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Torn from his Family – and Still Struggling

Rabbi Adi Sultanik

ESRA Modiin hosted a well-attended event in mid-March by screening the documentary Torn. The film tells of Yaakov Wecksler, born in 1943 to two Jewish parents in Lublin, Poland, who had to make the difficult decision to give their son to a Polish Catholic family in order to keep him safe during World War II. They were sent to their deaths and Yaakov grew up as a Catholic. At age 17, he decided to enter church service and became not only a Catholic priest but also a Doctor of Philosophy, and taught at the Catholic University of Lublin.

Yaakov experienced anti-Semitism for the first time when he was five years old, and that sowed a seed of doubt throughout his life. He was 35 when his adopted mother finally told him that he was Jewish by birth.

Many years later, he visited Israel and found Pages of Testimony for his family at Yad Vashem, and photos of his biological parents. He decided that he would like to come to live in Israel and learn Hebrew and more about Judaism. His plan was to live on a kibbutz, study Hebrew during the week, and on Sundays he would go to the closest Catholic Church.

At Orthodox Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, the selection committee was uncompromising against church visits. On the one hand they wanted to help him, but attending church rituals was unacceptable and they told him that he must decide which religion he wanted to follow.

This led to a lot of philosophical soul searching, but Yaakov wanted to return to his roots and was eventually accepted to the kibbutz ulpan, and then faced another, unexpected problem. He would not be given Israeli citizenship under the State of Israel's Law of Return, because even though he was born Jewish, he had taken on a different religion, and as much as he argued his case, the powers-that-be remained and remain inflexible to his cause.

The fact is that he did not choose to be Catholic. He was a baby when he was given to his adoptive Christian parents and he grew up with their beliefs and lifestyle.

Today, despite the obstacles – questions of his identity and difficulties integrating into society – Yaakov lives in Jerusalem, and works in the archive department at Yad Vashem. Undoubtedly, with his knowledge of languages and his academic background, he is making a valuable contribution.

To date, he has not been granted full Israeli citizenship.

Following the screening, Rabbi Adi Sultanik spoke to the audience, mentioning the emotional aspects, and asking how any individual can judge a person who had to survive the evil of the Holocaust. According to the Torah, Yaacov is a Jew. A lively discussion followed regarding the definition of an observant Jew and Yaacov's status in Israel.

It was a most thought-provoking evening. 



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Saturday, 30 September 2023

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