For the first time ever, the 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 was launched by the American Sephardic Federation’s Institute of Jewish Experience, 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 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.
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 will be 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, or items with a Jewish connection, and their reasons for believing they have Sephardic ancestry. This information will then be 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, Senior Director of the ASF’s Institute of Jewish Experience. "At ASF IJE our goal is to educate the world about the rich heritage, culture, and spirit of the Sephardic people. Together with Reconectar and Genie Milgrom we hope to help people find their Sephardic roots and learn more about their heritage."
While the certificate will have 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.”