in SHEM TOV, newsletter of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto,
volume 31, number 3 (September 2015)
on pages 13-15
All practising Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s. Sephardim found safe haven in more religiously-tolerant lands like the Ottoman Empire, Italy, and the Netherlands. Those whose families had nominally converted to Catholicism sometimes managed to escape from the lands of the Inquisition in the 1500s-1600s and openly return to Judaism. What still elicits surprise among genealogists is that some Sephardim later moved to central and eastern Europe and left Ashkenazicized descendants into modern times.
The towns discussed in this article were formerly in southern portions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and later were split between the Austrian and Russian empires but now are split between Poland and Ukraine.
Salomon Włochowicz, called “Szafardi”, was born in Italy but in the early 1600s served as a court agent in Kraków, the Polish capital city in western Galitzia. The Sephardic physicians Salomon Calahora (from Italy) and Isaak Hispanus settled in Kazimierz, a town adjacent to Kraków, in the 1500s. Some descendants of Calahora, many maintaining forms of the surname, later lived in Kraków, including Aaron and Mendel Kalahora in the 1700s, while others moved east to Kremenets in Volhynia in modern Ukraine. Izaak Aron Kolhory, a Calahora descendant, died in Kraków in 1833. Many members of the Sephardic Bondy family also resided in Kraków throughout the 1800s, such as Frimet Bondy, who moved to Brzesko after marrying Salamon Isaak Brandsdorfer, and Benjamin Bondy whose birth in Kraków was recorded in 1889.
Sephardic Jews from Turkey, many of them merchants, arrived in Galitzia beginning in 1567. Some of these Sephardim, including Abraham de Mosso (and his sons Moses and Mordechai), Chaim Kohen, Jakob Sydis, and David Passis (who had lived in Pera, Turkey), belonged to a business partnership to trade in wine in the large city of Lwów (today L’viv) free from transport taxes and from any restrictions normally imposed by local officials, thanks to a special deal granted by the Polish king Sigismund II to all agents of Joseph Nasi, a Sephardic statesman from the Ottoman Empire. Many of the ancestors of the partnership members had lived in Portugal, as had the ancestors of another L’viv trader, Jacob ben Raphael. Several Jews from Venice, Italy also began to trade in L’viv. Sephardim were also active in the spice trade in the area at this time.
Also settling in Galitzia around the late 1500s were what the researcher Alexander Beider described as “dozens of Turkish-Jewish families,” some of whom belonged to professions other than trading and medicine. The Galitzian Jewish historian Moses Schorr (1874-1941) found evidence that some Sephardim permanently settled in L’viv and both he and the Russian Jewish historian Samuel Lozinski (1874-1945) found numerous references to specific Turkish Jews in that city until the mid-1600s. One of them, Samuel Czelebi from Constantinople, lived there from 1621 to 1635.
The Polish chancellor Jan Zamojski, who protected the Sephardic traders until his death in 1605, founded the city of Zamość in Poland in 1580 and invited Sephardim to settle there starting in 1588, some moving from L’viv. They had roots in Spain and Portugal and had lived in the Ottoman Empire (particularly Turkey), the Netherlands (at that time including both Holland and Flanders), Braunschweig, Germany, and Venice but all of them were arbitrarily called “Italikus” by Polish officials. They built their first synagogue out of wood from 1590 to 1603 on Żydowska (now Zamenhofa) Street, replaced by a brick synagogue built from 1610 to 1618 on the same street that still stands and served as a public library from 1959 to 2005. The Sephardim were exempt from the Jewish tax Ashkenazim had to pay. Their surnames included Zacuto, Castiell, Marcus, and de Campos, among others. Some of them were traders of diamonds and fabrics while others were manufacturers and physicians. The families grew by natural increase, and Sephardic newcomers continued to arrive in Zamość into the 1630s, but others left, and Ashkenazim also began to arrive. Intermarriages between Zamość’s Sephardim and Ashkenazim started in the 1640s. Among them, Chana de Campos married the Ashkenazi Yaakov Bar, Samson Manes’ daughter married the Ashkenazi Moshe ben Avraham, and a Sephardic woman married the Ashkenazi Lazer ben Nachman. Some Jews with names identifiable as Sephardic appear in the city’s records for decades more, a late example being Moshe Zacuto who was looking for a house to buy in 1691.
The city of Lublin lies 89 km northwest of Zamość. Moses Montalto, a Sephardic physician whose surname shows some origins from Italy and who had close relatives from Portugal, was instrumental in the construction of a Sephardic synagogue in Lublin in the first half of the 17th century.
Two Jewish immigrants from Spain built a synagogue in Przemyśl, a city in southeastern Poland close to Ukraine, 98 km west of L’viv, in the 1500s.
In Lesko, a town in southeastern Poland, the local Sephardim built a fortress synagogue from 1626 to 1654. In 1942 the Nazis destroyed some of the town’s buildings, including other synagogues, but the Sephardic synagogue remained standing, albeit with damage to its interior. It was later renovated and since 1995 has housed the Museum of Galician Jews.
Some Sephardic families settled in Łańcut, another town in southeastern Poland, in the 1600s.
In 1630, Krzysztof Gołuchowski granted permission to Spanish Jews to settle and work in the town he owned, Chmielnik, 85 km northeast of Kraków, although they weren’t the first Jews to live there. The Sephardic synagogue in Chmielnik was built in 1638.
Sephardic migrations to Husiatyn, a town in easternmost Galitzia in today’s Ukraine, southeast of Tarnopol and southwest of Khmelnytskyi, occurred significantly later those to more western cities like L’viv and Zamość, but trading opportunities were again among the motivations. Jews from Turkey and Thessaloniki, Greece frequented Husiatyn’s markets and fairs. Some of these merchants decided to permanently settle in Husiatyn, and there exist references to Jewish merchants from Thessaloniki in documents after the Austrian Empire acquired Galitzia in 1772. Several of their surnames pepper the vital records of both Husiatyn and nearby towns. An example is Algazi, a surname among Jews in Turkey. Hersz Ber Algazi’s daughter Sura Algazi was born in 1869 in Khorostkiv (then called Chorostków), a small Ukrainian town 29 km northwest of Husiatyn. The name was spelled Algaze by families in the southwestern Ukrainian villages and towns of Hrymailiv, Kopychyntsi, Pidvolochys’k, Sadzhivka, Skalat, and Stavki, and it was spelled Algase in Semeniv.
The surnames Spanierman, Spanier, and Sfard have an obvious meaning. Jossel Spaniermann and his wife Zelde, residents of Khorostkiv, welcomed their daughter Bassie Feige Spaniermann in that town in 1865. Bassie married Abraham Joel Fudim and, staying in town, had six children (Samuel Boruch, Moses, Wolf, Sara Beila, Kreine, and Benzion) between 1885-1892, at least some of whom took their father’s surname. Sura Spanierman from Khorostkiv married Hersch Kopel and their daughter Libe Spanierman from Khorostkiv married Israel Friedman, producing the son Schulim Schachne Friedman (born in 1895 in Kopychyntsi, then called Kopyczynce). A son, Abram Judko Mitelman, was born to Malka Mala Szpanerman and her husband Mordko Mitelman in 1909 in Chełm, a Polish city 64 km southeast of Lublin. A girl named Cypojra Szpanerman was born in 1904 in the town Włodawa in easternmost Poland at what are nowadays the corners of the Ukrainian and Belarusian borders. In Lyuboml’, a town in Volyn Oblast in western Ukraine east of Lublin, multiple Jewish families were surnamed Sfard and some of them perished in the Holocaust (Berko, Moyshe, and Yakov Sfard and their wives and children).
Another surname identified as Sephardic is Elion. Birth and death records from the 1840s-1890s reveal that Jews called Elion lived in the city of Rzeszów (in southeastern Poland, west of L’viv) as well as the village of Nosówka, 11 km to the west. Sephardic Jews with the corresponding surname Aelion lived in Thessaloniki in the 1800s-1900s.
Miriam Diniz was born in Zamość circa 1625, the granddaughter of Iacobo ben Gedaliah Dionis who was born in 1540 in Fatih, a district within Istanbul, Turkey. Miriam was a great-granddaughter of Ana Manrique de Lara Furtado who was born circa 1500 in Salamanca, Spain and a great-great-granddaughter of Iacob Tam ben David Ibn Yahya who was born in 1475 in Lisbon, Portugal. Although Miriam’s father was born in Slonim, Belarus, far from Sephardic cultural centers, he had the Judeo-Spanish first name Aloandro and bestowed his son (born in 1620 in Zamość) with the name Aloandro too, in keeping with a Sephardic (but not Ashkenazic) naming tradition that permitted children to be named after living relatives. Miriam married Perfet Charlap, a Sephardic Jew whose father had been born in Thessaloniki.
The historian and diplomat Szymon Askenazy, of mixed Sephardic-Ashkenazic heritage, was born in 1865 in the small town of Zawichost, southwest of Lublin.
Aaron Biterman’s ancestors lived in Hrubieszów, Poland, 46 km northeast of Zamość, near the Ukrainian border. His grandfather, Judah Lejb Biterman, a Hrubieszów native, informed his son that his ancestors had been expelled from Spain in 1492 and migrated to the Lublin region around 1550. Members of the Cymet family from Hrubieszów said the Cymets descended from three Sephardic brothers who left Spain and arrived in Hrubieszów in the 1500s.
Researcher Alexander Sharon says some Sephardim settled in the cities of Drohobych and Stryi in southwestern Ukraine. Nahum Waldinger Yaar’s father told him some of his ancestors moved from Spain to Poland in the 1500s-1600s. Nahum’s grandfather, Avraham Waldinger, resided in Stryi and owned a book listing all his male-line ancestors as far back as when they had been in Spain. Avraham smoked a nargila (water pipe), which Nahum thought was compatible with his non-Ashkenazic origins.
Genealogist Arthur Kurzweil’s father was born and raised in Dobromil, a town presently in Ukraine 5 km from Poland’s border that’s south of Przemyśl and southwest of L’viv. Kurzweil’s father’s family passed down an oral tradition that they had Sephardic ancestors who had escaped from Spain’s Inquisition. The family of Jacob Dov Berman from Kornytsya in western Ukraine had an identical oral tradition. If the researcher Perri Reeder is right, Kornytsya had several additional Sephardic families.
Genetic testing enables families with Sephardic surnames or Sephardic stories to get definitive answers about their heritage in many instances. It also reveals Sephardic connections for families whose ancestors lived in the 1800s-1900s in cities and towns that had once harbored identifiable Sephardim.
The PBS television series Finding Your Roots used 23andMe to discover that the Mexican-American actress Jessica Alba is autosomally related to the Jewish-American attorney Alan Dershowitz, whose ancestors were all Galitzianers from municipalities in southeastern Poland: Przemyśl, Cieszanów, and Pilzno. Their shared ancestor must have been Sephardic. Similarly, Family Tree DNA’s autosomal test matched a Spanish man who married into my family with a man whose ancestors were all Ashkenazim with German surnames, some of whom lived in Przemyśl.
Gary Wolinsky’s family elders had orally-preserved knowledge of partial ancestry from Turkish Jews. Genetic testing of a line from his Litvak paternal grandfather as well a line from his paternal grandmother revealed matches of Sephardic character. In the case of the latter, Gary’s grandmother, Freydel Sukenik, was born in 1890 in Ostroh in the Volhynia region in northwestern Ukraine and her mitochondrial DNA line closely ties her to a Catholic man from the town of Correntes in the state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil who didn’t have recent Jewish ancestors but appears to have had some from the 1600s.
At least some of the Maimon, Maiman, and Meiman families from eastern Europe are presumably authentic descendants of Sephardic Maimons, members of which lived in Thessaloniki and Turkey. This is apparently true for those who lived in Zamość and probably also those from L’viv. My mother descends from Marcus Maiman of Khorostkiv and other Jews from eastern Galitzia and eastern Poland. Inside Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch she matches many descendants of Sephardic Conversos from northeastern Mexico and Texas on triangulating identical-by-descent autosomal DNA blocks.
Kevin Alan Brook is a historian in Connecticut, U.S.A. who has written on Eastern European Jewish themes, the Karaites, and the Khazar kingdom in books and journals and on his website Khazaria.com. His article, “The Chinese Lady Who Joined the Ashkenazic People”, appeared in the March 2015 issue of Jewish Times Asia.
November 2015 update: Jessica Alba's Sephardic ancestors were on her fully Mexican-descended father Mark Alba's side.
December 2015-September 2016 updates: I subsequently discovered that two of my mother's Sephardic segments are shared by one of her second cousins and traveled down to them as part of a much larger (37.4 cM) combined segment, indicating they inherited them from one of their most recent common ancestors, either Marcus Maiman's daughter Sossie or Sossie's husband Moses Fellner, and showing that a trace of Sephardic DNA was present in some of their children who were born in the eastern Galitzian towns of Khlopivka, Postolivka, and Budaniv between 1891 and 1898.
December 2015 update: I also discovered that one of my mother's other Sephardic segments is shared by a person with one North African Jewish parent and one Christian European parent as well as a person with roots in Portugal, Spain's Canary Islands, Puerto Rico, Barbados, and Brazil.
February-May 2016 update: A man whose parents were both Jews born in Hrubieszów, one of whom was a Cymet, shares a phasing and triangulating autosomal segment with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and a Cuban, although he didn't necessarily inherit it from his Cymet line.
December 2017 update: Some Jews with the surname Kastel lived in Zamość in the 19th century. Upon learning that the Sephardic Castiell family had a presence in Zamość in the 16th or 17th century, Alexander Beider told me that he concluded that the city's 19th-century Kastels (including Mendel Hersz Kastel and Szmul Kastel who were both born in 1812 and the Kastels who were born there in the 1830s-1880s) must be descended from the Castiells.
December 2019 update: The supposed information in the paragraph pertaining to the Diniz and Charlap families might possibly be partly or fully imaginary.
November-December 2021 update: In the November 14, 2021 video meeting "Ashkenazim of Sephardic Origins?", Ton Tielen expressed disagreement with the claim that I had repeated that Montalto had built a synagogue in Lublin. Tielen wrote: "Moses Montalto was in Amsterdam for most of his adult life up until late 1636. He went on a business trip to Poland, leaving his brother, wife, sons and daughters behind, died shortly after his arrival and was buried in Lublin. There is no evidence that he built a synagogue in Lublin, or that the congregants followed the Sephardic rite." Alexander Beider told me: "The comment by Ton about Montalto in Lublin was very good (not a migration, but just a business trip, with the family left in Amsterdam, and death almost immediately upon the arrival)." This means Beider disavowed his previous statement in the section "Sephardim in Eastern Europe" of his 1996 book A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland that claimed that "Moses Montalto played an important role in the life of Lublin's Jewish community." Beider told me he got that idea from a written work by Shatzky. Salo Baron's book A Social and Religious History of the Jews: Late Middle Ages and the Era of European Expansion 1200-1650 on page 198 had claimed that Montalto was an "important arrival" in Lublin and that he "decided to settle in Lublin." Jacob Solomon Berger's Zamosc Memorial Book (2004) on page 40 claimed: "Moshe Montalto built a synagogue in Lublin at his own personal expense, where services were conducted according to the Sephardic tradition." Berger's claim may have been the source leading Rabinowitz to claim: "Moshe Montalto, a Sephardic physician who settled in Poland in the 17th century, built a synagogue in Lublin where the congregants prayed in the Sephardic rite." Beider thinks Berger invented those embellishments.
April 2023 update: A Jewish member of the Kalahora family in Kazimierz is mentioned on page 37 of Adam Kaźmierczyk's article "Converted Jews in Kraków, 1650-1763" in Gal-Ed: On the History and Culture of Polish Jewry vol. 21 (2007): "Matatiasz Kalahora, who was accused of blasphemy. Kalahora's court case not only ended with his death at the stake, but also provoked looting and rioting against the Jewish quarter."
Supplement included in the November 2015 issue of Somos Primos:
Map of places in Southeastern Poland and Western Ukraine where Sephardim settled
Other articles in this series:
Sephardic Jews in Lithuania and Latvia
Sephardic Jews in Central and Northern Poland
Sephardic Jews in Belarus
Sephardic Jews in Central, Eastern, and Southern Ukraine
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate of genetic testing companies and bookstores