There is a friend living in Switzerland whose mother was born Jewish and converted to Christianity.

The short story. His grandfather got lost during the Holocaust, his grandmother went to Switzerland and married again a Swiss guy bringing in her three children, converted to Christianity and rised up their children under the new Swiss name (adoption). One of this children is his mother. Now you might understand that he lost kind of all connection to the Jewish culture ... but he wants more. He found out about his family history only at age 24, because he asked his mother why he feels so different to all the people around. She kept it secret for all his life; it hurt him much, and he feels separated now.

In Switzerland there is a big Jewish community in Zürich and Bâle/Basel, but mostly of them orthodox and very strict. Connecting to a rabbi there, not telling the whole story, but his intention to join the tribe, he received no feedback at all.

What do you advise him? Considering knowledge is identity and culture, which sources for literature you would advise him to check out. Can a Jew be seperated but living Jewish only by connection to the writings of the tribe (the Talmud, Tanakh, and Torah)? Maybe you do know any people he can connect to in Switzerland in his situation? - At the moment, he feels separated from everything, the culture he grew up within and also the Jewish people.

Please be aware that your suggestion might be adopted forming his future being.

  • Seems like a very localized question. I know that "Too Localized" isn't on the list of close reasons anymore, but it's similar to a psak Jan 18 '15 at 4:23
  • @ShmuelBrin Why should it be any worse than local service recommendations?
    – MTL
    Jan 18 '15 at 4:56

I don't have a lot of time now, but just a few thoughts: If he presented himself to the Rabbi as a non-Jew looking to convert, I would expect a lukewarm response at best. This is because Judaism does not proselytize, and is not interested in accepting converts unless they are strongly motivated to join the Jewish people and accept all of the responsibilities that this entails. Thus, potential converts are traditionally turned away several times to ensure that they are sincere and determined to convert.

However, if he goes back and explains that he is a Jew, because his mother is a Jew, and that he would very much like to learn more about Judaism and become a part of the Jewish community, he might receive a very different response.

He is, by the way, 100% Jewish already. Judaism is determined by one's mother, not one's father or knowledge/practice.

There is no shame in his background - on the contrary, he is a "lost soul" finding his way home, a small victory over Hitler and his attempt to eradicate the Jews.

It is theoretically possible to "live Jewish" by oneself, but highly unpleasant, undesirable, and impractical.

I'm sure that there is more than one Orthodox Rabbi in Switzerland, and even though all Orthodox Jews seem the same from the outside, there are actually differences between them (ideologically, lifestyle-wise, and personal personality differences). He can try contacting several Swiss Rabbis - hopefully even if some are less than supportive, others will be helpful. If he doesn't find the Jewish community in Switzerland to be receptive to him (and this would be a bad reflection on THEM, not on him) he should consider reaching out to Rabbis by e-mail or phone. There are Jews all over the world, not just in Switzerland, and in this age of instant communication, it shouldn't be too hard to connect to them.

For starters, he could start with the following. Hopefully they would be able to direct him to more people/resources closer to home, and perhaps recommend some reading material.

Rabbi Danny Kirsch The Jewish Learning Exchange 152 Golders Green Road London NW11 8HE Tel: +44 (0)20 8458-4588 Fax: +44 (0)20 8458-4587 E-mail: jle@jle.org.uk Home Page: www.jle.org.uk

Here's the contact information for the Aish branch in Manchester, England: aishmanchester@aish.org.uk Aish is a worldwide organization dedicated to helping Jews reconnect with their heritage. Your friend might enjoy their website, http://www.aish.com/

Here's another one: ruchi@outoftheorthobox.com She and her husband run a program in Cleveland, Ohio (that's in the United States) helping teach Jews about their heritage.

I give your friend my most heartfelt wishes for success from the bottom of my heart. I feel like I've just discovered a cousin that I didn't know I had, and I very much hope that he persists in his efforts to re-connect with our family! It might be a bit hard at the beginning, as he tries to find the right Rabbi/community for himself, but there are many, many Jews out there rooting for his success and waiting for him with open arms. I beg of him to find them - because we are here!

-Rebbetzin HaQoton


Your friend does not need to join the tribe, because he is already part of the Jewish people.

I suggest that your friend read some introductory material to learn about Judaism. I am sure there are some good introductory books in German. The only good German books I know of are Horeb by Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch and 19 Letters, by the same author, but these are from the 19th century. Even so, they are very much worth reading.

In addition, Chabad's website is a great source of introductory material. Here's their German website: http://www.de.chabad.org/ It's possible that the English website, http://www.chabad.org, has more material.

Your friend should also attend Jewish community events and try to meet people there, including rabbis. For example, attend a purim party. Many such parties are open to the entire Jewish community and do not require synagogue membership. Keep in mind that Purim is a kind of unusual holiday and people act differently than they do year-round.

Try meeting rabbis from various synagogues and attend services at several synagogues. Once you find one you like you might want to start attending regularly. I recommend only attending Orthodox synagogues, because non-Orthodox Judaism is a very recent breakaway from traditional Judaism and does not represent the ancestral heritage that your friend wants to re-connect with. Modern Orthodox or Chabad synagogues could be good choices, because they are Orthodox but tend to involve people who are less strict.

Chabad has tons of experience with helping Jews who know little about Judaism re-connect to their heritage. Their mission is to help all Jews however they can, especially by helping them learn about Torah and mitzvos. Chabad tends to create a very relaxed atmosphere because they do not try to pressure anyone to do anything. They know that most people will not become just like them (with their style of dress, for example), and that is fine with them. But if your friend wanted extra help, for example if he wanted to meet with a Chabad rabbi each week to learn, the rabbi would most likely agree to do so.

Here is the list of links to Chabad houses in Switzerland: http://www.chabad.org/centers/default_cdo/country/Switzerland/jewish/Chabad-Lubavitch.htm

I wish your friend much success in re-connecting to his people and heritage!


To expand on Kordovero's answer, Victor Goldschmidt Verlag, based in Bâle, has a decent catalogue of works on Judaism, including the above mentioned works of R' Hirsch as well as translations of the Torah, Siddur (Sefat Emet - Rödelheim and Schma Kolenu), Machzorim, and other assorted works. They also carry ritual items, although those should wait until your friend feels more comfortable and has found a rabbi with whom he feels comfortable.

I would also advise that he learn what he can about his mother's Jewish heritage, as it may help in his search for a community. If he is in the Francophone region, I would advise also contacting some of the French communities (mainly in Alsace-Lorraine and Paris, as far as I'm aware).

Bonne chance à votre ami!

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .