sephardic Ancestry. Recent academic and genetic research has demonstrated that there are as many as 200 million people, largely in Latin and North America and Europe, who have “significant Jewish ancestry” dating back to the time of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

The historic initiative is run by Jewish Unity Through Diversity Institute, Reconectar, an organization dedicated to helping the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities reconnect with the Jewish people, and Genie Milgrom, an award-winning author, researcher, documentarian, and genealogist who was able to fully document her unbroken maternal lineage 22 generations going back as far as 1405 to pre-Inquisition Spain and Portugal. Her recent film The Stone and the Flower is debuting at film festivals around the world tracing Genie’s personal story of connecting to her heritage.

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Family records tracing back to the Spanish Inquisition Source Facebook Genie Milgrom

Milgrom is also leading work to digitize Inquisition records that provide an unprecedented amount of genealogical information for those who seek to discover their possible Jewish roots. These and a vast array of other information on the certification website will help the descendants, otherwise known as Anousim, Marranos, Conversos or Crypto-Jews, discover their heritage.

“The Certificate of Sephardic Ancestry is historic for so many around the world and especially in Latin and North America who yearn to connect with their past and up to now have had no way to do accomplish this,” Milgrom said. “The Certification, in connection with my collection of genealogy tools specifically for those with Crypto -Jewish and Sephardic lineages that is on the website will allow them to also search for their own past and empower them in the process.”

The process for certification begins with filling out a relatively short questionnaire about a person’s background, clues about their Jewish heritage, like customs, family trees, if pertinent items with a Jewish connection, and their reasons for believing they have Sephardic ancestry. This information is then assessed by a team of experts and researchers who will determine if the applicant has enough information to be awarded the certificate.

“One’s identity is based on their past, present, and what they want for the future. With the Certificate of Sephardic Ancestry, we are helping verify their past to create a stronger sense of self and identity,” said Dr. Drora Arussy, Executive Director of Jewish Unity Through Diversity Institute. “At JUTD our goal is to educate the world about the rich heritage, culture, and spirit of the Jewish people. Together with Reconectar and Genie Milgrom we help people connect to their Sephardic roots and learn more about their heritage.”

While the certificate has no legal status, it is something which a growing number of those with Jewish ancestry have suggested would be an enormous sense of pride and identity for them. 

“We have witnessed in recent years an unprecedented interest amongst those whose Jewish ancestors were forcibly converted to reconnect with their heritage and learn more about their past,” said Ashley Perry (Perez), President of Reconectar, a former senior Israeli government advisor and Director of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese. “This is a paradigm-shaping moment in Jewish history, because for the first-time tens of millions of those whose ancestors were forcibly disconnected from the Jewish People have the tools to seek some type of reconnection. The certificate we are offering is a way to connect formally with their Jewish heritage and reconnect with their people.”

Source Certificate of Sephardic Ancestry Facebook

It testifies that someone with expertise has reviewed the bearer’s Jewish information such as family trees and other documents, “which no one had even wanted to glance at in the past,” Perry says.

Milgrom adds that “the pride people exhibit when they hold this token certificate – and the tears that are shed while telling us how amazing it makes them feel – have made this program wildly successful in our eyes.”

“People frame the certificates and show them proudly to their friends and share them with our social media outlets,” says Perry. “With this initiative we have created an international community of people interested in understanding and identifying with the Sephardic part of their heritage.” 

To find out if you have Jewish Roots, visit:

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