A group of European rabbis awarded Spain’s king a prize this week for his country’s efforts to bring Jewish life back to Spain.

The Conference of European Rabbis, an Orthodox group, presented the award to King Felipe VI in a ceremony at a royal palace outside of Madrid.

The award was in recognition of a Spanish law that will award Spanish citizenship to Sephardic Jews. The 1492 decree by former monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella saw hundreds of thousands of Spanish Jews forced to convert to Catholicism or flee the country.

The Monarch pushed for a change in the law, enacted last year, that enables descendents of those who fled to gain Spanish citizenship while holding a second passport. He has also been praised for his “magnificent” support for Israel including attending last month’s funeral of Shimon Peres and leading from the front on Holocaust commemoration.

Implementation of the law has been delayed by the country’s many-months-long failure to form a government, despite two rounds of elections. Spain’s government says that more than 4,000 Sephardic Jews have received Spanish citizenship under the new law.

Dedicating the Lord Jakobovits Prize of European Jewry to the “generations of Sephardim who taught their children to love the memory of Sepharad”, the King said the CER’s work was particularly important at a time when the Continent is facing such uncertainty.

“European identity cannot understood without taking into account the decisive contribution of the Jews, who have lived in the continent since the dawn of history,” he told the gathering. “Now – as it did then – Europe needs the invaluable cntribution of its Jewish communities, because we need to be honest and respectful to both our common Judeo-Christian values and origins, and also with the broader sense of human values we are trying to defend worldwide amidst horror and hatred.”

He said: “All of Spain’s efforts in recent years to return the country’s Jewish culture to its rightful state are simply a duty in the name of justice. All of the Sephardims’ unyielding love and loyalty towards Spain represents a powerful example for all people’s. It certainly deserves our deepest, permanent and most sincere gratitude.”

He hailed the work of the small town of Castrillo, whose mayor Lorenzo Roriguez Perez, was invited to the ceremony, as “a symbol  of the fight against anti-Semitism”. Under his leadership, the town voted in 2014 to change its name from ‘Camp Kill Jews’ – which dated back to 1627 – to the original ‘Jews Hill Camp’. Perez – who has also overseen excavations across 80,000 square metres to uncover Jewish history – described the Royal recognition as a “high point” of his campaign.

Presenting the award, CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt described the monarch as a “pillar of support for the Jewish community. Your attendance at Holocaust commemorations sends a powerful signal that that intolerance can never again be tolerated”.

Sources: Times of Israel / Forward