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I recently found out I have Jewish ancestry through a DNA test (Ashkenazi; it helped to explain why I got bowel cancer at a young age since the risk is high in that group). Apparently my grandmother knew, but didn't tell my father. Previous to this, all my Jewish ancestors were open about their faith. My father and his siblings were not raised Jewish, but were socialised with Jewish children. I suspect my grandmother was keeping this a secret from my grandfather who was an atheist, but still had a desire to pass on something, or at least raise her kids so they weren't anti-Semitic. Whatever the reason, I feel a bit sad that this heritage was lost, and would like to know more about Jewish history, culture, and religion. I'm not interested in converting.

After some digging, my father and I found out that our original Jewish ancestor was kidnapped by the British navy in the late 1700s and pressed into service. He escaped to Canada a decade later and never returned to Britain. It's a shocking bit of history. (In an interesting coincidence, as a Canadian immigrant to Britain, I now work a five minute walk from where he lived in London as a cloth merchant.)

I've been learning more about Jewish history in Britain specifically, but most of what I've been reading has been academic. I'd like to connect to the Jewish community here in order to learn more, but I don't know what's an appropriate way to approach it, or where, who, how, or even if I should. Any suggestions or advice?

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    Potentially related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/52892/8775. Also related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/60394/8775. – mevaqesh Nov 18 '16 at 18:43
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    Thanks. By that definition I am not Jewish, since my father has Jewish ancestry, not my mother. I am careful to not claim that I am Jewish, but that I have Jewish ancestry. Does this lack of a maternal connection mean that it is not (or less) appropriate for me to try to connect to the Jewish community? – Katharine Osborne Nov 18 '16 at 18:47
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    Personally, I don't think it is inappropriate, however, I suspect that some might not be as enthusiastic and proactive in reaching out to you, than were you Jewish. I am pretty sure that there are some sort of classes you could attend (either online or in person, depending on where exactly you live), and communities you could visit, such as synagogues you could attend. See: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/33684/8775. – mevaqesh Nov 18 '16 at 18:52
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Welcome to Mi Yodea, and I hope you find what you are looking for!

For those interested in conversion, it is perfectly legitimate to become involved in the Jewish community, such as by attending classes, synagogue services, and community events, as well as meeting with a rabbi.

You say you are not interested in converting, but at the same time you say you are interested in connecting with the Jewish community and learning more about Judaism. This suggests to me that you have not completely ruled out the idea of converting and rejoining the faith of your ancestors.

For that reason, you could begin to explore Judaism, such as attending synagogue services or meeting with a rabbi, explaining to anyone who asks simply what you said above: that you found out you have Jewish ancestry and are interested in learning more about Judaism. If they ask if you are interested in converting, you can say, "I don't know," if that is true.

If you say that you are definitely not interested in converting, then they are likely to welcome you nonetheless to a service or event or two. But it would be somewhat strange to regularly attend Jewish community events and services despite having decided for sure you have no interest in converting. Even so, in many places you would probably find yourself welcomed anyway. In my Orthodox synagogue we were quite friendly to a Baptist minister who attended our services simply because he was curious.

A final note on the subject of conversion: you may be interested to learn that even though, according to Jewish law, potential converts are initially discouraged (to ensure converts are truly committed), some rabbis rule that we are not to discourage potential converts who have Jewish ancestry, since they are seen as "seed of Israel" who were lost to the Jewish people but are now, fortunately, returning. This is the logic animating the group Shavei Israel referenced in another answer.

If you are interested in learning about Judaism but not in converting, you may want to explore Noahidism, which is in effect a religion based on Judaism meant for non-Jews, who do not need to commit to observing the commandments required of Jews. Chabad rabbis (who can be found everywhere) are potentially good sources of information about Noahidism. Of course, there is no end of interesting material about Judaism for you to read online, for example on such sites as aish.com, simpletoremember.com, chabad.org, or breslev.co.il.

In any case, I wish you success in your personal journey!

  • I also have Native American ancestry, from a tribe that is now culturally and linguistically extinct, so I think the main appeal for me (and what connects both ancestries) is the history of oppression by other cultures, and how the Jewish people coped successfully, and I think that religion/community was a large part of that (as opposed to hiding their identity or passing which is what my grandmother did). Perhaps by being an atheist I won't be able to fully understand it all, but I'd like to try. – Katharine Osborne Dec 28 '17 at 15:46
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    Makes sense to me. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (his many books, or lectures if you can attend them) would be an excellent place to start in terms of learning about Judaism from a fellow Brit. – Kordovero Dec 28 '17 at 17:40
  • On the issue you mention of how Jews coped and survived amidst suffering, this essay on Jewish survival by a British Chabad rabbi is worth reading:chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/108393/jewish/… – Kordovero Dec 28 '17 at 23:32
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May I suggest that you contact Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, an organization dedicated to reconnecting with the 10 lost tribes of Israel, with recondite communities that have a Jewish connection, with crypto-Jews of Spain, Portugal & South America, and with anyone else who has or thinks she/he might have Jewish DNA, etc. Good luck!

  • Hi Peter Point, she mentioned she had Ashkenazi DNA. – ezra Sep 28 '17 at 17:53
  • @ezra With respect, I don't think my answer to OP was off topic as your comment seems to imply. I am confident that Michael Freund and his organisation would be just as willing to help the hundreds (quite possibly thousands) of babies & young Polish Jews who were left with non-Jewish neighbours, farmers, associates & the like during the 1939-45 Nazi invasion & occupation of Poland and the subsequent liquidation of European Jewry (Ashkenazim for the most part) on Polish terrority and who were subsequently "brought up" as Catholics and denied and/or otherwise prevented from identifying as Jews. – Peter Point Sep 30 '17 at 11:25

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