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How to find and prove Jewish roots?

March 28, 2022 532 Time to read: 9 min.

Jewish roots are usually started by people willing to relocate to Israel. In this case, they can count on participation in the repatriation program. Such a desire may also be associated with religious considerations, as well as attempts to restore family traditions. The reason may be the desire to find their relatives, to reunite with her. Let’s talk about how you can understand that you have Jewish roots.

Indirect signs of Jewish roots

Let’s start from the very beginning. If you only have a suspicion that there could be Jews in the family, but you don’t know anything about it, then this section is for you. If you are certain that there were Jews in the family, you can go directly to the next section.

We list the signs that indicate that you can start searching. The more signs you can find in yourself, the more likely you are to have Jewish roots.

Surname

Information about the surname, of course, will not be enough to obtain Israeli citizenship. The law requires documentary evidence of Jewish origin. But she might be the first clue. And, knowing the names of relatives in a straight line, it will be a little easier to search for Jewish roots.

How to determine Jewish roots by last name? Evidence that there were Jews in the family can be several types of surnames. However, none of them guarantee even 90% probability.

jewish grandmother

The most obvious surnames from the list of “typically Jewish” ones are: Kramer, Steiner, Rabinovich, Koganovich, Vaisman, Grossman, Rubinshtein). As well as the names of Cohen, Levi, Kogan, Katz, Schwartz, Weiss, Roit, etc.

WRAI staff can individually plan how to proceed, considering the specifics of the situation. For example, he will explain how to find Jewish roots by last name without documents, build a plan for finding evidence based on the confidence of the client and the work of a professional archivist.

Appearance

The first thing we pay attention to in appearance is the color of the hair and eyes. Most often, Jews are dark-haired, but there are also red, and blond, and fair-haired. The most typical feature is a combination of light (blue, gray) irises and dark hair. This trait is more common among Jews than among other peoples. Typically, there are curly hair. Men are distinguished by abundant vegetation on the face and body, which is typical for the southern peoples.

As for facial features, the Jews are characterized by a high forehead, with a rather narrow face that does not expand upwards, and a small distance between the eyes. Often they have a rather large nose, some Jews have a curvature of the bridge of the nose (up to 30%). Puffy lips are common. However, these signs are also found in other peoples (Greeks, Georgians, Arabs).

You can rely on external signs, but with caution. When the genes of parents are mixed, children can get an appearance that is not at all typical for Jews, which will be closer to the Slavs, Caucasians or other peoples. Depending on the origin of other ancestors, the descendant of the Jews may have a typical Armenian, Kazakh and any other appearance.

Testimony of relatives

Find out the most detailed information from all living relatives. You can start by asking the parents, and then ask the grandparents in detail, if possible.

Information you need to know:

  • names, surnames, and dates of birth of all relatives along a probable Jewish line (you can search both from the side of the mother and from the side of the father);
  • cities where relatives lived;
  • places of work and study;
  • places of military service;
  • the possible presence of military awards;
  • places of death and burial;
  • the presence of other relatives who repatriated to Israel, their contacts;
  • whether the relatives were religious and attended the synagogue, whether they were members of the Jewish community, or were simply Jews by blood.
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    Paraphernalia

    Sometimes people live all their lives in a family of atheists and are unaware of their Jewishness, and then, as adults, they discover a star of David in the closet, left over from their great-grandmother. It is worth paying attention to the old family heirlooms left in the family. If you find the following:

    • the Torah is the most obvious find that can quietly gather dust under dozens of books in a home library;
      unusual candlesticks (this may turn out to be a menorah or a hanukkah – a candlestick for 7 and 8 candles, which is used in Jewish rituals);
    • kippahs – headdresses in the form of a small hat, traditional for Jewish men;
    • any items with inscriptions in Hebrew (for example, watches with Hebrew letters instead of numbers);
    • especially beautiful small glasses (this may be a special glass for kiddush);
    • amulets in the form of a hand with an eye in the center of the palm – the Jewish hamsa (we often know this amulet as a Muslim symbol,
    • but for Jews, it is also important and is called the “hand of Miriam”);
    • small spinning tops (dreidles, savivon), often also with Hebrew letters;
    • plates for Pesach (keara) – special dishes with six recesses that are used in rituals for Easter;
    • oblong cases with parchment inside – mezuzahs;
    • the horn of an animal (shofar), usually a ram or mountain goat, unexpectedly found at home.

    Surviving traditions in the family

    If your family has memories of observing traditions and celebrating Jewish holidays, then this is also a reason to delve deeper into your roots.

    If your mother or grandmother lit candles on Friday nights or met with people from a religious community, this is worth learning more about. It is also worth paying attention to how the wedding of grandparents took place, how the New Year was celebrated, whether the ransom of the firstborn was practiced in the family, and whether the relatives were buried on the day of death and the next day.

    Enterprise

    There is a stereotype that all Jews are very enterprising people. In fact, this is just a myth, and it cannot be attributed to any signs that you had Jews in your family. But, if you are reading these lines, then, apparently, you are deeply immersed in the topic of finding your roots. And if you don’t know anything about your relatives of 2-4 tribes, or the life of your ancestors was connected not only with the country you live in, but at least with Ukraine, the Baltic countries or Europe, then this is already a serious reason to find out your ancestry.

    By building your family tree, you may be able to apply for citizenship in Israel or 10 other European countries.

    So, all of the above signs can help you come to the conclusion that you have Jewish roots. But none of them is evidence for the Israeli consul, so further documentary evidence will have to be sought. Below, we list the documents that can be considered at the consular check.

    Circumstantial evidence

    Indirect evidence includes everything that says about the Jewishness of a relative, but is not the main document (passport or birth, marriage, death certificate). It is important to understand that indirect confirmations will be only auxiliary information for the consul in case of a lack of basic information.

    Photo. This is the first thing that is preserved in the family, even if the documents are lost. Indirect evidence can be photos of relatives in which they perform Jewish rituals or are surrounded by people from the Jewish community, dressed appropriately, or carry religious paraphernalia. At the same time, it would be nice if photos were preserved on any documents to prove that this is your great-grandmother, and not a random photo of an unfamiliar Jewish woman.

    Sometimes joint photos with relatives are used as indirect evidence of kinship if, for example, there are no birth certificates left.

    Personal diaries and letters. If the necessary evidence is preserved in the records of a person or letters addressed to him, they can also be attached to the repatriation case. Correspondence with people who have a proven relationship to the Jewish community will be especially weighty.

    Documents linking a person to the Jewish community:

    • Extracts from the synagogue;
    • Burial certificates in the Jewish cemetery;
    • Records of participation in rituals;

    • Documents on holding a wedding according to the Jewish tradition.

    Soviet documents that could indicate nationality:

    • Graduation papers or personal files;
    • Employment book and records from the place of work;
    • Military ID and documents from the place of service;

    • Award Documents;
    • Evacuation certificate;
    • Party ticket;
    • Extract from the house book, etc.

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