Can anyone with some Jewish genes just decide they're Jewish?All sorts of celebrities, including politicians and lots of ordinary people make decisions about whether or not they're Jewish. Now people are asking if American U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is Jewish. Apparently, she's descended from Jews on her father's side, which is good enough for her local Reform shul. But the Reform definition of who's a Jew isn't based on Torah tradition.
Can the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) define Judaism?
Is the Hitler-Nazi definition of a Jew something we must take seriously?
Are those converted Reform, Conservative (non-Torah standard Orthodox Jewish Law tradition) actually Jews?
Now for the story...
It'll be twenty years this coming summer, during the big Jewish exodus from the USSR...
Actually, it began during Passover when my neighbor was sent to Russia to run the seder in a Soviet Jewish community. He had a lovely young teenage translator who told him that her family would be making aliyah soon. So he invited them to come to Shiloh.
These neighbors used to work late in Jerusalem and we frequently took rides home with them after late events. So one such day we got a call saying that there would be more people in the van, since the translator and her family were arriving:
"They called to confirm that they could stay with us. We said yes, although we can't figure out how to fit them in the house."A later call:
"No problem," I said, "they can stay with us. We have much more room."
"They called from the airport. Their Israeli relatives told them that they ought to tell us something they had never mentioned before. Only the father is Jewish, not the mother and the kids. They want to know if we'll still host them. I said yes."We had this surreal drive from Jerusalem to Shiloh with a stop off where someone gave them some family heirlooms which he had smuggled out of the USSR for them. Then we set them up with beds, the son at my neighbors and the parents and daughter at my house.
"OK, me, too. Let's give them a chance."
During the next couple of weeks, my neighbor helped them find schools, ulpan and immigrant housing in a hotel, all four in a tiny room. Another neighbor who knew some Russian had a good talk with the wife who told him:
"I always knew that marrying - would mean that I and my children would be Jews."So, conversion courses were also found for them.
About a year and a half later, I got an excited call from the husband:
"-- and the kids converted. We're getting married next week and we want you at the wedding."It was a beautiful wedding, and we hosted Sheva Brachot for them.