Jewish woman to be knighted for helping Sephardic Jews obtain Spanish citizenship

Doreen Alhadeff was the first American Jew to receive Spanish citizenship under the country’s right of return law. (Screenshot via YouTube via

By Jackie Hajdenberg

Doreen Alhadeff was the first American Jew to be granted Spanish citizenship under Spain’s 2015 law to repatriate Sephardic Jews from around the world. Now she’s going to be knighted by the Spanish monarchy for helping other people get that same citizenship.

Alhadeff, a 72-year-old Seattle realtor, will be knighted by Queen Isabella the Catholic next month, the Seattle Times reported Monday.

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Since obtaining Spanish citizenship in 2016, Alhadeff has helped guide people around the world, from Greece to Hong Kong, through the application process. Along with the leadership of the synagogue and the Federation of Spanish Jewry, or FCJE, she also helped members of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth of Seattle, a Sephardic Orthodox congregation that “holds firmly to the traditions of the island of Rhodes”, to certify their heritage research.

“I think it shows incredible promise,” Alhadeff told the Seattle Times of his upcoming knighthood.

The order under which Alhadeff will be knighted is named after Queen Isabella I of Castile – the same Queen Isabella who, together with her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon, led the Spanish Inquisition and issued the Decree of the Alhambra, which expelled the Jews from Spain.

Alhadeff has spent much of his life deeply involved in his local Sephardic community. She remembers her grandparents, aunts and uncles speaking Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, at home. She founded the Seattle Sephardic Network in 2013, which aims to bring cultural programs and events to the community and has resources for people seeking Spanish or Portuguese citizenship. Alhadeff’s husband, Joseph, also sits on the board of the Seattle Sephardic Network.

“When I go to Spain, I feel at home,” Alhadeff told the Seattle Times. When she signed her citizenship papers in 2016, she told The Times of Israel: “I kind of felt like I was following in my grandmother’s footsteps.

Only about a quarter of people who applied for Spanish citizenship through the 2015 law received it – 36,000 out of 153,000, in January. Portugal, which has a similar law, has naturalized 54,000 people, but since Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was granted Portuguese citizenship through it, sparking controversy over the naturalization process earlier this year, the conditions for eligibility of the law have become stricter. Applicants now need an “effective link to Portugal”, such as a record of previous visits to the country or inheritance of property.

The process of applying for Spanish citizenship is long and complicated: those who apply must prove their Sephardic heritage and take tests on Spanish language, culture and values ​​through the Cervantes Institute, which has only four sites. in the USA. Prospective citizens must also have their documents notarized in Spain.

Spain also temporarily suspended the application process last year over fears of fraud; the law requires parliamentary approval to reopen the process.

Seattle is home to approximately 5,000 Sephardic Jews, the third largest Sephardic population in the United States. The city’s Sephardic community now includes people from countries such as Morocco, Iran, the former Soviet Union, Israel and Mexico, but in the early years of the 20th century, Sephardic immigrants were mainly from turkish or rhodesli origin. Alhadeff’s grandmother, Dora Levy, was the first known Sephardic woman to come to Seattle, making the trip from Constantinople to Washington in 1906.

James C. Tibbs