• Life in a Single Box

    Life in a Single Box – Shorashim’s First Annual Conference

    In the basement of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem sits an archive of hundreds of boxes which contain many thousands of documents from the Holocaust era. During a recent tour for Shorashim employees as part of Shorashim’s first annual conference, Chair Gertner, the archive administrator, shared the contents of a single box among many. Rav Shimon Har Shalom, administrative director of Tzohar’s Shorashim project, described how this box helped a woman reclaim her Jewish status at the age of sixty.

    After decades of living with her partner, he explained, she wished to marry, but could never definitively prove that she was Jewish. Yet, in that box in the Yad Vashem basement sat a card from a German labor camp, on which her grandmother’s name was listed among the prisoners. The very card that on which the Nazis, in their dry, technical language, listed the dates of a woman’s detention and her work detail, served, decades later, to prove that this woman’s granddaughter was indeed a member of the Jewish nation.
    When nearly a million immigrants flooded into Israel in the early 1990’s, many recognized that a good percentage were not halachically Jewish. Yet, few realized just how many of those immigrants who are in fact Jewish lacked the ability to prove their Jewish status. Some simply lacked the necessary document to prove their Jewish identity, while many came from families whose families, having spent decades under totalitarian regimes, took pains to conceal their Jewish roots, never dreaming that their children or grandchildren immigrate to the Jewish State.
    Tzohar quickly recognized the pressing need to help this unique population, and established Shorashim, an organization dedicated to assisting Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union prove their Jewish status.
    Last week, over a dozen Shorashim employees from Israel, Russia and Ukraine gathered in Jerusalem for Shorashim’s first conference. Over the three day program, these professionals spent a day in Yad Vashem, and studied different issues related to proving Jewish status, including working with rabbis around the world, genealogical research, and the process of working with Batei Din of the Chief Rabbinate.
    In his talk to the group, Rav Tzachi Lehman, co-chair of Tzohar, noted that many organizations often struggle to find a balance between congeniality and professionalism. Some organizations, while proficient, can seem distant, and cold. Others, while warm and “heimish”, often lack some of the necessary competence and thoroughness to complete the task. Yet, Shorashim has found a unique formula to excel in both areas. When an applicant approaches the rabbinate with research from Shorashim, the dayyanim know that the work has been done in a thorough and complete manner. At the same time, the people of Shorashim always work with a sense of care and devotion, never forgetting that in the end, they are tasked with a holy mission of reviving and restoring what was once a thriving Jewish population.
    You can read more about Shorashim’s work here.