Adilia’s Norfolk Street Bakery plays role in resolving 562-year-old injustice

This is Adilia, who runs Adilia’s Norfolk Street Bakery. The food at this coffee shop/bakery is authentic on an industrial scale. I pop in regularly on a weekday morning, around 9.45am, for coffee prior to a regular slot for Cambridge105 on the Phil Rowe show.

One of the best bits when I grab a coffee at Adilia’s is that I can just say “coffee please!”. I like this. Navigating a coffee menu can be irksome. Do I like decaff mocha? Not so much. What about a steamed soya latte? Definitely not. I just want a cup of coffee. It’s good that a barista can allow for the fact that you’re not inclined to elaborate on “coffee please”. Occasionally I’ll have a brownie or even a savoury pastry. It’s all incredible.

Sometimes, I natter with the regular barista, one of several authors of the wildly delightful smells emanating from the kitchen. I’m a journalist, it’s a license to be curious. She’s Portuguese, and has a very sharp wit, and an expansive and well-informed view of the world.

For months, like so many, I’ve been struggling with the possibility that the UK may leave the EU. The idea that dogma could make it harder to travel to 27 nearby countries is an infringement on my freedom of movement. I’m not inclined to give up the right to travel around Europe as a European. Why should I? My surname is Scialom. It’s an Italian name. My grandfather on my father’s side came from Livorno, in Tuscany. One time my dad told me his lineage could be traced back to Spain in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella, the king and queen of Spain at the time, suddenly issued an eviction order to the Jewish population. They were given four months to leave, and all their wealth was confiscated by the Spanish state. My ancestors wandered along the coastline of the Mediterranean, eventually settling in Livorno in the 19th century.

Anyway, I’m not happy about the prospect of Brexit and a few weeks ago I decided to investigate applying for dual citizenship , matching up my UK citizenship with an Italian passport. I weighed up my Italian heritage and it’s pretty modest, but I do have an Italian surname and every day of my life that I’ve had to spell it out has been an affirmation of this Italian backstory. Is that enough to claim an Italian passport? I didn’t know, so I asked my Italian journalist friend, Francesca Marchese, what she thought, and she was so helpful, even linked me up with someone at the Italian consulate in London. After a bit of research, it looked as if I could at least apply for Italian citizenship, which felt like a massive result even if it didn’t work out.

So one morning at the Bakery I was telling Cambridge’s best barista, who I’d finally established was indeed Adilia herself, about this marvellous family journey from Spain to Italy to Egypt where my father was born and raised, to England, and how this was an opportunity to reassert my European roots, and she stopped making coffee, looked across and said: “Did you know you can apply for Spanish citizenship under the right of return?”

“No way,” I replied. “What right of return?”

“Since 2015 Spain has a law that says that anyone Jewish who was expelled in 1492 has the right to return and become a Spanish citizen,” she said. “But hurry — the law will change again soon, it’s not forever.”

Back at my laptop later that day I checked this out. I wasn’t sure Adilia wasn’t jesting or somehow got it wrong. It seemed too unlikely to be true. But it was true: the descendants of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 under the Alhambra Decree are allowed to apply for Spanish citizenship and permitted to return to the country they were forced to leave 526 years ago.

This left me with a curious decision. Should I apply for Italian citizenship or for Spanish citizenship? For days I wrangled. Surely no one has ever had to face an issue like this. The burden was huge: on the one side my Italian lineage, and then the incredible window that has opened thanks to the Spanish government’s decision to allow Jews to return to Spain. It must be the biggest wheel ever to go full circle. It was irresistible. The decision made itself: to turn around, however partly, one of the biggest injustices in history, against attempting to pick up threads from a century ago. Closure on a 526-year journey which had appeared to have no hope of redemption, against a 100-year leave of absence. The bigger wound offers the most potential for healing. I’ve applied for Spanish citizenship under the right of return for Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492.

Thanks Adilia!

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Journalist, writer; facilitator at Cambridge Open Media

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Mike Scialom

Mike Scialom

Journalist, writer; facilitator at Cambridge Open Media

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