Paula Barkan and Beri Rozenberg

Israelis from former Soviet Union hit back at rabbis' demands to prove they are Jews

'What proof?' demands Ukraine-born Paula Barkan, who along with Beri Rozenberg, originally from Latvia, are protesting increasingly strident demands from the Rabbinate that has control over Jewish life in Israel; demands that even include DNA testing

Israelis from families who immigrated from the former Soviet Union are speaking out over what they say are insulting and unreasonable demands from the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate to prove their Jewishness when planning a marriage in Israel.



According to Israeli law, marriage is under the exclusive authority of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate for Jews, Sharia law for Muslims and the church for Christians. Israel has no civil marriage and anyone wishing to marry in a non-religious ceremony must leave the country to do so.


A Jewish wedding  (Photo: Aviv Abergil)
A Jewish wedding (Photo: Aviv Abergil)


The Rabbinate has been demanding that Israelis from Russian-speaking families provide them with documents or pictures showing that their families going back generations were in fact Jewish.


Paula Barkan, who is of Ukrainian origin, was one of those asked by the rabbis to show proof she was Jewish.


"Proof of what?" she says. "I have been here 30 years, I come from 5,000 years of Jewish culture."


Paula Barkan
Paula Barkan


"It is like being punched in the gut," Barkan says. "I was finally comfortable with my identity as an Israeli of Ukrainian origin," but now she feels as though that has been taken away from her.


There will be 180,000 such stories in the coming decade if this behavior is not stopped, Barkan warns.


Barkan is dismissive of the claim that non-Jews took advantage of the mass Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.


"Judaism that was practised by Jews in the Soviet Union, even when it was against the law, is not like the religion being practised in Israel today," she says.


The latest insult came last year, when 20 couples were asked to take DNA tests to prove they were genetically Jewish.


Beri Rozenberg came from a proud Jewish family in Latvia. His family were responsible for the care of their synagogue and also provided the matzah for Passover in the Jewish community of their town. His parents married in secret under Soviet rule and even had a ketubah (non-binding Jewish prenuptial agreement).


Beri Rozenberg
Beri Rozenberg


When Beri tried to register to get married, his parents were happy and proud to accompany him to the Rabbinate and testify as to their heritage.


He was offended and humiliated, though, when their Jewish identity was doubted.


"Being Jewish is not just important to them," he says. "It's important to me."


 Jewish wedding (Photo: Aviv Abergil) (צילום: אביב אברג'ל)
Jewish wedding (Photo: Aviv Abergil)


To illustrate how ridiculous the Rabbinate's process has become, Paula recounts her husband's family having to show up at the Rabbinate with a photo album. Among the many photographs was one of an uncle wearing his kippah. "That was good enough for them" she laughs.


There will be 180,000 such stories in the coming decade if this behavior is not stopped, she warns.


Both Paula and Beri are among the founders of the "Cultural Brigade" a group trying to incorporate some of their families traditions into Israeli life and culture.


Their experiences and those of many others are the basis of a song produced by the group making its way on social media to raise awareness and express their anger.


פרסום ראשון: 09.14.19, 13:51
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