19 June 2009

DNA: Jewish connections, Jewish blood

Just what we needed this week. Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn revealed his grandfather was Jewish.

It's not that unusual, however, and Tracing the Tribe remembers the revelations of John Kerry and Madelaine Albright and the rumors about Cuba's Castro and Spain's Franco.

While hidden Jews are fascinating people in all parts of the world, we've had a tool since 2000 to help sort out who's who. That tool is DNA testing used for genetic genealogy.

This Daily Beast article, "The Hidden Jews" by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt reveals some case studies on people finding previously unknown Jewish roots. It asks if DNA discoveries will encourage hidden genetic Jews to return or convert to the normative fold, or at least encourage strong affiliation.

The author discusses Frank Tamburello, a former Catholic priest - now an ordained rabbi - who discovered his Sicilian Jewish roots.

And she mentions radio journalist and former practicing Buddhist Alan Tutillo, raised in an Italian Catholic home, who told her he’d always felt the “spark of Judaism.”

“It was discovering the genetics of my father’s family that pushed me to explore my Jewish roots," he told me. “That was a culmination of a lifetime of trying to figure out why I felt the spark of Judaism.”
People in the field refer to this "feeling" as a genetic memory, and those of us interested in this subject hear about people feeling this connection for their entire lives until they make an effort to do something about it.

The DNA testing for these cases has been conducted by FamilyTreeDNA.com (Houston, Texas), founded by our good friend Bennett Greenspan.

A case I've known about for years is that of a Polish-origin lawyer in Ottawa, Canada, whose mother was handed to his grandparents by a Jewish couple before they were transported to their death from their Polish town.

Cezary Fudali, 41, always liked books about Israel and Middle Eastern architecture. Not until he looked at his own family history did he see a connection.

Through an Internet ancestry site, he met a cousin from New Jersey who asked him if he knew his mother was adopted. Fudali was shocked. She told him that in the summer of 1943, during World War II, his maternal grandparents passed through a train station in Rozwadow, Poland, where they met a poor woman who begged them to take her child. Miraculously, his grandparents took the baby home and raised her as their own. His mother, who still lives in Poland, never knew she was adopted until her son heard this story, and his great aunt confirmed it. His mother still doesn’t believe the story is true.
In 2003, his research led him to FamilyTreeDNA, the very first company in the field estabilshed specifically for genetic genealogy testing of Y-DNA (male) and mtDNA (female). Since his mother was the connecting point, he was tested for mtDNA (female DNA passed down unchanged from mother to daughter and carried by women and by men). The haplogroup is one found only among Eastern European, Moroccan, Algerian and Turkish Jews. He then concluded his mother had Jewish roots.

Since learning about his DNA, Fudali has been working with the U.S. Holocaust Museum trying to locate other relatives. A few months ago, a son of an Orthodox rabbi responded to his request saying she was from Rozwadow area of Poland, and that his aunt had been given up as a baby in 1943. While the story matched, the DNA tests didn’t. He is still hoping to find maternal relatives, and while he isn’t converting to Judaism, he says this information has changed his identity. Now every time he goes to the library to read about the Middle East, he wonders whether his attraction to the subject is in fact a lingering remnant of a spiritual commitment long-passed.
In 2006, a group of scientists, including Dr. Doron Behar of Haifa, Israel, found that 40% of Ashkenazi Jews could be traced to four women. In 2008, a team of British and Spanish geneticists discovered that 20% of Spanish men had Sephardic Jewish ancestry, providing more evidence of the large mass forced coversion of Jews during the Inquisition. Following 1492, many expelled Jews went to Sicily. When they were forced to leave again, some converted and stayed, while others also left for mainland Italy, to Calabria in Southern Italy.

Read the complete article here.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    In my case, I could not test my father's haplogroup so I had autosomal testing.Although this test is in its early stages,I don't understand why it is not used as often to discover jewish ancestry.I used a company which specifically finds autosomal codis markers found most frequently in jewish populations.I happened to get one of these markers out of four.My last name"Febo"(other spellings Febus,Phoebus,Feibush)is a last name found frequently among sephardic and eastern europe jews. I also match middle eastern populations very strongly.I am originally from Puerto Rico and to have such a strong match to the middle east leads me to conclude that at least one line in my family were predominantly middle eastern/jewish considering the fact that jews married within their kind which in turn preserved this ancient levant gene.