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GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION OF JEWS
Because of the independence of local communities, Jewish ethnicities, even when they circumscribe differences in liturgy, language, cuisine and other cultural accoutrements, are more often a reflection of geographic and historical isolation from other communities. It is for this reason that communities are referred to by referencing the historical region in which the community cohered when discussing their practices, regardless of where those practices are found today.
The smaller groups number in the hundreds to tens of thousands, with the Georgian Jews (also known as Gruzinim or Qartveli Ebraeli) and Beta Israel being most numerous at somewhat over 100,000 each. Many members of these groups have now emigrated from their traditional homelands, largely to Israel. For example, only about 10 percent of the Gruzinim remain in Georgia.
The Jewish communities of the modern world can all be found represented today in Israel, which is as much a melting pot as it is a salad bowl of different Jewish ethnic groups.
A brief description of the extant communities, by the geographic regions with which they are associated, is as follows:
Ashkenazic Jews (plural Ashkenazim) are the descendants of Jews who migrated into northern France and Germany around 800–1000, and later into Eastern Europe.
Among the Ashkenazim there are a number of major subgroups:
Yekkes, or German Jews, stemming from the Lowlands, historical Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia. They originally spoke Western Yiddish, which had less Slavic influence than other Yiddish dialects. By the early 20th century, Yiddish was in decline in this population, and assimilation was proceeding rapidly.
Oberlanders, originating in the Oberland region of Hungary and the district surrounding Bratislava in Slovakia, originally spoke Western Yiddish. In modern times before the Holocaust, many Oberlander Jews migrated to urban centers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and adopted German or Hungarian as their first language.
Unterlanders, who resided in the northeastern region of the Kingdom of Hungary (present-day Slovakia, Zakarpattia Oblast in Ukraine and Northern Transylvania.)
Litvaks, or Lithuanian Jews, emerged as a distinct group in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia and the northeastern Suwałki region of Poland). They have historically spoken the Eastern Yiddish dialect Litvish (Lithuanian Yiddish).
Galitzianers, or Galician Jews, trace their origins to Galicia, Western Ukraine (current Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil regions) and South-Eastern Poland.
According to some sources, Jews in Udmurtia and Tatarstan can be seen as ethnic group - dos udmurtishe yidntum.
Sephardic Jews (plural Sephardim) are Jews whose ancestors lived in Iberia prior to 1492.
There are multiple subgroups among the Sephardim:
Western Sephardim, or the Spanish and Portuguese Jews are a distinct subgroup of Iberian Jews. They are largely descended from Jews who lived as New Christians in the Iberian Peninsula during the immediate generations following the forced expulsion of unconverted Jews from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497.
Eastern Sephardim are a subgroup of Iberian Jews descended from families exiled from Iberia in the 15th century. Most of them settled in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, while some settled as far as the Malabar coast, importing their culture and customs to the local Cochin Jews.
North African Sephardim descend from exiled Iberic Jewish families of the late 15th century and North African Maghrebi Jewish communities already settled in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. They have historically spoken Haketia, a Judaeo-Spanish language derived from Old Spanish, Hebrew and Aramaic.
Belmonte Jews are a Jewish community in Belmonte that lived in Portugal as Crypto-Jews for centuries. They survived in secrecy for hundreds of years by maintaining a tradition of endogamy and hiding all external signs of their faith.
Xuetes, or Majorcan Jews, are descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity and today live in the Balearic Islands. Some maintained their faith, while others observed a syncretist form of Christian worship known as Xueta Christianity.
Jewish communities in Europe that are neither Ashkenazic nor Sephardic:
Italkim trace their origins as far back as the 2nd century BCE. It is thought that some families descend from Jews deported from Judaea in 70 CE. They have traditionally spoken a variety of Judeo-Italian languages (Italkian) and used Italian Hebrew as a pronunciation system.
Romaniotes are a distinct Jewish community that has resided in Greece and neighboring areas for over 2,000 years. They have historically spoken the Judæo-Greek dialect Yevanic, although due to the majority of them dying in the Holocaust, combined with assimilation post-WW2 there are no longer any speakers of it.
San Nicandro Jews – A group of mid-20th century converts from Italy.
The Caucasus and the Crimea
Juhurim, better known as the Mountain Jews are descendants of Persian Jews from Iran and Babylonian Jews from Baghdad who settled in the eastern and northern Caucasus (modern Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. It's believed that they had reached Persia from Ancient Israel as early as the 8th century BCE. The Juhuro survived numerous historical vicissitudes by settling in extremely remote and mountainous areas. They were known to be accomplished warriors and horseback riders. Their language is Judeo-Tat, an ancient Southwest Iranian language which integrates many elements of Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic.
Gruzim, or the Georgian Jews, are one of the oldest surviving Jewish communities tracing back to the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE. The 2,600-year history of the Georgian Jews was unique in its complete absence of antisemitism prior to Russia's annexation of Georgia. They have traditionally spoken Kivruli, a Judaeo-Georgian dialect with a lot of Hebrew and Aramaic loan words. As a result of the Post-Soviet aliyah, the vast majority of Georgian Jews now live in Israel.
Krymchaks and Crimean Karaites are Turkic-speaking Jews of the Crimea and Eastern Europe. The Krymchaks practice Rabbinic Judaism, while the Karaim practice Karaite Judaism. Whether they are primarily the descendants of Israelite Jews who adopted Turkic language and culture, or the descendants of Turkic converts to Judaism, is still debated, although the question is irrelevant as far as Jewish law is concerned, according to which they are Jews, regardless of whether by Israelite descent or by conversion.
Subbotniks are a dwindling group of Jews from Azerbaijan and Armenia, whose ancestors were Russian peasants who converted to Judaism for unknown reasons in the 19th century.
Mostly Sephardi Jews and collectively known as Maghrebi Jews and sometime considered part of the wider Mizrahi group:
Moroccan Jews migrated to this area after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and settled among the Berbers. They were later met by a second wave of migration from the Iberian peninsula in the period immediately preceding and following the 1492 Alhambra Decree, when the Jews were expelled from kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. Their mixed-race descendants in the Amazon Basin are known as Amazonian Jews, and they have retained a separate ethnic identity, often with mixed religious practices.
Algerian Jews: There is evidence of Jewish settlements in Algeria since at least the late Roman period, followed by Jewish immigrants came to North Africa after fleeing from the persecutions of the Visigothic king Sisebut, and finally the largest segment which were Sephardic Jews forced from Spain due to the Inquisition.
Libyan Jews stretch back to the 3rd century BCE, when Cyrenaica was under Greek rule. The Jewish population of Libya, a part of the Berber Jewish community, continued to populate the area continuously until the modern times.
Tunisian Jews: similar to the Libyan Jews
Jews originating from Muslim lands are generally called by the catch-all term Mizrahi Jews, more precise terms for particular groups are:
Babylonian Jews, or Iraqi Jews, are descendants of the Jews who have lived in Mesopotamia since the time of the Assyrian conquest of Samaria
Kurdish Jews from Kurdistan, as distinct from the Persian Jews of central and eastern Persia, as well as from the lowland Babylonian Jews of Mesopotamia.
Persian Jews from Iran (commonly called Parsim in Israel, from the Hebrew) have a 2700-year history. One of the oldest Jewish communities of the world, Persian Jews constitute the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel.
Yemenite Jews (called Temanim, from the Hebrew) are Oriental Jews whose geographic and social isolation from the rest of the Jewish community allowed them to maintain a liturgy and set of practices that are significantly distinct from other Oriental Jewish groups; they themselves comprise three distinctly different groups, though the distinction is one of religious law and liturgy rather than of ethnicity.
Palestinian Jews are Jewish inhabitants of Palestine throughout certain periods of Middle Eastern history. After the modern State of Israel was born, nearly all native Palestinian Jews became citizens of Israel, and the term "Palestinian Jews" largely fell into disuse.
Egyptian Jews are generally Jews thought to have descended from the great Jewish communities of Hellenistic Alexandria, mixed with many more recent groups of immigrants. These include Babylonian Jews following the Muslim conquest; Jews from Palestine following the Crusades; Sephardim following the expulsion from Spain; Italian Jews settling for trading reasons in the 18th and 19th centuries; and Jews from Aleppo in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Sudanese Jews are Jewish community that lived in Sudan, and was concentrated in the capital Khartoum, they were mainly of Sephardic background, who had constructed a synagogue and a Jewish school.
Lebanese Jews are the Jews that lived around Beirut. After the Lebanese Civil War, the community's emigration appears to have been completed; few remain in Lebanon today.
Omani Jews are the early Jewish community of Sohar. They are thought to be descendants of Ishaq bin Yahuda, a Sohari merchant around the first millennium. This community is believed to have disappeared by 1900.
Syrian Jews are generally divided into two groups: those who inhabited Syria from ancient times (according to their own traditions, from the time of King David (1000 BC)), and those who fled to Syria after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492), at the invitation of the Ottoman sultan. There were large communities in both Aleppo and Damascus for centuries. In the early 20th century, a large percentage of Syrian Jews emigrated to the U.S., South America, and Israel. Today, there are almost no Jews left in Syria. The largest Syrian-Jewish community is located in Brooklyn, New York, and is estimated at 40,000.
Main article: Jews and Judaism in Africa
Beta Israel or Falashim of Ethiopia, tens of thousands migrated to Israel during Operation Moses (1984), Operation Sheba (1985) and Operation Solomon (1991).
Descendants of the Jews of the Bilad el-Sudan (West Africa). Jews whose ancestry was derived from the communities that once existed in the Ghana, Mali, and Songhay Empire. Anusim in and around Mali who descend from Jewish migrations from North Africa, East Africa, and Spain.
The House of Israel, several hundred Sefwi tribesmen in Ghana
The emergent Igbo Jewish community of Nigeria, perhaps as many as 30,000 strong (although many of them maintain a belief in the Messiahship of Jesus and adhere to basic tenets of Christianity that are mutually exclusive of normative Judaism).
The Lemba people in Malawi which number as many as 40,000. This group claims descent from ancient Israelite tribes that migrated down to southern Africa via southern Arabia. Genetic testing has partially upheld these claims. Many are now moving toward practising normative Judaism.
The Jews of Rusape, Zimbabwe, also claim descent from ancient Jewish communities. Although they held a belief in Jesus as a prophet, the community is now shifting towards mainstream Judaism and abandoning their belief in Jesus. They are not considered Jews by most of the Jewish world.
South African Jews make up the largest community of Jews in Africa. Dutch Sephardic Jews were among the first permanent residents of Cape Town when the city was founded by the VOC in 1652. Today, however, most of South Africa's Jews are Ashkenazi and, in particular, of Lithuanian descent.
Communities also existed in São Tomé e Príncipe, descended from Portuguese Jewish youths expelled during the Inquisition.
South, East, and Central Asia
Bene Israel are the Jews of Mumbai, India, most of whom now reside in Israel.
Bukharan Jews are Jews from Central Asia. They get their name from the former Central Asian Emirate of Bukhara, which once had a large Jewish population.
Syrian Malabar Nasranis are Judeo-Christians who live in south-western India that trace their origins to early Jewish settlers there and are related to Palestinian Nasrani's. They are Jews by genealogy and descent and are related to the Cochin Jews (Cochin Black Jews). Many from the Paradesi (Cochin White Jews) community also assimilated into the Nasrani community. Some from the community have also been reported to carry the Cohen gene marker, Cohen Modal Haplotype, indicating Aaronic descent for some.
Baghdadi Jews Those Jews came from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Arab countries who settled in India in the 18th century.
Bnei Menashe. A group of Jews living in Manipur and Mizoram in north-eastern India, claiming descent from the dispersed Biblical Tribe of Menasseh.
Bene Ephraim, the Telugu-speaking Jews of Kottareddipalem in Andhra Pradesh, India.
Chinese Jews: most prominent were the Kaifeng Jews, an ancient Jewish community in China, descended from merchants living in China from at least the era of the Tang dynasty. Today functionally extinct, although several hundred descendants have recently begun to explore and reclaim their heritage.
Pakistani Jews: There was a thriving Jewish community in Pakistan particularly around the city of Karachi but also in other urban areas up north such as in Peshawer, Rawalpindi and Lahore. The origins of the Jewish community was mixed with some being Bene Israel, Bukharan Jews and Baghdadi Jews. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Jewish refugees from Iran had also came via Pakistan's Balochistan province and reached Karachi until the Iranian government closed down the operation. Most of Pakistan's Jewish community has not relocated to Israel and Pakistan's Jewish population is believed to number around 700. Also the Jews of Allahdad have residence in this area.
Afghan Jews: Records of a Jewish population in Afghanistan go back to the 7th century. Before the arrival of Islam in Kabul, Kabul and Gandhara were trading places for Jewish merchants. The Afghan Jewish community has disappeared since the 1950s due to gradual emigration to Israel. Since the Mughal period, there had also been a historiographical tradition of the Afghans themselves being descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel.
Tamil Thattar Jews in Sri Lanka, Jews in Sri Lanka have had a presence on the island nation since at least the 9th century. History of the Jews in Sri Lanka.
Most Jewish communities in the Americas are descendants of Jews who found their way there at different times of modern history. The first Jews to settle in the Americas were of Spanish/Portuguese origin. Today, however, the great majority of recognized Jews on both the North American and South American continents are Ashkenazi, particularly among Jews in the United States. There are also Mizrahim and other diaspora groups represented (as well as mixes of any or all of these) as mentioned above. Some unique communities associated with the Americas include:
Sephardic Bnei Anusim are the descendants of Sephardi Jewish nominal converts (conversos) to Catholicism who immigrated to the New World escaping the Spanish Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. Following the establishment of the Inquisition in the Iberian colonies, again they hid their ancestry and beliefs. Their numbers are difficult to ascertain as most are at least nominally Catholic, having been converted by force or coercion, or married into the religion. Collectively, people of Sephardic Bnei Anusim Jewish descent in Latin America is in the millions. Most would be of mixed ancestry, although a few claim some communities may have been able to maintain a degree of endogamy (marrying only other Crypto-Jews) throughout the centuries. They may or may not consider themselves Jewish, some may continue to preserve some of their Jewish heritage in secrecy, many others may not even be aware of it. The majority would not be halakhically Jewish, but small numbers of various communities have formally returned to Judaism over the past decade, legitimizing their status as Jews. See also Anusim.
Amazonian Jews are the mixed descendants of Moroccan Jewish communities in Belém, Santarém, Manaus, Iquitos, Tarapoto and many river villages in the Amazon basin in Brazil and Peru.
B'nai Moshe are converts to Judaism originally from Trujillo, Peru. They are also known as Inca Jews, a name derived from the fact that they can trace indigenous Amerindian descent, as most are mestizos (persons of both Spanish and Amerindian descent) though none with any known ancestors from other Jewish communities. Again, there is no interaction between Peru's small Ashkenazi population and the Inca Jews. At the neglect of the Ashkenazi community, the conversions were conducted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Most have made aliyah and now live in Israel, while a few hundred more of the same community are awaiting conversions.
Veracruz Jews are a recently emergent community of Jews in Veracruz, Mexico. Whether they are gentile converts to Judaism or descendants of anusim returning to Judaism is speculative. Most claim they descend from anusim.
Further information: Israeli Jews
By the time the State of Israel was proclaimed, the majority of Jews in the state and the region were Ashkenazi. However, by the 1990s, the majority of Israeli Jews were Mizrahi. As of 2005, 61% of Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi ancestry.
Following the declaration of the state, a flood of Jewish migrants and refugees entered Israel from the Arab world and the Muslim world in general. Most were Sephardim and Mizrahim, which included Jews from the Maghreb, Yemenite Jews, Bukharan Jews, Persian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Kurdish Jews, and smaller communities, principally from Libya, Egypt and Turkey. More recently, other communities have also arrived including Ethiopian Jews and Indian Jews. Because of the relative homogeneity of Ashkenazic Jewry, especially by comparison to the diversity of the many smaller communities, over time in Israel, all Jews from Europe came to be called "Ashkenazi" in Israel, whether or not they had any connection with Germany, while Jews from Africa and Asia have come to be called "Sephardi", whether or not they had any connection with Spain. One reason is that most African and Asian Jewish communities use the Sephardic prayer ritual and abide by the rulings of Sephardic rabbinic authorities, and therefore consider themselves to be "Sephardim" in the broader sense of "Jews of the Spanish rite", though not in the narrower sense of "Spanish Jews". Similarly "Ashkenazim" has the broader sense of "Jews of the German rite".
The founders of modern Israel, mostly Ashkenazi Jews, are often said to have believed themselves superior to these new arrivals. With higher degrees of Western-standard education, they were better positioned to take full advantage of the emerging Western-style liberal democracy and Western mode of living which they themselves had established as the cultural norm in Palestine during the pre-state era.
Cultural or racial biases against the newcomers were compounded by the fledgling state's lack of financial resources and inadequate housing to handle the massive population influx. Thus, hundreds of thousands of new Sephardic immigrants were sent to live in tent cities in outlying areas. Sephardim (in its wider meaning) were often victims of discrimination, and were sometimes called schwartze (meaning "black" in Yiddish).
Worse than housing discrimination was the differential treatment accorded the children of these immigrants, many of whom were tracked by the largely European education establishment into dead-end "vocational" schools, without any real assessment of their intellectual capacities. Mizrahi Jews protested their unfair treatment, and even established the Israeli Black Panthers movement with the mission of working for social justice.
The effects of this early discrimination still linger a half-century later, as documented by the studies of the Adva Center, a think tank on social equality, and by other Israeli academic research (cf., for example, Tel Aviv University Professor Yehuda Shenhav's article in Hebrew documenting the gross underrepresentation of Sephardic Jewry in Israeli high school history textbooks. Every Israeli prime minister has been Ashkenazi, although Sephardim and Mizrahim have attained the (ceremonial) presidency and other high positions. The student bodies of Israel's universities remain overwhelmingly European in origin, despite the fact that roughly half the country's population is non-European. And the tent cities of the 1950s morphed into so-called "development towns". Scattered over border areas of the Negev Desert and the Galilee, far from the bright lights of Israel's major cities, most of these towns never had the critical mass or ingredients to succeed as places to live, and they continue to suffer from high unemployment, inferior schools, and chronic brain drain.
While the Israeli Black Panthers no longer exist, the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition and many other NGOs carry on the struggle for equal access and opportunity in housing, education, and employment for the country's underprivileged populace – still largely composed of Sephardim and Mizrahim, joined now by newer immigrants from Ethiopia and the Caucasus Mountains.
Intermarriage of all these regathered Jewish ethnic groups was initially uncommon, due in part to distances of each group's settlement in Israel, and cultural or racial biases. In recent generations, however, the barriers were lowered by state sponsored assimilation of all the Jewish ethnic groups into a common Sabra (native-born Israeli) identity which facilitated extensive mixed-marriages.
The hidden existence, or future public return of the 10 Lost Tribes., is based on written religious tradition and/or speculation. A belief has persisted that one day they would be found. Eldad ha-Dani, for instance, a 9th-century Jewish traveller, reported locating the tribes “beyond the rivers of Abyssinia” on the far side of an impassable river called Sambation, a roaring torrent of stones that becomes subdued only on the sabbath, when Jews are not permitted to travel. Manasseh ben Israel (1604–57) used this legend in pleading for the admission of Jews into England.
King Solomon created the wealthiest and most powerful central government the Hebrews would ever see, but at a high cost. Land was given away to pay for his extravagances and people were sent into forced labor into Tyre in the north. When he died, between 926 and 922 BCE, the ten northern tribes refused to submit to his son, Rehoboam, and revolted.
From this point on, there would be two kingdoms of Hebrews: in the north - Israel, and in the south - Judah. These kingdoms remained separate states for over two hundred years. Within a century of Solomon's death, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were left as small states.
In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered Israel. So conquered territories remained pacified they forced many to move to other parts of their empire usually concentrated on the upper and more powerful classes as they had no reason to fear the general population. They then sent Assyrians to relocate in the conquered territory.
When they conquered Israel, they forced the ten tribes to scatter throughout their empire. For all practical purposes, you might consider this a proto-Diaspora ("diaspora"="scattering"), except that they disappeared from history and are called The 10 Lost Tribes. The site gives more information and listings from three sources.
ISRAEL MUST REACH OUT TO LOST AND HIDDEN JEWS
For the first time, the government of Israel will be proposing a concerted series of steps to engage with descendants of Jews.
Israel must reach out to lost and hidden Jews
Jerusalem Post, Michael Freund, August 31, 2017
In the coming months, a government report will be released that will mark an historic turning point in how the State of Israel relates to people with Jewish roots.
Compiled by a special committee established by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, the document is said to recommend a number of measures aimed at strengthening the bond between the Jewish state and millions of descendants of Jews around the world who are no longer considered Jewish.
As someone who has devoted the past 15 years to promoting precisely this idea through Shavei Israel, the organization that I chair, I am convinced that we are on the cusp of a watershed moment in Jewish history, one that will herald the return of countless souls once deemed lost to our people.
Indeed, over the past two decades, a burgeoning number of individuals and communities worldwide have been embracing their historical connection to the Jewish people in one form or another.
Some are driven by an intellectual or emotional curiosity, others seek spiritual sustenance, cultural meaning or a sense of identity.
But whatever the motivation, this phenomenon is sweeping across oceans and continents, inspiring everyone from professors in Portugal to peasants in Peru to explore a simple yet profound question: What does it mean that their ancestors were once Jews? In Poland, for example, there are tens of thousands of Poles with Jewish roots grappling with this very issue.
After the Holocaust, many Jews in Poland chose to hide their Jewishness because of the suffering they had endured under Nazism, which was followed by waves of antisemitic oppression under Communism.
In addition, during the German occupation, thousands of Jewish children were put up for adoption with Polish neighbors or institutions and grew up ostensibly as Polish Catholics.
Since the downfall of the Iron Curtain, a growing number of the offspring of these “hidden Jews,” whose Jewish roots go back just two, three or four generations, have begun exploring their heritage and returning to the Jewish people.
In addition, throughout the Spanish- and Portuguese- speaking world, there are untold numbers of Bnei Anusim, whom historians refer to by the derogatory term “Marranos,” whose Iberian Jewish ancestors were compelled to convert to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Many continued to cling to their Jewish identity and faith in secret, passing it down through the generations, and in recent years, large numbers of Bnei Anusim in Spain, Portugal, Sicily and Central and South America have begun to return to their roots, embracing the faith of their forefathers and looking to rejoin the Jewish people.
There are other communities as well, ranging from the 7,000 Bnei Menashe of northeastern India, who are descended from a lost tribe of Israel, to the 15,000 Subbotnik Jews of the former Soviet Union, who are descendants of Russian peasants who converted to Judaism two centuries ago.
These groups have for the most part been on the periphery of organized Jewish life, frequently ignored or overlooked by Israel and mainstream Jewish communities.
It is time for this to change. Snubbing such groups is not only a grave strategic and historical mistake, but it contravenes the Jewish values and Zionist ethos upon which Israel was founded.
In my travels to various far-flung communities, I have seen it time and again: The moment someone discovers or rediscovers his or her Jewish roots, it can have a transformative effect on how they relate to Israel and the Jewish people.
Some choose to formally return to Judaism, thereby strengthening us demographically. Others develop a greater affinity for Israel and Jewish causes even if they do not return to the Jewish fold, making them more supportive and sympathetic to our people.
We have a responsibility toward these communities and individuals, many of whose ancestors were torn away from us against their will, to extend a hand and welcome them back.
And that is what makes the impending release of the report by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry so important.
For the first time, the government of Israel will be proposing a concerted series of steps to engage with descendants of Jews.
The fact that the State of Israel is doing so will send a powerful message to descendants of Jews worldwide, reversing decades in which they were paid little heed.
And it will provide them with further encouragement and support on the journey of discovery that many have undertaken.
Frankly, we owe it to them and to ourselves to bring our lost Jewish brethren back. Doing so will strengthen our people demographically and spiritually, quantitatively and qualitatively. It is a win-win situation for all concerned, so let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Jewish destiny is calling and there is much to be done.
Seeking converts, immigrants, and Israel advocates, Diaspora Ministry-appointed panel suggests pilot project among 5 million descendants of Jewish converts to Christianity
Times of Israel, Sue Burkes, 28 March 2018
Some 60 million people worldwide have an affinity with Judaism or Israel, including plenty of groups and individuals who could be screened for potential conversion and immigration to Israel, a committee set up by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry has concluded.
In what it calls an “unprecedented strategic opportunity,” the committee calls for mapping potential communities, providing learning materials about Judaism, the Jewish state, and the Hebrew language, and designing a special track for those interested in working, living, and perhaps even converting to Judaism to come to Israel, the Haaretz daily newspaper reported Wednesday.
Orthodox rabbis immediately attacked the idea, saying that Judaism is not a proselytizing religion. Reform Jews said the government was more interested in expelling people not considered Jewish enough than in recruiting new ones — a reference to cases in which individuals have had their citizenship revoked for various reasons.
The Diaspora Affairs Ministry said in a statement that the report had not yet been adopted and that the aim was not mass conversion but rather strengthening the relationship between Israel and non-Jewish communities abroad.
One of the report’s recommendations is to review the potential of these overseas communities to serve as positive representatives of the Jewish state who can also help in the battle against anti-Semitism.
The report was commissioned in 2016 by Naftali Bennett, the minister for Diaspora affairs as well as for education, who heads the right-wing, religious Jewish Home Party. Aimed at providing advice to the government on policy toward what it calls the “large communities” seeking Israeli recognition, connections and even citizenship, the committee presented its report to the cabinet secretary earlier this week.
Among the millions of potential recruits, the report identifies descendants of Jews who are not eligible to immigrate to Israel without formal conversion — so-called Marranos descended from Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity several centuries ago; descendants of so-called “Red Marranos” from Eastern Europe, who hid their Judaism from the Communist regime; communities that declare themselves to be Jewish but are not officially recognized, such the Falashmura of Ethiopia and the Bnei Menashe of India; groups in Africa and Asia claiming a more distant connection with Judaism; and other groups worldwide who feel ideologically and spiritually close to the Jewish people.
The reports breaks these groups down into circles of proximity, with more than 14 million people in the closest group (Jews in Israel and overseas), followed by nine million who are entitled to immigrate under the Law of Return, five million who are the descendants of converts, and around 35 million people who are already known to have an affinity with the Jewish state.
The Law of Return gives citizenship rights to people who have at least one Jewish grandparent or who are married to a Jew.
In all, says the report, some 60 million people can be defined as “future potential,” among them people who are not yet aware of this.
Evangelical Christians from around the world sing and recite prayers at the Jerusalem Chairman’s Conference at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, September 22, 2013. (Flash90)
The committee’s recommendations include designing a pilot project among the descendants of forced converts, creating an online database which could include genealogical information, planning special entry permits to allow interested non-Jews to study and work in Israel and setting up institutes overseas aimed at spreading Jewish and Israeli culture in the way that the Goethe and French institutes do in Germany and France.
Rabbi Dov Lior, head of the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria, told Haaretz that proselytizing was not the Jewish way and that it was important, first of all, to bring lapsed Jews back to religious practice.
Rabbi Uri Sherki told the paper that while he supported strengthening the connection with non-Jews, he feared that some of them would be more interested in establishing a connection between Jews and Christianity.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director general of the Reform Movement in Israel, said that the report reflected Reform Judaism’s view. He added that such an approach was repeatedly rejected by the Israeli government, which was “preoccupied with raising walls between the Jewish people” and by expelling people from the State of Israel.
Dr. Shuki Friedman of the Israel Democracy Institute said he saw no chance that the government would implement the committee’s recommendations.
He said attention had to be focused first on finding solutions for the nearly half a million Israeli citizens who were allowed to immigrate under the Law of Return and who serve in the army, live and work in the country, but who are not recognized by Orthodox Judaism as members of the faith.
These include many immigrants from the states of the former Soviet Union.
From Poland to Peru, and Barcelona to Brazil, Shavei Israel aims to help descendants of Jews reconnect with the people and State of Israel. We open the door to all who have decided that Judaism and a return to the Jewish people are central to their fate and their identity.
The Jewish people are currently facing a demographic and spiritual crisis of unprecedented proportions. Our numbers are shrinking, Jewish commitment is waning, and more and more young people are leaving the fold. And yet, simultaneously, an extraordinary awakening is taking place. From northeastern India to southern Spain, from the coast of Portugal to the shores of Brazil, countless numbers of people are trying to make sense of their Jewish ancestry, wrestling with profound questions of history, identity and self. Many are literally knocking on our collective door, looking for a way to enter.
This presents the Jewish people with a tremendous opportunity to reinforce its ranks and reinvigorate its spirit by extending a courteous hand to all those who wish to return. Shavei Israel is the only Jewish organization today that is actively reaching out to “lost Jews” in an effort to facilitate their return. We are not merely a research team. We approach each case on a human level, lending guidance and understanding in tracing Jewish roots, exploring Jewish history and evaluating options for returning to the Jewish people.
The How-To’s of Return
Returning to the Jewish people does not and should not involve coercion or compulsion. It is a deeply personal decision and cannot be imposed from the outside. It may result from a desire to recover a lost heritage, or from an intense need to understand various inherited customs and family traditions.
Whatever the source, Shavei Israel supports, guides, and provides assistance for these personal journeys however varied they may be. Shavei Israel opens the door to all who have decided that Judaism and a return to the Jewish people are central to their fate and their identity. Shavei Israel does not proselytize nor does it support any form of missionary activity. Shavei Israel responds to personal expressions of desire to return to Judaism.
VIDEO - THE LOST TRIBES: THE JOURNEY OF THE BNEI MENASHE
A non-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in New York City, Kulanu (Hebrew for "all of us") works around the world to support isolated and emerging Jewish communities who wish to learn more about Judaism and (re-)connect with the wider Jewish community.
VIDEO - DEVELOPING EMERGING JEWISH COMMUNITIES AROUND THE WORLD
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
WORLDWIDE JEWISH GROUPS