Establishing Jewish Identity in Russia
A new office dedicated to establishing Jewish status under the auspices of the Rabbinical Court of Moscow has opened in Moscow. Funding comes from the Australia based Harry O Triguboff Foundation and the Toronto Friendship – the Dov Friedberg Charitable Fund.
The people behind the Israeli organization Shorashim are a cross between bespeckled librarians and Jewish Indiana Jones: No far-flung Ukrainian village is too remote, no archives are too dusty to find a long-forgotten document. They are scrambling against time, the enemy that is slowly erasing the past.
The six-year-old Shorashim organization traffics not in priceless antiques, but in proving Jewish identities to the Rabbinate, Israel’s religious governing body.
… Shorashim, which is under the auspices of the Israeli religious freedom activism group Tzohar, is rooted in the ideology that immediate action must be taken to avoid a demographic shift in Israel toward a non-Jewish majority.
Conversion is a long and complicated process. It is also expensive: The state’s annual budget for conversion is NIS 40 million.
Approximately 2,200 people go through the state’s conversion process each year, 800 in the framework of the army – at the cost of more than NIS 18,000 per person.
Proving Jewish identity is a much cheaper alternative. Shorashim has finished more than 2,000 investigations into Jewish identity since they started six years ago. Each investigation can affect up to five people, because the same documents can be used to prove the identity of an entire family. After receiving a request for help, Shorashim combs local archives for old ID papers, birth certificates and death announcements. They interview witnesses, including neighbors or distant family members still living in the country, who can attest to whether or not a family was Jewish. Each investigation is different, but generally, three pieces of evidence are required to prove Jewish identity. Many people come to Shorashim with one document, but need additional evidence.