Congregants praying at the Kadoorie Synagogue in Porto, Portugal, May 2014. Photo courtesy of the Jewish community of Porto
Hunched over a monument for thousands of Jews killed in a 1506 massacre in Lisbon, Danielle Karo (not her real name) felt a swelling in her eyes.
To Karo, an American poet and business analyst who is descended from one of Sephardic Jewrys greatest sages, the massacre is not just ancient history. It is emblematic of the persecution that motivated her to apply for Portuguese citizenship under a 2013 law granting citizenship to the descendants of Sephardim, the term used to refer to Jews who once lived in the Iberian Peninsula.
I think Portugals law is a beautiful thing, said Karo, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym because she works in Muslim countries in the Middle East. But when I think of the persecution that my family endured there, I also believe its Portugals duty.
Karo is the first of approximately 300 people who have applied for citizenship under thelaw, according to the Jewish communities of Porto and Lisbon, which must vet naturalization requests for the government. The law, whichbecame effectivelast month, makes Portugal only the second country in the world with a law of return for Jews.
To qualify for citizenship, applicants must demonstrate that they belong to a Sephardic Jewish community or have Sephardic ancestry. They must also provide certificates proving they have no criminal record and a birth certificate authenticated by a Portuguese consulate in their country of residence, among other documents. The law does not require applicants to travel to Portugal.
So far, the Porto and Lisbon communities have certified the Sephardic ancestry of about 200 applicants. In Lisbon, most applicants come from Israel, according to Jose Oulman Carp, president of the capital citys Jewish community. In Porto, 55 of the 100 certified are Turkish Jews, according to a progress report released by that community on March 31.
As yet, the applicants have not received a response.
Karo, an avid traveler and former student at the University of Edinburgh, claims decent from Joseph Karo, a 16th-century Spanish rabbi who authored one of the principal codifications of Jewish law. She concedes that beyond providing symbolic closure to her ancestors deportation in the 16th century, a Portuguese passport would have some practical uses, such as automatic work and study visas in all 28 European Union member states.
Still, Karo insists that the decision to apply for citizenship is mostly an emotional drive born of pride in her Sephardic ancestry.