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Jewish Journal

Jew Who?

by Tom Tugend

July 21, 2005 | 8:00 pm

There is a new twist to the contentious question of who is really a Jew. John C. Haedrich, who claims that his DNA proves his Ashkenazi descent, is challenging the State of Israel to recognize his Jewishness under the Law of Return.

Authorities in Israel have so far not commented on his claim, but Haedrich, a prolific writer of letters and e-mails, has vowed to pursue his quest in the Israeli courts, if necessary.

In an interview, Haedrich, 43 and owner of a nursing home for the elderly in Glendale, said that all his immediate relatives are dead or estranged, that Judaism was never practiced in his home and that the DNA test is the only proof that he's a Jew. He said that he discovered his Jewish sense of identity five years ago, when he visited Krakow and Auschwitz and "suddenly had a feeling that I was Jewish.... I also heard that one relative in Poland had been a rabbi."

In numerous letters and more than 100 e-mails to Israeli officials and synagogues in Los Angeles, to American Jewish organizations and newspapers and to Israeli universities and human rights organizations, Haedrich tops his missives with the sentence "Re: State of Israel refuses to accept DNA test results as proof of being Jewish!"

The actual eight-page DNA analysis is not as definitive. It states that "The distribution of the haplotype [genetic marker], combined with the origin of the surname, suggests a Polish Ashkenazic Jewish family background with the past 500 years," on the father's side.

On the maternal side, "The subject is descended from a lineage ... founded 16,000 to 20,000 years ago in the Mediterranean or Middle East."

Haedrich acknowledges that the 1950 Law of Return, which defined the rights of Jews to settle in Israel, did not mention DNA testing.

But he argues that "DNA testing is admissible in Israeli courts in homicide and paternity cases, and who is to say that it cannot be used to support a birthright?

"Had DNA testing been available in the 1950s, who is to say that the Knesset would not have considered it?" Haedrich said.

Haedrich declined to establish his Jewish bona fides by undergoing a formal conversion.

"I don't want to go the religious route," he said. "This is a quest for my personal identity."

The Journal contacted the North American Aliyah Center in New York, whose executive director, Michael Landsberg, is checking his Jerusalem headquarters for a ruling on the Haedrich case. No response has been received so far.

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