PHILANTHROPIST Harry Triguboff is leading the charge to help Israelis having trouble confirming their status as Jews.
The question of what makes a Jew has always been asked, but it has become particularly important in Israel since the arrival of more than a million migrants from the former Soviet Union. In order to address this, and to help migrants who are found not to be halachically Jewish, Triguboff has established the Harry Oscar Triguboff Institute in Beit Morasha.
The vision behind the institute is to effect change in Israel to ensure every Jewish person living in Israel remains Jewish. The institute will work with religious Zionist group Tzohar, Canada’s Dov Friedberg Foundation and Project Shorashim, which helps migrants prove their Jewish roots prior to marriage in Israel.
“I don’t believe that we should start differentiating who is Jewish now if we want a Jewish State,” Triguboff told The AJN.
At present, there are 200,000 immigrants in Israel whose registration as Jews is subject to inquiry by religious authorities.
Triguboff said in many cases, migrants who are asked to provide proof of their Judaism choose to forgo a Jewish wedding and registration as Jews in Israel following negative experiences with the religious authorities.
“During the conversion process we often find out they are Jewish,” Triguboff said. “One girl thought she wasn’t Jewish but then when they looked into her background they found out that her grandfather was interrogated by the KGB and he said he was Jewish so she was Jewish.”
Triguboff said changing conversion laws in Israel would have ramifications in the Diaspora. “If they will be more permissive in Israel then conversion in Australia will be easier because the rabbis here will fall into line.”
Triguboff said he learnt about Project Shorashim last year and decided he wanted to help. For most applicants, seeking help from Project Shorashim constitutes a last resort for couples to ultimately marry in Israel, where only Orthodox Jewish marriage ceremonies are permitted.
Former Jewish National Fund NSW executive director Shalom Norman has been appointed as the general manager of the Harry Oscar Triguboff Institute.
“Half-a-million Israeli citizens, who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in the last two decades, and whose status as Jews is yet to be regulated, are a ticking time bomb,” Norman said. “If no solution is found, whether by way of a pleasant and friendly conversion, or by regulating their status in a process of clarifying their Judaism, this time bomb will explode in our hands and undermine our ability to maintain the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”
Harry Triguboff at the new institute named in his honour in Israel.