Friday, February 3, 2012

Shavei Israel's Michael Freund in his own words -- he wants to reach millions, tens of millions of 'lost Jews'!

Guest post from "RaP"

"Shavei Israel's Michael Freund in his own words -- he wants to reach millions, tens of millions of 'lost Jews'!

A year ago, YNet interviewed Michael Freund about himself and his goals in a lenghty interview. What he said is very revealing, here are some key passages:

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4018444,00.html

YNet News.com - Jewish World

"Columbus of hidden Jews
He wanders Amazon jungles, travels to Chinese villages, searches Spain for Marranos, and sees India’s Bnei Menashe as his life's mission. Michael Freund has an obsession: Discovering remote Jews
Itamar Eichner
Published: 01.25.11
It happened six years ago. Michael Freund decided to go on a South American adventure. Armed with high motivation, he entered a small canoe and went off into the Amazon River of Peru, quickly finding himself among wild jungles filled with trees and animals resembling those which appear in children's nightmares.

Suddenly, he noticed a group of Native Americans in a canoe approaching him. He waved to them. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed something strange – the names of their boats were typical Moroccan Jewish names: Ben-Zaken, Levi, Ben-Shushan.
Freund, the Christopher Columbus of Jews, smiled with satisfaction. Right then and there he knew his journey was a successful one: Another lost Jewish tribe had been found.

"I went to visit a village in the area, and on the way we stopped to buy drinks," he recalls. "I saw a sign: 'The Ben-Shimol family.' I knocked on the door and a gentleman of about 80 answered.”
“’I am from  Israel I told him. He looked at me excitedly and replied: ‘I am a Jew and my father is a Jew.'"
The elderly man invited Freund into his house and showed him a large picture of his father – a Moroccan Jew who had married a Peruvian. "He barely knew his father, who had about 20 children," Freund said. "The only thing he received from his father was his name - along with the one Jewish commandment he had taught him: ‘Honor thy father and thy mother.’ I couldn't believe it. In a remote village in the Amazon, you find Jews. Over the years, several hundred of these Jews have moved to Israel and undergone formal conversion.
The Spanish Wailing Wall
Freund, an American immigrant, has a mission: Locating remote and hidden Jews and descendants of the Jewish people.

He devotes all his efforts and resources to this project as founder and director of the Shavei Israel organization, which works to strengthen the connection between descendants of Jews and Israel and the Jewish people.

According to assessments, he has put his own money into the project while raising large sums in donations from others. His organization is active in many countries throughout the world and helps different communities: From the descendants of Bnei Anousim (whom historians refer to as Marranos) in Spain, Portugal and South America, to remote communities in places such as China.

"It's a type of fixation that doesn't let me rest," said Freund. "I feel obligated to these communities forgotten by history, but they haven't forgotten us. Several years ago I visited Palma de Mallorca in Spain. There was a Jewish community there until 1435, several decades before the expulsion. In one of the alleyways of Palma’s old city, I saw people passing by a wall, nonchalantly rubbing their hands along the stone and quietly kissing it as they walked by. It turned out the wall was part of a church known as 'Mount Zion', which had been built centuries ago on the ruins of Palma’s synagogue. The bottom part of the wall is all that remains of the synagogue, and the Chuetas (descendants of Palma’s Jews who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism centuries ago) had retained the custom of touching the stones and then kissing their hand to show that they hadn't forgotten their Jewish heritage," he said.

Over the years Freund has succeeded in helping thousands of Jewish descendants reconnect to their roots. In Jerusalem, he created a conversion institute known as “Machon Miriam Jerusalem Seminary”, which is named after his late grandmother Dr. Miriam Freund-Rosenthal. The institute has assisted numerous descendants of Jews from Latin America, Spain and Portugal to reconnect with their roots.

By all accounts, there are millions of Marranos throughout the world. "They are descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who converted under duress, many of whom continued to practice Jewish customs in secret despite the persecution they faced at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition,” he said and added, "The Marranos are a living and breathing phenomenon, but the Jewish world largely ignores them." ...

Lost tribe of Israel
Freund is apparently the primary address for remote Jewish communities and descendants of Jews. They turn to him from all over the world and ask that he visit them.

This began over 15 years ago, after Freund made aliyah from New York and went to work for Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister. He served as deputy to the communications director, the late David Bar-Ilan.

One day a letter from the Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India addressed to the prime minister found its way to Freund’s office. The Bnei Menashe, who claim to be descents of a lost tribe of Israel, had been writing to every Israeli premier from Ben-Gurion onwards, but they had never received a reply.

After studying the matter and meeting with members of the community, Freund brought about an annual arrangement with the Interior Ministry that enabled 100 Bnei Menashe to come to Israel, undergo conversion and receive citizenship.

Subsequently, his organization, Shavei Israel, built educational centers in India for the Bnei Menashe. In March 2005, after a two-year investigation, the Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized the community’s Jewish roots. Over the past decade, approximately 1,700 Bnei Menashe have made aliyah. Another 7,232 Bnei Menashe remain in India, awaiting permission to move to Israel.

The last time Freund succeeded in obtaining permission to bring a group to Israel was in 2007, when 230 Bnei Menashe from the Indian state of Manipur made aliyah. Since then, the aliyah has stopped.

Freund is a gentle person. He doesn't get angry. He doesn't raise his voice. But he is frustrated. "I simply do not understand why these wonderful people are stuck and forced to wait years before being allowed to fulfill their dreams. This is a big mistake. The Bnei Menashe want to be here and deserve to be here," he says.
"When I was there I met a family whose son is a lone soldier serving in the IDF, risking his life, while the Israeli government doesn't allow his family to reunite with him here. There are currently 18 lone soldiers like him who are stuck in India. It's heartbreaking.” ...
What motivates you?
"I see it as my mission in life. There are people who travel great distances to look for spectacular views. I go to look for Jews. We are a small nation and we don't have all that many friends out there. So we should be reaching out to descendants of the Jewish people to cultivate a stronger connection with them. Two years ago a genetic study was carried out in Spain and Portugal which found that 20% of the male population of Iberia has Jewish genetic material. Because of all the persecution we have endured throughout the centuries, the Jewish nation was scattered to the four corners of the earth. So it isn't surprising that there are traces and remnants of Jews in all sorts of remote places. There are millions of such people out there and my dream is to reach each and every one of them. It behooves us to reach out to them, because we only stand to benefit from it in a range of fields, from public diplomacy to tourism."  "

15 comments :

  1. Who or what is "RaP"? I've searched your blog and eight pages of results come up. Is it the commenter who posts as "Recipients and Publicity"? I googled that, and all the hits were to this blog (or other blogs that refer to it).

    The name seems to me to be trying to convey something. Or am I mistaken?

    ReplyDelete
  2. There's apparently some tribe of Muslims somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan who are so vicious that even the Taliban won't mess with them. Apparently they're a lost tribe of Israel. Why can't he get them to move to Israel?

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  3. A person with a Jewish father and a non Jewish mother is a Gentile.

    Our families have always been aware of men who left Morocco in the late 19th and early 20th century to seek their fortunes in South America. My family has been contacted by descendents of one of these men, biological relatives whom we do not acknowledge since they are not Jewish.

    The biological descendants of Jewish men and non Jewish women are Gentiles who should be left to live their lives as they already do.

    Judaism does not recognize patrilineal descent. These descendants are not part of our families and they are not part of Judaism. This is the halacha as well as the reality. There is nothing Jewish about them including their names which are for the most part from the Arabic or Spanish. There is nothing Jewish about these surnames and there is nothing Jewish about non Jews with surnames that are used by both Jews and Gentiles.

    If we are going down the path of recognizing the children of Jewish fathers as Jewish, then we must also recognize the 400 million Arabs in the Middle East who descend from Avraham Avinu as truly Jewish also.

    In that case, those who claim matrilineal Jewish descent would be the extreme minority and the Arab claims that theirs is the TRUE inheritance to Jerusalem would certainly be supported.

    The Zionist should not try so hard to "find" Jews.

    All of the fake converts and Christian missionaries who have taken our shuls, schools and communal organizations are destroying our families.

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  4. Thanks RaP- Kol Hakavod to you!! for this post.

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  5. Eddie's comment about marriage has been moved to

    http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2012/01/blog-post.html

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  6. Regarding matrilineal/ patrilineal descent. today we face an intermarriage rate of 50%, at least in the west.

    Unfortunately, women often see no problem, since they will not be punished, their children will be considered Jewish, with no problems in being called up to the torah, or marrying within the Jewish community.

    My suggestion, and it is only that, is that some kind of Gezera is necessary, where only children from 2 Jewish parents should be accepted as Jews. This is because of the unprecedented rate of intermarriage which has not occurred ever before. of course, there will not be agreement or even authority to do so, but something needs to be done to prevent this high rate of attrition.

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  7. P. Almonius said...

    Who or what is "RaP"? I've searched your blog and eight pages of results come up. Is it the commenter who posts as "Recipients and Publicity"? I googled that, and all the hits were to this blog (or other blogs that refer to it).
    ============
    they are one and the same

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  8. It is interesting how Freud discusses the issue. He says he wants to "reach" every descendant of Jews in the world, not because they're already Jewish or he wants to convert them and move them to Israel (there wouldn't be enough room, anyway!), but because it will helps in various ways, from tourism to diplomacy.

    That actually makes sense. Spain is one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe (according to opinion polls), but much of the country is descended from Jews. If those who are learn a bit more about Judaism, and develop positive feelings toward Jews and Israel, this could help tourism, decrease anti-Semitism, and increase public support for Israel. If a tiny proportion end up getting really enthusiastic and want to convert, fine. On the other hand, if the Shavei people are actively trying to convince people to convert, rather than just developing ties with descendants of Jews and leaving it up to them whether to pursue conversion, then that would of course be forbidden. Shavei needs to make clear what their methodology is in relating to these people, so that people can evaluate whether it is proselytization.

    Eddie, I completely disagree with your suggestion (though I think the Satmar chassidim might be sympathetic!). In my experience most American Jews intermarry because they don't believe it's wrong (only marrying Jews would be "racist!", etc.) and don't believe Judaism is true. If they later change their mind and want to become involved, they should be welcomed like any other ba'al teshuvah. If the couple is genuinely willing to observe all the mitzvot and raise their kids as Orthodox Jews, the non-Jewish partner can convert if he/she desires.

    In my opinion the main way to decrease intermarriage would be to dramatically increase outreach programs addressed to high school students. There are many NCSY chapters, and Chabad has lately started many youth groups, but they need to exist everywhere, so that every non-Orthodox youth is exposed to them. By the time they get to college, it's almost too late. Orthodox kiruv groups only reach a small proportion of Jewish college students, and most college students are so inundated with secular and far-left-wing ideology that they're more or less permanently prejudiced against Orthodox Judaism (seeing it as sexist, fundamentalist, theocratic, racist, etc.). They need to learn the case for Orthodox Judaism, and have positive experiences with Orthodox Jews, before they get to college.

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  9. "My family has been contacted by descendents of one of these men, biological relatives whom we do not acknowledge since they are not Jewish."

    ...unless they are looking for heirs for their million dollars fortune... In this case, you might consider recognising the kinship...

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  10. Recipients and PublicityFebruary 5, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    "Meaning" of "RaP": 1 of 2:

    P. Almonius said...Who or what is "RaP"? I've searched your blog and eight pages of results come up. Is it the commenter who posts as "Recipients and Publicity"? I googled that, and all the hits were to this blog (or other blogs that refer to it). The name seems to me to be trying to convey something. Or am I mistaken?"

    Short answer from RaP:

    "RaP" is just the shortened version of a nickname, also known as a "user name" or ID" of an anonymous poster on this blog ("daattorah.blogspot.com") in keeping with the rule on this blog, that all posters should choose an "identifying name" to be known by, or else their posts are deleted. There is no deeper significance than that.

    Longer answer from RaP:

    "RaP" is just the shortened version of a longer nickname i.e. taken from the first letters of "Recipients and Publicity" of an anonymous poster on this blog ("daattorah.blogspot.com")

    This is the story of the how the name came to be quite by chance.

    When the now-defunct EJF ("Eternal Jewish Family") was formed with much fanfare about 5 years ago, they offered free conferences to prominent Orthodox and Charedi rabbis to create a new global standard for conversions. EJF also had another aim of "reaching out" to the gentile spouses among any intermarried couples to persuade and to convert by hosting them at hotels with free seminars. EJF was to run parallel seminars at luxury hotels to host rabbis and host potential converts.

    About four years ago, this blog under Rabbi Dr. Daniel Eidensohn started to post reports on this blog ("daattorah.blogspot.com") that the BADATZ (Beth Din Tzedek [Jewish Ecclesiastical Court] of the Eidah HaChareidis in Jerusalem) had taken unusual action and had sent out letters to the potential RABBINIC attendees of the then upcoming EJF ("Eternal Jewish Family") asking them not to attend any of the EJF's events. This was long before the final Tropper sex scandal that brought him down and forced the closure of EJF.

    A copy and translation of that letter was posted on this blog, see: Bedatz letter regarding conversion and Bedatz letter regarding conversion: Rav Sternbuch, shlita approved translation by Daniel Eidensohn: Concerning the Holiness of the Jewish People – the Holy Nation....We therefore are turning to the poskim and the roshei yeshivos not to participate in their conventions - such as the one that occurred in America last week. Even if their motivation was to improve the standards of conversions – they are making improvements in one area while making things worse in another. This approach is directly causing serious problems. Those who heed our cautions will benefit and receive blessings. We - the members of the Bedatz in Jerusalem - affix our signature to this document out of fear and concern for the holiness of the Jewish people – the holy nation. Horav Meir Brandsorfer
    Horav Moshe Sternbuch
    Horav Naftoli Frenkal
    Horav Avrohom Yitzchok Ulman
    Horav Yakov Mendel Yorovitch
    Horav Yehoushua Rosenberg"

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  11. Recipients and PublicityFebruary 5, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    "Meaning" of "RaP": 2 of 2:

    Evidently, the BADATZ saw fit to send official letters to all rabbis they knew had received invitations to request of them to both stay away from such EJF conferences and of the Halachic dangers of such conferences. Evidently there were many such letters sent out.

    In spite of those letters, it seems that almost any and all rabbis that were invited to the first EJF conferences ignored the warnings of the BADATZ and attended the EJF events, many receiving generous financial grants from EJF and its parent foundation, the Lillian Jean Kaplan Foundation founded by billionaires Tom Kaplan and his nephew Guma Aguiar.

    When I became aware of this blog because of my deep interest in the subject of conversions in our day, I was fascinated by the confrontation between Leib Tropper and his rabbonim on one side and the fact that the owner of this blog ("daattorah.blogspot.com") Rabbi Eidensohn was willing to post opposing information from The BADATZ under the guidance of Rav Moshe Shternbuch.

    In some early communications I urged Rabbi Eidensohn the owner of this blog to make public the names of those rabbis who received ("RECIPIENTS") those letters "and" to publicize ("PUBLICITY") who they were and the objections that had been raised to EJF by the BADATZ led by Rav Shternbuch.

    Hence the creation of the posting name from that time of "Recipients and Publicity" I still use IN ORDER TO BE CONSISTENT -- but inside of posts it is too cumbersome -- so the abbreviation of "RaP" is used out convenience the "R" is for "Recipients"; the "a" is for "and"; and the "P" is for "Publicity".

    That is the story and there is no other meaning to it, it's just a name for a poster who wishes to remain anonymous but has chosen a "user name" or online ID.

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  12. Recipients and PublicityFebruary 5, 2012 at 8:51 PM

    About start of "Recipients and Publicity" and "RaP"!

    Link to the follow-up letter signed by the GAAVAD (head) of the BADATZ:

    "Bedatz Letter regarding EJF signed by Gaavad

    There was a second letter sent out with the additional signature of the Gaavad. A copy of most of the letter follows. (part was cropped out of the original)

    Distinguished Rabbi shlita, I am requesting from you - with every expression of entreaty - to stop and break off association with this organization (Eternal Jewish Family) which is a danger to the future of the Jewish people. Even isolated cases of this type of conversion (of intermarried couples) are extremely problematic. This is explicitly stated by the Achiezer (3:28) that “no kosher beis din should deal with this (the conversion of intermarried couples).” Also look in the Igros Moshe (E.H. 1:27) where he states “this whole issue of conversion of intermarried couples is personally totally distasteful even in isolated cases.” It is simply not acceptable to deal with the issue of intermarried couples in this manner and to openly reinforce their activities with public announcements and notices in newspapers and internet and other such means. They are in effect inviting non‑Jews to participate in a program of conversion through this publicity. It is a really damaging approach which unfortunately will bring about even more intermarriages and invalid conversions. Distinguished Rabbi shlita, please act according to your understanding and wisdom and desist from participating in this program (of the Eternal Jewish Family). It is a public danger. G‑d should assist you."

    And over there, you can read this:

    "Recipients and publicity said...

    Is it possible to know and publicize who the letter was sent to and who the rabbi/s were that received the letter and perhaps even responded to it?"

    And see the rest of the discussion....

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  13. The gavad writes it is distatefull to convert non-jewish spouses of intermarried couples, yet he does not fit to publish that he thinks it is distatefull to stand in front of a primary school and shout "pritze, pritze", or to wear fake KZ uniforms in protest about - I do not really know what...

    I mean, on the one hand I can understand his reserves against the practice of converting the spouse. On the other hand: most modern-orthodox communities would be empty without the spouses converted after they started a relationship and their children...

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  14. 6ft, to follow up on what you said: Of course individual rabbis or batei din might have reservations about converting someone married to Jew. But to lay down a new universal rule that such a person can *never* convert would violate the prohibition against adding anything to the Torah (negative mitzvah #159). Besides, such a universal new prohibition would do great damage to the ba'al teshuvah movement, by forcing people to divorce if they want to make teshuvah.

    "Simply follow the essential laws without adding extra stringencies. If only we could keep all the mitzvot of the Torah according to the simple interpretation of the law without seeking to go beyond it!" Sichos HaRan #235

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