The trace of the Sephardic return from Africa in a bachelor's degree

Una calle con mayoría de población judía, en una fotografía de mediados del siglo XIX, localizada por el Archivo Provincial de Cádiz.
A street with a majority Jewish population, in a photograph from the mid-19th century, located by the Provincial Archive of Cádiz. J. Laurent

Moisés Gabizón has spent his whole life rebuilding his Sephardic past. The Ceuta lawyer knows that his family was already living in the current Santa Cruz neighborhood of Seville when the anti-Semitic revolt of 1391 forced them to flee to the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. Just a century later, in of the Jews of the Catholic Monarchs that takes them to Tetouan. Gabizón has even documented the passage through Brazil, before finally returning to Ceuta, in the twenties of the twentieth century. Just a few days ago, the Sephardic discovered two more small pieces to fit into his great puzzle. Two of his uncles, Jacinto and Salomón, studied distance secondary education at the Provincial Institute of Cádiz from 1921 , just when the family linked their future to Spain again.

Gabizón’s fortuitous discovery —more sentimental than practical, in his case – is precisely the purpose that the Provincial Archive of Cádiz was pursuing when it dedicated its document for the months of September and October to The return of the Sephardim. Records of Jewish students in Cádiz (1891 – 1932) . To the historical interpretation of these folders that arrived almost two decades ago from the Institute’s funds – today called Columela – the institution has incorporated a list of 66 names of Jews with signs of their places of origin, the years they studied or the documentation they provided with a clear intention. “This is very useful for those Sephardic people who want to prove their origin. It has genealogical and historical utility because it is an exceptional fact in education in Spain. We trust that it will reach members of communities abroad and that it will serve them ”, explains archivist José Ramón Barroso.

Historians calculate that the Jewish community in Sepharad – the biblical name for the Iberian Peninsula – could have had between 200. 000 and 250. 000 members. Among 20. 000 and 150.000 people were expelled from Spain —the figure varies according to the historians consulted— after the decree of 1492. Some of them, like the Gabizón family, left for the port of Cádiz to start a new life not without suffering, persecution and vicissitudes in the Maghreb. His ordeal was forgotten and silenced for centuries in the country that caused its diaspora, until the Spanish soldiers of the War of Africa (1860) came across, surprised, with a community of inhabitants who spoke a kind of old Castilian, Ladino, and, specifically, an autochthonous dialect variety known as Haquetía. “It was a shock also for the Sephardim when they discovered that they no longer spoke the same Spanish,” explains Esther Bendahan Cohe, writer, director of Culture of the Sefarad Israel center and descendant of Sephardic people from North Africa.

Familia de judíos de Tánger, retratados a mediados del siglo XIX, en una imagen localizada por el Archivo Provincial de Cádiz.
Family of Jews from Tangier, portrayed in the middle of the 19th century, in an image located by the Provincial Archive of Cádiz. J. Laurent

The cultural shock caused a trend in Spain in favor of those expelled compatriots that even resulted in the incorporation of certain rights in the Civil Code, which began to recognize them as families of Spanish origin (until 2015, a law has not allowed almost 21. . As a result of those relations recovered then and of the growing hostilities in Morocco against part of the Hebrews, “the first return of Jews” began between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, as the Archive document recalls. It was also the beginning of the creation of schools under the Spanish promotion in those North African cities – such as Tetouan, Tangier or Larache – where the Sephardic Jewish community was more numerous. And that was followed by the need to continue with secondary training, through distance education provided by the nearest Provincial Institute, that of Cádiz.

The Provincial Archive has documented the trips of Cadiz teachers to these Moroccan cities and to the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla to take the entrance exams. Among the hundreds of files, those of the Jewish students are identifiable by the absence of baptismal certificates – replaced by certificates issued by the rabbi or the mayor of the Jewish quarter – and by the requests that they be “exempted from the teaching of the Catolic religion”. “They are very unique documents because it is not very common in other institutes, since in peninsular Spain at the time there were no Jews openly,” adds the researcher.

Although in the institution they have only located 66 young people who meet these characteristics, believe that they can be more. “Seeing names and where they come from it could be, but I have only included those who claim to be Jewish,” says Barroso. Moisés Gabizón is not surprised; The lawyer assures that only in Tetouan did a community of 10. 000 Hebrews that ended up being gradually reduced with the returns to Spain, the end of the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco (1912 – 1956), migrations to South American countries or to Israel itself from from the second half of the 20th century.

Título de bachiller de Abraham Coriat Coriat, un joven sefardí de Ceuta que nunca recogió su certificado.
Bachelor’s degree from Abraham Coriat Coriat, a young Sephardic man from Ceuta who never collected his certificate. Provincial Archive of Cádiz

The published list includes surnames already known in Spain today, such as Alfón, Benarroch, Benatar, Cohen, Hachuel or Levy. That of Gabizón appears with the names of his uncles Jacinto and Salomón, who were enrolled in 1921 coming from Itaituba, a Brazilian municipality to which their father left to seek his fortune. After returning from South America, Moisés Gabizón’s grandfather settled with his children in Ceuta, where the lawyer’s father, Menahem Gabizón, was born, so beloved in the city that he even has a square named after him. Jacinto studied medicine, participated with the rebel side in the Battle of the Ebro, although that did not free him from prison for having belonged to the youth of a republican political party, and died in Israel, where he moved as an adult with his children. Solomon had a quieter life as an accountant in Ceuta, where he died in the eighties, as the Ceuta recalls.

To Moisés Gabizón was not surprised to come across the names of his uncles on the Archive’s list: “I knew their stories so I imagined it.” However, in the Cadiz funds there is still room for more family stories. Carefully guarded is Abraham Coriat Coriat’s original bachelor’s degree from 1931. The Sephardic youth of 13 natural year of Ceuta never got to collect the certificate and it was archived forever, first in the Institute, now in the Archive. Barroso trusts that the document of the month will help to find his descendants: “It would be great to be able to locate them and send them a copy.”

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