Vice president pioneer: An inspiring story of travel and aliyah

Meet Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye, Vice President of Ben-Gurion University (photo credit: BEN GURION UNIVERSITY OF THE NEGEV)
Jeff Kaye, Vice President of Ben-Gurion University
Israel has always been a country of immigrants. Even before the state was founded, early pioneers came from Europe; once the state was proclaimed, hundreds of thousands came from Arab counties to participate in the miracle of its rebirth.
Jews from all over the world flocked to the new country, culminating in the massive aliyah of Russian and Ethiopian Jewry. Thousands also came from Western countries – not for economic reasons, but for ideological and religious reasons.
Jeff Kaye is one of these immigrants. He came from Scotland because of love of the country. As a young boy in Scotland he rejoiced with his people after the Six Day War and mourned with Israel after the Yom Kippur War. He also visited the former Soviet Union to make illicit contact with Russian refuseniks. Like many immigrants, he brought new energies and has made important contributions to the country. He worked for many years in the Jewish Agency, was part of the leadership of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and is currently vice president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The death of his beloved father, Cyril Kaye, led him on a decade-long search for his roots that had led his family from a shtetl in Lithuania to Glasgow and then to Israel. And this search led him to investigate the life of his great-grandfather Samuel Jacobs. It’s an amazing story and will resonate with many other Jewish families.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Jews, Jacobs left his native shtetl of Krivasunei outside of Vilna in 1890 to live in Glasgow. The reasons for this flight are unknown, but Kaye surmises that it might have been due to the anti-Jewish pogroms in Tsarist Russia, where Jews were murdered, raped, maimed and their property taken or destroyed. It was a flight for survival, not one of choice. They settled in the Gorbals section of Glasgow, the slum district and traditional immigrant neighborhood and the young Shmuilo Shukat became Samuel Jacobs. He thrived and became the proprietor of the largest kosher butchery in the city. In 1910, 20 years after arriving he became a British citizen. His father Cyril became a very successful peddler traveling through Scotland selling inexpensive imported clothing.
Kaye also devotes a chapter to describe the flourishing Jewish life in Glasgow. The Jewish immigrants coming to a free country were given the opportunity to thrive and thrive they did. They on the whole became successful financially and built strong Jewish institutions. Schools, synagogues and kosher shops multiplied and vibrant Jewish communities were built.
The writing of the book was also a personal journey for Kaye. He movingly describes the impact of his journeys of discovery and meticulous archival library research on his connection to his family and heritage. In fact, the book is written beautifully and poetically at times.
There are no longer any Jews left in Jacobs’s birthplace of Krivasunei and the Jewish community of Glasgow is shrinking in numbers. There is a certain sadness in the demise of these Jewish communities either due to wanton destruction, assimilation or simple neglect. This sadness is tempered by the ingathering of the exiles to Israel and we owe Kaye and others like him much credit for documenting his family’s personal history as a reflection of the journeys that thousands of others have taken.
The book is dedicated to his four grandchildren – the best testimony to the survival of the Jewish people in its ancient homeland.  
The writer, a professor of medicine and bioethics expert at Ben-Gurion University, publishes and speaks about a variety of Jewish studies issues for journals and Jewish organizations.
By Jeff Kaye
Gefen Publishing
209 pages; $14