Friday, August 20, 2010

Shavei Israel - outreach to Poles who cliaim Jewish roots


A group of 22 young Poles who recently discovered their Jewish roots arrived in Israel on Sunday for a special three-week educational seminar organized by the Shavei Israel non-profit organization.
The participants, most of whom were raised Catholic and are now in their 20s, came from an array of cities throughout Poland, primarily Krakow, Katowice, Warsaw, Tychy, Gdansk and Cieszyn. For some of the participants, this marks their first time visiting Israel. [...]


  1. Whatever the validity of the work Shavei Israel do with Indian, Chinese and Ethiopian communities that claim Jewish descent, I find their work in Poland to be quite uncontroversial. The parents and grandparents of these young people, living under Nazism and then Communism, had very good reason to hide their Jewish identity. The span of time during which the Jewish identity of these individuals and their forebears remained under wraps is quite short - seventy to eighty years or so. I imagine that documentation for ascertaining Jewish identity can be found for a good portion of these cases.

    If what Shavei Israel are doing in Poland is controversial, then it is only slightly (and, in my mind, insignificantly) more so than the kiruv rechokim that is being pursued in the United States today.

  2. Shalvei's work in Poland is very controversial because the people they are outreaching to have Jewish patrilineal descent.

    They are not Jewish according to halacha and they are being taught to fool the Conversion authority into believing that they are sincere converts to

    Don't complain about the anti Semitism in Israel when groups like Shalvei are allowed to operate and bring a million non Jews from Eastern Europe to Israel.

    Everything that Israel was allegedly created to safeguard the Jewish people against, it now recruits!

  3. Well, how do kiruvniks deal with the persons of patrilinear jewish descent that belong to reform or conservative communities?

    Suppose they mekarev and megayer them... ...or the other way round...

    no essential difference

  4. returnee, that is just as wrong.

  5. Well, of course they only megayer and mekarev those who are interested in living according to halacha.

    I suppose it is the same case here.

    Personally, I have not so much sympathies for "shavey Isreal", because they tend to settle those innocent people they convince to make aliah in the occupied territories. In my view, this is a form of abuse.

    However, I think that efforts to help people who want to come back to their jewish roots in a country where there is not much "jewish infrastructure" are laudable. That's not the reason why they should be attacked.

  6. Are people responding to this news item as an article regarding kiruv in Poland, or as an article regarding the activities of Shavei Israel? It's possible to be supportive of the pursuit of kiruv in Poland and to simultaneously be critical/suspicious of Shavei Israel. The two are distinct, and should not be conflated.

    I have a suspicion that many of those who would look askance at kiruv work of ANY sort being done in Poland would also be critical of much of the kiruv work being done in the United States, even by mainstream charedi organizations. In such a case, this conversation here is much, much bigger than one that is merely about Poland or Shavei Israel.

  7. Here is an article on the Jewish community in Poland published in the most recent issue of Jewish Action, the magazine of the OU:

    Shavei Israel is mentioned exactly once in the article, within a list of a variety of other organizations engaging in Jewish outreach and community development within Poland.

    I'm perfectly willing to be proven otherwise, but I think it is reasonable to assume that a good portion of the ba'alei teshuva in Poland are, in fact, of demonstrable halachic Jewish status even without conversion. It could be that there are more instances of non-Jewish Poles of Jewish ancestry discovering Judaism and subsequently deciding to convert than I might personally be comfortable with, but I just don't buy the notion that an organization like Shavei Israel is somehow going into Poland and singlehandedly creating Jews out of non-Jews with wild abandon.

  8. Returnee, I know of kiruv organizations that politely decline patrilineal descent "jews" (really, non-Jews) for programs they run that requires application process.

  9. While we're on the subject, can anyone substantiate the claim that Shavei is targeting "patrilineal Jewish" gentiles with their program in Poland? Or is it just imaginative lashon hara which goes hand-in-hand with the ridiculous hyperbole about bringing 1 million European non-Jews to Israel? It is not religious outreach groups that did that, it was the Israeli govt and they've already run that scheme! (The law of return is the culprit there, not shavei israel and the 20 polish people they spoke with).

  10. Well said, Student V. Shavei Israel is an Orthodox organization, and they have no agenda re: patrilineal dissent. Their mission is to educate non-Jewish descendants of Jews about their heritage, and assist them if they are interested in converting. Determining whether this crosses the line towards prostletizing would require a close look at what they do on the ground, and whether they try to convince people to convert (which I've never seen evidence of). Suggestions that Shavei Israeli aims to flood Israel with false converts are completely disconnected from reality. The fact is, many Poles with Jewish ancestry are very interested in Judaism, and it is a great mitzvah to convert a sincere convert.

  11. "Their mission is to educate non-Jewish descendants of Jews about their heritage, and assist them if they are interested in converting."

    Yeshaya, this is precisely what some people would refer to as "targeting persons of patrilineal Jewish descent."

    In the course of publicly reaching out to culturally and religiously estranged Jews, any kiruv organization will inevitably get their share of non-Jews with Jewish ancestry walking through their doors. Some of them will fall in love with Judaism and will, even after much attempt to dissuade, decide to pursue conversion. If they do, yasher koach. It's beautiful. But for an outreach organization to pursue the education of non-Jewish descendants of Jews about Jewish heritage as a matter of explicit policy is, in the eyes of many people, highly problematic.

  12. Yeshaya,

    "Determining whether this crosses the line towards prostletizing would require a close look at what they do on the ground..."

    I agree 100%.

  13. RaP,

    Perhaps Shavei Israel is indeed orchestrating a media campaign. But I seriously doubt it's anything more radical than sending press releases to various Jewish news outlets, in which case it's nothing noteworthy or even remotely nefarious.

    The whole "Renaissance/Reawakening of Polish Jewry" angle is probably compelling enough for many Jewish Journalists to want to cover it themselves without much of an artificial push from outside organizations.


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