JERUSALEM – David Sarnow is Mexican, Israeli and now also Spanish. He is one of the fewer than 1,000 descendants of Sephardi Jews in Israel who have been granted Spanish citizenship by a letter of naturalization following a law passed in 2015. The validity of that law expires at midnight Monday.
“I lived in Mexico until I was 28 years old,” this citizen of Rishon LeZion, Israel, told EFE, immediately adding that despite his origins, he always felt a “really strong connection with Spain.” Though he believed for decades that his four grandparents were Ashkenazim (Jews from Central Europe), he felt a connection with the Iberian nation all his life.
“You don’t know how strongly Spain left its mark on me, it’s something that can’t be explained,” he said.
He recalled the day when a Mexican pal told him about the law that was close to being passed and told him “I’m gonna make you guys Spaniards.”
“When I think of that now my hair stands on end,” he said excitedly. When the law went into effect, he and his family immediately started investigating their past.
“We did a deep study about something we were sure of all our lives: that we had Sephardi blood. We didn’t actually know it, but at the same time we were sure of it,” he recalled, adding that “I have very strong ties with Spain. And they say that when you feel such a connection with a place, it’s your DNA in action.”
The process not only obtained passports for him and nine of his family members, but has also allowed him to take a passionate journey to the land of his forefathers and clear up a past that he felt intuitively, but about which he had no certain knowledge.
Sarnow studied his family up to five generations past and discovered that his maternal grandfather, who came from what is now the Romanian city of Cluj to Mexico in the 1920s, had Sephardim ancestry, though he never talked about it.
“He was one of the few (Jewish immigrants) who spoke no Yiddish. When he got to Mexico he never met up with the Ashkenazi community. He got married in a Sephardi synagogue and right away studied pharmacy at university. So where did he get his knowledge of Spanish, coming as he did from the (former) Austro-Hungarian Empire?” Sarnow asked.
Once on Latino lands, he spoke “perfect Spanish, but with an odd accent, which I now relate directly to the (Sephardic) Turks that speak Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). It’s like the pieces of a puzzle starting to fit together. Looking back, it all makes sense.”
He discovered that his ancestors used the Spanish surname Blanco, a name they changed “when in 1794, after the Austro-Hungarian emperor forced names to be Germanized, they changed it to Waizman, meaning ‘white man’ in German.”
Asked how he felt when he received the envelope with a letter saying that his application for Spanish citizenship had been approved, he laughed and said, “It wasn’t so romantic, it was an e-mail in English.”
He signed the papers at a notary’s office in Marbella in 2016, obtained the certificate in May 2017, and in December of that year swore allegiance to Spain.
Sarnow is involved with an association in Malaga called Kaminos de Leche i Miel (Paths of Milk and Honey), an institution renewing Sephardic ties with Spain that also helps people apply for Spanish citizenship. Based on his own experience, he has helped others achieve legal status in that country.