The Lost Jews and the Jews of Death


By Rabbi Zvi
September 17, 2010
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I spent yesterday afternoon with a lovely mother and daughter who live not far from Reading. They have always known that they are Jewish but have never actively participated in the Jewish community. No Mezuzzah on the door, just faint memories of the food. I offered a mezuzah and they both accepted with some delight and a few tears.
There must be thousands such people in Britain, but with the continuing ghettoization of the community into North London and Manchester, fewer Jews will be around to find the lost members of our community. Nobody is really actively seeking these people out - nobody has really made it their mission to find the unattached members of our community and re-attach them, sew on the partially severed limbs of the body of our Jewish community.
It's not as if they don't want us to help them back. They have been assumed to want no more to do with Judaism. Yet almost every unattached Jew I have ever met - even those who never even knew they were Jewish - wants to get closer to their wider Jewish family, the community, and their heritage. We are for the most part failing them by not making a concerted effort to serve them. We have Elkan Levy and the Office of the Small Communities, and of course Malcolm Weismann did a very special job for all those years and continues so to do. But the outreach organizations miss a whole tranche of Jews all over the country merely because they don't fit their profiles.
Some do attach themselves. They affiliate so that they can be "buried Jewish". This is not in itself wrong - it is a perfectly understandable sentiment. Yet how many shuls or shul organizations actually twig that here is a member who may be able to point us towards others who need re-enlisting in the ranks of the more active? Again, we are failing our community.
A few years ago in the columns of the JC, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was quoted as saying that we are not doing what we ought in Britain to find the outlying members of our community and re-attach them. With the conscious ghettoization of Anglo-Jewry away from the provinces to London and Manchester, and the focus on limited targets, we are missing thousands if not tens of thousands whose mere presence on a census or in a locality would help to make the lives of the whole community here simpler, and who would help Jewish causes to have a more careful hearing in the corridors of power. Rev Weismann tells me that there could be a million Jews in the UK in total! May the coming year bring a return of the Exiles, and particularly of those exiled for whatever reason from the Jewish community, to swell our ranks and increase our pride in our community.

COMMENTS

Natalie

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 09:06

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This certainly would be a better use of resources than going to court over who should be allowed into schools. But how would you propose finding these people? The last census shows my husband and daughters as Jewish, but my son and I filled in "none" under religion. If the Family History subgroup in my computer club were Jewish, and were not so obsessed with their own history, they might regard finding lost Jews as a worthwhile task.

How were the mother and daughter mentioned at the start of the blog found?

Does Rev Weismann's estimate take into account that some of these lost Jews may be descended from women who converted and who subsequently were not fully observant? Aren’t such
conversions no longer regarded as valid?

I can't see any disadvantages to this quest. Some people may be delighted to feel wanted by a community, and those who are not interested can simply say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”


Geoff Melnick

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 10:07

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In Israel, in the West Bank and in Jordan, there are whole tribes of crypto Jews, forced to convert to Islam during the course of the last 1400 years but who retain vestiges of Jewish identity, such as tefillin or eating Matza on Pesach. M...arriage is strictly within the tribe.

In Uhm El Fahm - the biggest "Arab" city in Israel, Matzot sell fast in all the shops on Pesach.

And absolutely nobody here wants to know or do anything about it.See more


Rabbi Zvi

Tue, 09/21/2010 - 05:57

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They were found because they self-identified when I was at the hospital. They were looking for a Rabbi.

I find most Jews by just asking. I do it mostly when they are going round my shul. I just say "does anyone have a Jewish mother, or grandmother? Is your maternal great-grandmother (your mother's mother's mother) Jewish?" You'ld be surprized how often that pitches up a result. About 1% of the time.

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