Opinion | Your ancestry DNA results do not make you Jewish

Opinion | Your ancestry DNA results do not make you Jewish

Michelle Rosenberg
Michelle Rosenberg
July 21, 2022

For centuries, Jews were forced to hide their identities, cease their religious practices, and go into hiding or face expulsion or death. Today, many Jews are vocal in their pride. However, “Jewish-catfishing,” or someone pretending to be Jewish, has also become rampant. I have read stories from Jewish young adults using Jewish dating apps like J-Swipe who were shocked to learn their match lied about their “Jewishness” in their profile just to score a date.

Similarly, a woman on TikTok, who claimed to be converting to Judaism to marry her Israeli fiance, posted disrespectful videos of herself provocatively dancing while lighting a Hanukkah menorah. A Holocaust survivor responded to the video and condemned the creator.

More prominently, Congresswoman Alexandra Ocosta Cortez  (AOC) announced her Jewish heritage at a Hanukkah event in 2018. She claimed she is descendant of Sephardic Jews who were expelled during Spanish Inquisition. She said her ancestors settled in Puerto Rico and practiced their Judaism in hiding. Her claim was met with some backlash, some questioning whether she was attempting to claim being Jewish to garner Jewish support. Ironically, her policy position toward Israel has been hostile. A supporter of BDS, AOC calls Israel and “apartheid” and an “occupation.” She has also claimed to have indigenous roots.

Faking one’s racial or cultural identity seems to be a growing trend nationally, particularly in the black community. Rachel Dolezal is a perfect example of this. As white woman, she faked her African American and indigenous roots and become the  President of the NAACP’s Washington chapter. Dolezal claimed to be the victim of racial hate crimes, including claiming someone left a noose on her porch. She used stories like this for widespread sympathy and reaffirmation of her fraudulent claims of her racial identity.

When an interviewer finally asked Dolezal directly whether she was white, she stormed out of the room. The story made national headlines and sparked a national debate of whether it’s appropriate for someone to identify as a race other than their own. Many viewed Dolezal’s behavior as a form of racism by way of cultural and racial appropriation.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren did something similar when claimed to be Native American. After DNA tests showed she had a Native American ancestor 6-10 generations back, President Trump famously called her “Pocahontas.” She also identified her ethnicity as “American Indian” on her application to be admitted to the Texas Bar. But the real issue was not whether she had a trace of Native American in her DNA, it was her problematic attempt to identify as an indigenous person and co-op their cause to amplify her own political voice. The Cherokee Nation responded to Warren’s claims saying that “being a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen is rooted in centuries of culture and laws not through DNA tests.” She was forced to apologize.

The rise of ancestry DNA testing and many people learning they have distant Jewish ancestors gives way for similar appropriation. A viral tweet with a photo of text exchange reflects this well.

The individual, who is reportedly 2.8% Jewish according to their ancestry DNA results says, “my people have been through enough.” While the Tweet and text exchange is all in good humor, it highlights a larger issue.

Some have used their purported Jewish roots to make themselves a voice for the Jewish community. When, in fact, these people have no direct experience with Judaism or Jewish culture. They likewise they have no idea what it means to be Jewish in a world full of hate and antisemitism. Claiming that one’s distant Jewish ancestry gives them insight of the plight of the Jewish people tastes just like racial, cultural, or ethnic appropriation.

Peter Schorsch, publisher of the political blog Florida Politics, has made similar claims about his own Jewish identity. In 2020, Frank Artiles claimed that the publisher pushes lobbyists and other entities to pay for advertising on his blog, calling Schorsch a “skylock.”

Schorsch responded calling Artiles’ comment antisemitic and noted that his grandmother was Jewish.

Note: Florida Politics has been long accused of being a pay-for-play, and Schorsch was even the subject of a criminal investigation into these claims in 2013. According to The Tampa Bay Times, he was arrested and sentenced on “two counts of grand theft and one count of scheming to defraud two candidates and the Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club.” He also owes approximately $60,000 to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for campaign finance law violations, which he has proudly said on the record that he has no intensions of paying.

While referring to anyone as a “shylock” is offensive, Schorsch’s claim of being a victim of antisemitism is a stretch. This is because Schorsch is, in fact, not Jewish. He celebrates Christmas with his family, his daughter attends a private Episcopal school in Saint Petersburg, and he proudly posed with his daughter at her baptism.

Schorsch must have forgotten about his purported Jewish grandmother, because a few months later, he revealed that his ancestry DNA results confirmed his 3% Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

He called on Republican Jews to condemn the nationalists of the January 6th attacks who were photographed wearing antisemitic garb. He referenced his 3% Jewish heritage, called himself “part of the team,” and used his minuscule Jewish ancestry to speak as member of the Jewish community.

In that same Tweet, Schorsch responded to a comment seeming to brag that he is “just enough Jewish” to have sent to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

Schorsch is referencing Nuremberg Laws which defined “German blood” in the 1930’s. Nazis revoked German citizenship and stripped the civil rights and liberties of anyone considered mischling or part-Jewish. Nazis considered anyone with at least 1 Jewish grandparent a mischling. A mischling was ultimately considered a Jew in Hitler’s final solution, and those with 1 Jewish grandparent were ultimately sent to concentration camps.

Schorsch does not appear to fit this criteria. If he has 3% Jewish ancestry, that means he has 1 Jewish ancestor about 5 to 8 generations ago.

His apparently false claim to be just “Jewish enough” to be sent to his death in a concentration camp by Nazis is a stain of the memory of the 6 million victims who were Jewish enough to be killed in the Holocaust.

Interesting, the Florida blogger has a long history of supporting pro-BDS democrats like AOC, despite desperate attempts to deceive people into believe he is Jewish. He has even made border-line antisemitic remarks about Boca Raton voters casting their ballot on election day, stating, “I bet the line for the Jewish deli next door is twice as long.”

Boca Raton has one of the largest Jewish densities in South Florida. The photograph depicts voters in line at the Boca Raton Public Library. There is no Jewish deli next door. The nearest deli from this library is a half-mile away. Does Schorsch think Jews are more likely to stand in line at a deli than participate in an election? Perhaps Schorsch felt it was acceptable to make this joke because of his purported Jewish heritage. He has been accused by other minority group to have made similar racist jokes.

The problem with people like AOC, Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Dolezal, Peter Schorsch, and young gentiles looking to score a date with Jews on J-Swipe is their misrepresentations are offensive. The comments they make, the jokes they tweet, and the policy positions they claim to champion are not coming from a place of shared experience, rather from fraudulent connection to a race, ethnicity, or religion that is not their own.

One can support the Jewish community without being Jewish. Overstating, misrepresenting, or flat-out lying about one’s Jewish heritage for a date, sympathy, or authority on Jewish issues is antisemitic by nature. This type of disingenuity echoes racial and cultural appropriation. The Cherokee Nation said it best: Culture, religion, race, and ethnicity is not a matter of DNA. It’s a shared culture and experience. For Jews, our experience is approximately 4,000 years of ancient religious tradition, rich culture, and deep ancestral trauma. Jewish trauma continues today with rapid growth in violence against Jews, antisemitic conspiracy theories, antisemitism masked as antizionism.

Jews, people of color, and indigenous people can use their own voices to add to these important conversations and can do so without help from those claiming to be “part of the team,” because are not part of the team. They are part of the problem.

Michelle Rosenberg

Michelle Rosenberg

Michelle Rosenberg is a proud holder of a Master's degree in Global Affairs with a concentration in Globalization and Security, as well as a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, both from Florida International University. Michelle's academic pursuits illustrate her commitment to understanding the complex dimensions of international relations and global dynamics. When she's not diving into the intricacies of global affairs, she cherishes time with her three beloved daughters and relishes exploring new places with her family

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