A revolution in Jewish genealogy

Nowadays, it's easier than ever to comb back through Jewish family roots.

By ADINAH GREENE
October 3, 2006 00:16
3 minute read.
A revolution in Jewish genealogy

king david 88. (photo credit: )

 
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They are coming from all over the world to claim their royal heritage. First, on October 19, they will meet in New York City at the inaugural dinner of the Davidic Dynasty organization. Then, in May, a mass reunion is planned for Jerusalem. They say they are descendants of King David. They have the oral family traditions, rabbinic texts and historical research to back up their claims. And the way Jewish genealogy is thriving, their ranks may swell in the coming years. Davidic Dynasty, a project of the Eshet Chayil Foundation, has compiled a partial list of David's purported descendants. Their get-together, to be held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, will honor Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis - both of whom are believed to be descended from David. Other illustrious Jewish figures down the centuries who traced their ancestry back to David include Hillel, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, Yochanan Hasandler and Yosef Karo. More contemporary leaders include the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and former president Chaim Herzog. And nowadays, it's easier than ever to comb back through Jewish family roots and, who knows, maybe identify your own eminent ancestor. A generation ago, most people relied on their oldest living relatives to learn about their family's history. The revolution was fuelled by the fall of Communism, and the new records that became available, allied to the proliferation of home computers. In January, the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy opened at the Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus. The institute's director, Dr. Neville Y. Lamdan, and several colleagues had wanted to open such an institute for years, but it had to wait until he stepped down as ambassador to the Vatican. "We came back to the idea with a great deal of energy and with a lot of intensive work," Lamdan said. "The group nominated me to be the director and that's how I find myself involved and over my head." Now Lamdan plans to advance Jewish genealogy so it can be taught at the university level. "People were groping around feeling that somehow [Jewish genealogy] should be institutionalized. But what sort of institution? What would it do? The answer: engage in research and, if possible, teaching at a university level," Lamdan said. The institute has three research projects under way, including two in conjunction with foreign universities. The Sephardic DNA and Migration project, which the institute is performing in cooperation with the Universities of Haifa, Arizona and New York, uses DNA to tracks the male members of a family back to pre-expulsion Spain. The institute's second project is called Rebuilding Destroyed Communities. Researchers are trying to reconstruct what community life was like in three towns in Poland and Lithuania before the Holocaust. The Jacobi Indexing project, finally, is being carried out by Dr. Chanan Rapapport. Paul Jacobi, an eminent genealogist, left the National and University Library some 400 genealogical studies which he had done, mainly on rabbinical lineages in Germany. Most of the studies require additional research. Rapapport shares Lamdan's desire to raise genealogy to an academic level. "It's a combination between... developing curricula and teaching aids for university level and doing research which is beyond the horizon of the individual hobbyists," Rapapport said in a phone interview. "Research that interests many, many families, not just one family." Lamdan said he was looking ahead to new challenges. "More and more source material which contains sources for Jewish genealogy is being uncovered," he said, and can be filmed and reproduced digitally. "There are also other archives in certain countries, including in the Muslim world, where we know there is material. Hopefully we can negotiate access."

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