Re: Abramovich's Sephardic genealogy #sephardic

Kevin Brook

Dear David,

Thank you for taking the time to write post #667987 in response to mine.  I will address your specific points below.

1. You mentioned that your Y-DNA haplogroup indicates Iberian roots.

Spanish and Portuguese DNA are not common among most Jewish populations of Europe and the Mediterranean, and not usually found in significant amounts, but is mostly a thing in Northern Moroccan Jews and in Portuguese Crypto-Jews who remained in Portugal for several centuries.  The majority of Sephardic DNA derives from source populations further to the east, especially those of Judea, Greece, and Italy.  Therefore, the vast majority of Sephardic DNA segments consist of genetic material that did not arrive in Iberia until Jews arrived.

2. You asked: "Why do Dotar (dowry), Despachos (emigration) and other communal records reference Sephardim all over the world, but not eastern Europe? The obvious assumption is because there weren’t community members there."

Yes, there were some, and your meeting's November 2021 slideshow even listed a handful. In the most recent report I sent to a client, dated October 26, 2020, I wrote the following specifics:

"The Sephardic community of Amsterdam in the Netherlands was largely built from migrants fleeing Portugal’s suppression of Judaism during the Inquisition. In turn, it is known that some of the Sephardim in Eastern Europe had moved there from Amsterdam. During the 1600s and 1700s, the Sephardic community of Amsterdam dispatched some Sephardic men to resettle in Poland. Among those moving to Poland were Merari Belogrado, Nieto Usiel, Mordehay Cohen, and Rahel Cuna."

I learned this from Joel Davidi Weisberger, whose May 16, 2019 article "Actually, a Significant Number of Ashkenazim are Descended from Sephardim" for The Times of Israel at references your research colleague Ton Tielen, who spoke on the November 2021 YouTube video.  Weisberger wrote:

"During the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam [...] would often hand over some money to poor indigent Sephardim and send them to settle far away (these were referred to in Portuguese as despachos).

Although most of these people were sent to places that had well-established Sephardic communities, some of them were also sent to overwhelmingly Ashkenazic Poland.

I thank Ton Tielen for extracting from the archives of the Spanish and Portuguese community in Amsterdam the names and details of five persons who were dispatched to Poland in the manner described above.

What follows is the Hebrew year, the names and the destinations of five such despachos(which they all have in common, namely Poland):

5448, Merari Belogrado Polonia

5455, Nieto de H.H. Usiel Polonia

5461, Mordehay Cohen Polonia

5462, Rahel Cuna Polonia

5474, Abraham Israel Guer Polonia (apparently a proselyte to Judaism).

One of the names, Usiel is of particular interest. He is referred to as a descendant of Hakham Uziel. This, according to Tielen, must be Hakham Isaac Uziel who died and was buried in Amsterdam in 1622. Uziel went to Poland in 1752 according to the archival document cited above. From another archival document, this time a list of Sephardim who migrated to Zamosc , Poland in the years 1588-1650, we come across one Abraham Uziel (whose name appears in the official documentation in the polonized form, “Uzelowicz”)." (end of extended quotation)

You also wrote: "There is a wall of unevidenced claims including virtually every Western Sephardic Jew believed or reported to have been active in eastern Europe. It is a short list."

Further to your points, I will respond as follows: We know that other Sephardim came up to Poland and Ukraine through Greece and Turkey, not as despachos but as voluntary migrants and economic opportunists (for example, wine merchants).  I give details in my 6-part series of Sephardic articles for the ZichronNote newsletter, and each of the articles contains bibliographic references.

I admit that most of the Sephardim who settled in east-central and eastern Europe were Eastern Sephardic Jews, not Western Sephardic Jews.  I also admit that some of these Sephardim were Spanish Jews and, furthermore, that some of these Sephardim had intermarried to a degree with Italki, Romaniote, Ashkenazic, and Mizrahi Jews in the eastern Mediterranean region before they moved up to the Ashkenazic cultural sphere.  That is why I look for matches in isolated Iberian and Latin American communities.

I do agree with Beider that the surnames Portugal and Portugeys are self-explanatory as to why Jews would call themselves that.  Portuguese Jews and Portuguese Crypto-Jews were widely known as "Portuguese" everywhere they settled: the Netherlands, England, Mexico and New Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and beyond.  Sometimes it was a way of remembering where they came from and other times it was a way of disguising one's Jewish identity.  An Argentinian non-Jew who matches Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazic Jews genetically told me this month that some old Spanish documents from South America called them "portugueses de nación hebrea".  In addition to examples I gave in my articles, Jewish individuals with the surnames Portugeys and Portugeyz also lived in Kishinev and Orgeyev in Bessarabia in what is now Moldova.  Example: Abram Portugeys was a voter in Kishinev in 1906.  This comes from JewishGen's databases.

3. You wrote: "Obviously members of Sephardic genealogy groups knows the game: “I have 2% Iberian/Mediterranean/North African/etc DNA THEREFORE my family fled the Inquisition”. No. If you are making genealogical claims then you need to provide proof. Saying that members of two populations share genes does not allow extrapolation to a preferred explanation. We need reasoned evidence."

My evidence is not based on admixture percentages provided by DNA test companies but on triangulated and phased DNA segments shared on specific areas of specific chromosomes with start and end points from a common ancestor.  In other words, I rely on cousin matches, not deep genetic elements.

To continue quoting the reasoned explanation from my report:

"Genetic evidence can fill in gaps of knowledge for families that do not have continuous documentation from medieval Spain or Portugal and do not know their ancestors’ original Sephardic surnames. Direct-to-consumer autosomal DNA tests can find cousins as distant as 14th cousins."

"Meanwhile, some other Portuguese Sephardim migrated to Brazil, Mexico, and New Mexico, and some of those assimilated into the general population. Therefore, the discovery of the report’s DNA segment shared simultaneously by Eastern European Jews, Portuguese Catholics from the Azores, and Mexican Catholics suggests a potential, even likely, Portuguese (instead of Spanish) origin of their most recent common ancestors from the 1400s or 1500s."

"The presence of Azorean Portuguese, Mexican, New Mexican Hispano, Nicaraguan, Colombian, and Sephardic (Moroccan Jewish) matches to the DNA segments in this report demonstrates the Sephardic Jewish origins of those segments."

"Spaniards, New Mexican Hispanos, Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and El Salvadoreans were isolated from Ashkenazic Jews until the mid/late 19th century, and Hondurans and Nicaraguans were isolated from Ashkenazic Jews until the early 20th century, and their colonial-era families do not descend from Ashkenazic Jews but do from Sephardic Jews. The sharing of DNA between these Hispanics and Ashkenazic Jews is due to migrations of Sephardim into all of those communities. Sephardic descendants also settled in many other Hispanic communities in Central America and South America and in Suriname, Barbados, Jamaica, Brazil, the Azores Islands, Sicily, the Philippines, Guam, and elsewhere."

"The Northeastern Mexican and Tejano community (those with colonial-era ancestors from the Mexican states of Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas) has been endogamous and collectively descends from multiple Sephardic Jewish and Sephardic Catholic families that lived in Portugal and Spain in the 13th-14th centuries including Haleví de la Caballería, Carvajal, and Gutiérrez, among others. This has been documented by unbroken paper trail evidence by Mexican and Mexican-American genealogists like Crispin Dario Rendon. This shows networks of Sephardic families that must, somewhere in late-medieval history, connect these Mexicans via common ancestors with their modern Ashkenazic Jewish and Sephardic Jewish DNA matches."

Your November 2021 video's participant Cary Aufseeser's article at is excerpted below:

"I wanted to discover if I was descended from Sephardic Jews on my mother’s side of the family. My mother had always said that her family was expelled from Spain, went to Scotland and then to Germany. Sephardic records are difficult to find and many that would help to trace a family may not exist. Family stories that have been passed down may be all that descendants have. DNA testing may be the only option. [...] After my results came back, I was contacted by Crispin Rendon, a Mexican genealogist who matched my results on certain DNA strands. Crispin actually has documentation (written records) for his family back to the 1300s. Some of his ancestors were known Conversos. [...] Needless to say, many of the present-day Mexican Americans getting this DNA match had no idea they had Jewish ancestors. [...] I hope to find a specific common ancestor through the results in this ongoing study. That common ancestor may be from 10 to 20 generations back."

I didn't say I'm personally involved with any Sephardic-certifying organizations.  I said I was told by my clients that some reports I had prepared with examples of DNA segments were filed with them in past years or were intended to be filed with them.  My clients and their lawyers are the ones who communicated with the organizations and governments.

My understanding is that this particular report of mine is filed with the Oporto Jewish community and with the Portuguese government.  It includes the specifics of the shared segments that I used to come up with conclusions for my last client.

In my October 26, 2020 report, I also mention some specific Ashkenazic family names of Sephardic origin:

* "Alfasi (a Sephardic rabbinical family name which originally meant a resident of Fez, Morocco)"

* "Kastel (descended from the Sephardic Castiell family whose members Efraim Kastiel and Dawid Castiel Italicus had settled in Zamość)"  Beider and I made this judgement based on the fact that a Kastel family also lived centuries later in Zamość.  We believe it is a reasonable assumption.

* "Abuhov (a modified form of the Sephardic surname Abohab)"

And those aren't the only ones.  Abarbanel and Barbanel actually are surnames found recently in some Ashkenazic families and there is an ongoing debate over whether or not they are authentic members of the Sephardic Abarbanel family.  Whereas Abramovich did not derive from Abarbanel, it is logical to think that Abarbanel is what it is because of long-standing descent.

When I referenced Zacuto in my articles and reports, it was in the context not only of the Zacuto family members who moved to Poznań, Poland but also to the other Zacuto family members who moved to Zamość, Poland.  One of my report's sentences indicates; "One of them, Jehuda Sakuta, was specifically referred to on the list as a «Yehudi ha-uma ha-Sefaradit» meaning “Jew of the Sephardic nation”."  I find it very interesting that Sakuta is so close in form to Zakuta, an Ashkenazic surname of the 19th-20th centuries.  I couldn't find a good alternate explanation for what Zakuta could mean.  To quote from another of my reports (the only one where I did not have genetic data available for the client):

"Scholars have not suggested the artificial adoption of the surname Zakuta by Ashkenazim of the 19th century to honor a famous Zacuto of the past. The name Zakuta doesn’t have a positive meaning in the languages of the Poland-Belarus regions. Although zakuta / закута means “shackled, chained” in the Polish and Belarusian languages, it is inconceivable that a Jew would be permanently assigned this derogatory name that implies somebody who is jailed or enslaved, and in my discussions with the Jewish surname expert Alexander Beider he did not raise that possibility. It seems more likely that Zakuta as a surname is the authentic continuation of the form Sakuta which the Sephardic immigrant Yehuda Sakuta had been called in his new land of Poland."

My reports also state: "Sephardic ancestry is widespread among contemporary Ashkenazim as a whole."  The reasons are endogamy and continuous migration.  This is also how a minority of Slavic Polish DNA, most of it coming from the 1500s and 1600s as geneticists and historians agree, became so widespread among modern Eastern European Jews -- nearly ubiquitous, just like Sephardic DNA is nearly ubiquitous, and in both cases families rarely know the names of their specific Polish and Sephardic ancestors but they do exist and can be found using genetic cousin matching and genetic population matching.

As you know, the Avotaynu DNA Project found some Sephardic Y-DNA lines that are not found among Ashkenazim at all, and Sephardic Y-DNA lines represent a small minority among Ashkenazim, perhaps only 1% of total Y-DNA lines in Ashkenazic men.  The reason is because Y-DNA inheritance depends on a very specific type of descent from the Sephardic ancestor.  A person whose Sephardic ancestor wasn't his father's father's father's father's father's father's father's father's father won't carry a Sephardic Y-DNA line.  More often, his Sephardic ancestor(s) will be his father's mother's mother's father's mother's father's mother's father's father or something like that instead.

Some segments discussed in my October 26, 2020 report have the following match patterns.  Even though GEDmatch is a public database, I won't publish their names or kit numbers or other specifics about them until I receive permission, per GEDmatch rules.

Genetic cousin matches to my Ashkenazic client on chromosome 2 positioned from 234 million to 238 million include, among others:
* 11 New Mexican Hispanos (some full, some partial)
* 1 Nicaraguan Catholic
* many Ashkenazim

Genetic cousin matches to my Ashkenazic client on chromosome 3 positioned from 144 million to 156 million include, among others:
* 1 Jew with recent ancestors from Morocco and Iraq
* 4 Azorean Portuguese Catholics (from the Azores)
* 3 Mexican Catholics
* 1 Colombian Catholic
* many Ashkenazim

Like I said, the Portuguese government presumably has that document on file.

In my November 2, 2019 report for a different Ashkenazic client that was intended to be filed with the government of Spain, I found an especially interesting segment on chromosome 12 positioned from 22 million to 30 million with the following matches:
* at least 2 Eastern Sephardic Jews (with roots in Turkey, Greece, and Egypt)
* 1 Spanish Catholic
* other Hispanics
* 1 Brazilian Catholic

The lengths of these segments are often only 7 or 8 centimorgans and never above 14 centimorgans long.

I also did work for non-Ashkenazic clients from Latin America, Portugal, and Sicily in which I found segments they share with both Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  Some of those clients were just curious about their ancestry while others sought Spanish citizenship.

You wrote: "If Kevin’s beliefs are correct, they would re-write Jewish history."

These revelations already enhanced our understanding of Jewish history and have made their way into print to an extent.  The evidence indicates that some Sephardim intermingled with Ashkenazim in Ashkenazic communities, and other Sephardim intermingled with Latin Americans.  Due to the relative sizes of populations today, the numbers of contemporary Latin Americans and Ashkenazim with Sephardic descent greatly exceeds the number of non-Ashkenazic Jews currently identifying as Sephardic from places like Turkey, Syria, and England.

Several Ashkenazic genetic genealogists who tested many members of their families told me they regularly found Latin American matches for them in Family Tree DNA's Family Finder.  That's also what I found when we tested many members of my own family.  That wouldn't be happening if this was some rare phenomenon.

The burden now is on you and other skeptics to come up with an alternative explanation that makes sense.  You won't be able to.  Why else, other than having a common Sephardic ancestor, would one of my Ashkenazic clients have a segment on his chromosome 5 positioned from 76 million to 82 million that is shared with two Costa Ricans, one full Northeastern Mexican Catholic and one partial one, one Paraguayan, a parent-child pair from the Syrian Jewish community, and other Ashkenazim?  Why does that person also have a segment on chromosome 5 from 100 million to 114 million shared not only with other Ashkenazim but with a Brazilian person and with a Portuguese person whose ancestors include some from the Crypto-Jewish community from Trás-os-Montes?  Genealogical documents and admixture reports showed that these Catholics are typical members of their communities and didn't recently intermarry with Jews or something like that.  Ashkenazim match representatives of every corner of the Sephardic diaspora, even identifiable, documented members of Western Sephardic Jewish communities.

Recent marriages between some Latin Americans and some Ashkenazic Jews are not a reasonable explanation for far-flung match patterns like these.  The data do not support Judith Neulander's speculation on an alternate explanation on page 222 of the 2015 edited volume "Boundaries, Identity and belonging in Modern Judaism":
"First, that Hispanics and Jews have been living side by side in New Mexico for roughly 175 years, and we should expect admixture in the regional gene pool."

Today's New Mexican Hispanos do not usually show large amounts of Jewish DNA of any kind, which would have been consistent with a Jewish ancestor from the past 175 years, and their shared DNA segments with Jews are short, not long.  Nor do their paper trails usually include Ashkenazic Jewish great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents.  Genetic genealogists like myself easily learn to ferret out what a recent genetic relative is from a distant genetic relative.

You wrote: "Obviously my main concern is that people who have made legitimate applications for Portuguese citizenship should not suffer due to the actions of others, and that there should not be an antisemitic backlash in Portugal."

That's a legitimate concern.  One of my concerns is that Sephardic descendants in Ashkenazic and Latin American (and Sicilian and Iberian) communities should not be discriminated against by genealogical researchers like yourself just because they (typically) don't currently have Sephardic first and last names, don't speak Ladino, or aren't halakhic Jews.  As genealogists, we must not impose ethnic purity tests and religious purity tests on people.  The governments of Portugal, Spain, and Israel and Jewish communities and synagogues are allowed to impose artificial limits like those but it would be unethical for us researchers to discriminate.  Another concern of mine is that Roman Abramovich's faulty application, which relied mostly on his family's oral traditions, his apparent keeping of Sephardic customs, and imaginary surname connections rather than solid documentation or solid genetic proof, should not be used to automatically deny any pending Ashkenazic applicants nor used to reverse citizenship decisions for those relatively few Ashkenazim who were already approved -- relatively few according to the Oporto Jewish community board member Gabriel Senderowicz's April 4, 2022 piece for JNS at

Kevin Brook

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