From Spain to Seattle

The Road From Spain to Seattle

The Sephardic Community originated about a thousand years ago in the Iberian Peninsula. Living under Catholic or Muslim rule, Jews energized Spanish society through their contributions in art, culture and commerce. They also produced world-renowned rabbinic scholarship.

This period of coexistence, or convivencia, gave way to religious intolerance, forced conversions and persecution by the Inquisition. In 1492, the Spanish monarchs ordered all Jews to convert, leave or face death. The expulsion resulted in a Sephardic diaspora across the Mediterranean and beyond. Many settled in the Ottoman Empire where they established their own communities that thrived for more than four centuries. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire during the early 20th century, however, propelled a new wave of Sephardic migration; many settled in Seattle.

Over the centuries, Sephardic Jews developed their own traditions, customs and language. Ladino, also known as Judezmo or Judeo-Spanish, is rooted in 16th century Castilian and other Iberian languages, and also incorporates elements from Hebrew, Arabic and languages spoken in their new lands of residence. Until the 20th century, it was written in the Hebrew alphabet.

In June 2015, the government of Spain offered citizenship to descendants of those Sephardic Jews expelled more than five centuries ago. The offer has sparked a renewed interest among Sephardic Jews in their past and sparked a discussion about Spain in the 21st century.

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