Sephardic Jews in Belarus
by Kevin Alan Brook

in ZICHRONNOTE, newsletter of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society,
volume 38, number 1/2 (February/May 2018)
on pages 5-6

      Descendants of Sephardim settled within the borders of Byelorussia, now known as Belarus. It was part of the Russian Empire in the late 18th through early 20th centuries and before then was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Sephardim in Belarus assimilated into the Litvak culture of the local Ashkenazi Jews and only small numbers retained their Sephardic surnames.

      In 2018, the onomastician Alexander Beider introduced a new hypothesis, that the Eastern European Ashkenazi surnames Efrati, Efrat, Efrus, Efrussi, Efrossi, and Efrosman all likely derive from the Sephardic surname Efrati that was found in Valencia, Spain in the 14th century and in multiple communities in the post-1492 Sephardic diaspora. Eizer Efrosman was born in Gomel (modern Homiel in southeastern Belarus) in 1898, and Sonya Efrosman from Rogachev (modern Rahachow) married Yankel Kapisar in Gomel in 1910. David Efrati and Alexander Tsvi Efrati were buried in a Jewish cemetery in the central Belarusian city of Slutsk in 1872 and 1885 respectively.

      Jews surnamed Abugov, the Russified Ashkenazi version of the Sephardic Abohab, lived in the Belarusian municipalities of Klimovichi (modern Klimavichy in eastern Belarus), Bykhov (modern Bykhaw in eastern Belarus), Grodno (modern Hrodna in northwestern Belarus), Berezino (modern Byerazino in central Belarus), and Igumen (modern Chervyen’ in central Belarus). For instance, Mikhail Zakharovich Abugov was born in Bykhov in 1901 and was executed by the Soviet government during Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship. Semion Lvovich Abugov was born in Berezino in 1877 and worked as a painter and art educator in Leningrad, Russia before his death in 1950.

      Mikhlya Algaze, a member of the Sephardic rabbinical family Algazi, was born in Brest (southwestern Belarus) in 1910, but her father Shaya was also associated with the more northerly small town of Volpa. Dovid Al’gaze married Rokhlia in Mogilev (modern Mahilyow) in 1890.

       The Sephardic surname Abarbanel and its shortened form Barbanel were held by Jewish families from several municipalities in Belarus. Feiga Abarbanel of Orsha (northeastern Belarus), daughter of Leia Abarbanel and granddaughter of Erukhim Abarbanel, died in Mogilev in 1892. The city of Vitebsk (modern Vitsiebsk in northeastern Belarus) was the 1888 birthplace of Mendel Abarbanel, who became a published Yiddish poet in 1918 and moved to Kiev, Ukraine in the 1920’s, where he died in 1957. Shmul Barbanel of Brest was born in 1904.

       Khaika Portugal was born in Mogilev in 1884. The surname Portugal was also attested in Vitebsk. As of 1911, M. E. Portugol worked in the textile industry in the Goretskii district (modern Horki in eastern Belarus). A voter named Elya Partigez whose father was Leiba resided in Kobrin in southwestern Belarus in 1912, and, by coincidence, in the same year an Elia Partigez whose father was Leib was a voter in Pruzhany, 24 miles away.

       The Jewish man Itsko David Dilion was living in the township of Krevo (modern Kreva in northwestern Belarus) as of 1858. As with the Ashkenazi surnames Dylion and Delion, Dilion appears to derive from the Sephardic surname de León.

       The Ashkenazi Galante, Galanti, and Galantyi families descended from the Sephardic Galante family that had a presence in Turkey and Greece. Some members of these families lived in Białystok in northeastern Poland. Within Belarus, members of these families were found in the Grodno region, including Grodno itself, which is 51 miles from Białystok. Yankel Shmuel Galante, son of Eliash, lived in Grodno as of 1858, when he was 20. Chaim Shlomo Galanti is buried in Grodno Cemetery. Three generations of the Galantyi family lived in the nearby town of Bol’shaya Berestovitsa (modern Vyalikaya Byerastavitsa) circa the 1850’s. Their patriarch was Abram Galantyi, son of Nevakh.

       Abraham Abele Rosanes was a preacher and writer who lived in the city of Minsk (central Belarus) until his death in 1827. Among his topics were Jewish holidays and ethics. Singer and Seligsohn claimed that Abraham’s father, Rabbi Tzebi Hirsch Rosanes of Galitzian Poland, descended from the Sephardic Rosanes family that originated in the seaport of Rosas in Catalonia in northeastern Spain and had offshoots in Portugal and Turkey after the 1492 expulsion from Spain.

      A cluster of matches in the Middle Eastern maternal (mtDNA) haplogroup R0a2m is suggestive that their most recent common ancestor was probably a Sephardic Jewish woman. Multiple Ashkenazi Jews, including one whose direct maternal line traces to Parichi in eastern Belarus in the 1910’s, are exact matches in their mtDNA Full Coding Region screen in Family Tree DNA to the Ecuadorian Patricia Hurtado and a Moroccan and have only one genetic mutation separating them from a Mexican and from additional Ashkenazim including Martin Cooper, whose maternal grandmother was Rita Meister, an Ashkenazi woman who was born in Bobruisk (modern Babruysk in the Mahilyow region of eastern Belarus) in 1905. Hurtado has genealogically traced her direct maternal line as far back as Juana Rodriguez Carreño, who was born in 1512 in Badajoz in Extremadura in western Spain. More distant matches to this cluster include Sephardim from Tunisia, Libya, and Syria and two members of the Sephardic Converso-descended community of Mallorca, Spain called the Chuetas (Xuetas).

      Bennett Greenspan, Family Tree DNA’s founder, has a Sephardic lineage himself, but in his case a paternal one: a branch of the Y-DNA haplogroup J-M267. In his 67-marker STR screen, he and some other Ashkenazim, including those whose patrilineal ancestors lived in Bobruisk and Chashniki (a town in the Vitebsk region of northern Belarus) match Manuel Tenorio, a New Mexican Hispano Catholic whose direct paternal line traces to Juan Tenorio of Sevilla, Spain in the 1600’s, and several more Hispanics, including another who descends from Juan Tenorio. In his 111-marker STR screen, Greenspan has a genetic distance of -8 from the Hispanic Nicolas Rodolfo Echeverria Dominguez, and in the SNP test called “Big Y” the indication is that the two men share a common ancestor who lived about 1,000 years before their births. Their line is also shared with a Bulgarian Jew and with a Guamanian whose direct paternal line, de Leon Guerrero, stems from a Spanish Jew who converted to Catholicism.

      The aforementioned Y-DNA cluster that bridges families from Europe, the Americas, and the Pacific is reminiscent of a phased triangulating autosomal DNA segment I found in January that links some Ashkenazi Jews with five Latin American Hispanics (including four Mexicans) and a Filipino. The advantage of autosomal DNA is that an autosomal segment’s common ancestor lived within the past 600 years.

      I identified twenty triangulating identical-by-descent segments of Sephardic origin in the autosomal DNA of Theodore Pilchik, an Ashkenazi man whose parents, Morris Pilchik and Clara Sapoznik, were born in Stolin, a town in southern Belarus near the modern Ukrainian border. Eighteen of those segments match Mexicans, seven match Puerto Ricans, one matches a Panamanian, and one matches a Colombian. Two segments link Mexicans and Sephardic Jews and one of those also includes a New Mexican Hispano match. Carriers of one of the most interesting segments include one Mexican, one Brazilian, and seven Portuguese people, some of whom belong to a genetic cluster from the Azores Islands. A particularly diverse segment’s carriers include two Mexicans, four New Mexican Hispanos, five Puerto Ricans, one Cuban, and one Peruvian.

      I have obtained the consent of the named DNA tester for whom I made discoveries using GEDMatch to have his results discussed, and he has seen and approved the paragraphs I wrote about him. All of the other DNA testers named in this article either gave me permission to name them or were already named in previous written works.


      Vital records from the Russian Empire transcribed for JewishGen’s Belarus Database,
      Alexander Beider, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, second edition, Avotaynu, 2008.
      Alexander Beider, “Exceptional Ashkenazic Surnames of Sephardic Origin”, Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Winter 2017, pages 3-5.
      A. L. Bell and Vitaly Charny, “Victims of Stalin”, JewishGen Belarus SIG,
      Gennady Estraikh, In Harness: Yiddish Writers’ Romance with Communism, Syracuse University Press, 2005.
      Tat’yana Nikolaevna Gorina, Khudozhniki narodov SSSR: biobibliograficheskiy slovar’, volume 1, Iskusstvo, 1970.
      Jeffrey Mark Paull, Neil Rosenstein, and Jeffrey Briskman, “The Y-DNA Genetic Signature and Ethnic Origin of the Katzenellenbogen Rabbinical Lineage”, Avotaynu Online, 7 March 2016,
      Isidore Singer and Max Seligsohn, “Rosanes”, in The Jewish Encyclopedia, volume 10, Funk and Wagnalls, 1901-1906, pages 470-471.
      Jillette Torre Leon-Guerrero, “Genealogy: Challenges, Tools and Techniques”, in 1st Marianas History Conference: One Archipelago, Many Stories, June 14-16, 2012: Oral History/Genealogy (Two of Seven), Guampedia Foundation, 2012, pages 11-38.

Kevin Alan Brook is the author of the newly published 3rd edition of the history book The Jews of Khazaria, whose tenth chapter discusses Jewish origins and migrations, and is a genetic genealogy consultant specializing in using autosomal DNA to track Sephardic descendants around the world. His previous articles in the Sephardic series appeared in the May 2016, August 2016, and February-May 2017 issues of ZichronNote.

August 2022 update: Alexander Beider wrote in his 2008 essay "Jewish Surnames Adopted in Various Regions of the Russian Empire" that Abulafiev is a Russified version of the Sephardic surname Abulafia. He told me that one East European Jew with the surname Abulafyev was included on a list of Holocaust victims in Yad Vashem's database according to "the page of testimony filled by the brother who lived in 2000 in the US". JewishGen's burial registry and a cemetery gravestone photo database indicate that a man named Falla Vulfovich Abulafyev, born in 1893, died in 1968 and was buried in a cemetery in Mogilev, Belarus.

Other articles in this series:
Sephardic Jews in Galitzian Poland and Environs
Sephardic Jews in Lithuania and Latvia
Sephardic Jews in Central and Northern Poland
Sephardic Jews in Central, Eastern, and Southern Ukraine

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