Jeff Kaye: Writing history is the pinnacle of Jewish education

The storyteller brings his family saga to life

“In Detroit, I saw how important Jewish and Israeli education is, and it completely changed my career direction.”

In 39 years in Israel, Jeff Kaye has gone from special education teacher to school headmaster to non-profit fundraiser. He has worked for major organizations such as the United Israel Appeal (UIA), the Jewish Agency for Israel and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and is co-founder of the Israeli Academy of Philanthropy. Today, Kaye is Vice President of Public Affairs at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev .

His journey to Israel began in Glasgow, Scotland, where he grew up in a traditional Jewish home and community. When he was nine years old, Jeff joined the Habonim youth movement, and with the influence of the Six Day Wars and Yom Kippur, he was on a direct path to Israel.

“No one in my family had ever been to Israel,” says Jeff Kaye. “But after graduating in psychology from the University of Strathclyde, my cat and I were on our way to make aliyah.”

While he was a director of the Kiryat Ye’arim Youth Village, Jeff Kaye was invited to become a chaliah (emissary) of the Jewish Agency in Detroit. Married with two young children, he spent four years in a community that embraced him and opened his eyes to the importance of Israel-Diaspora relations.

“I had become so immersed in being Israeli that I had drifted away from my education in Scotland,” says Jeff Kaye. “In Detroit, I saw how important Jewish and Israeli education is, and it completely changed my career direction.

Upon his return to Israel, he served as Director of the UIA and later became the Director General of Resource Development and Public Affairs at the Jewish Agency.

In 2006, he participated in the Tel Aviv One event that brought young people from North America to discover Tel Aviv as a dynamic city at the forefront of global developments. During his stay, Jeff Kaye received a call from his mother telling him that his father had been hospitalized.

Jeff jumped on the first flight to London, and as he heard Sarah McLachlan’s words through his headphones, “The man I love is leaving, won’t you take him with you when he comes to your door”, Jeff knew it was too late. His father was dead.

Numb with grief during Shiva’s period of mourning, Jeff began to think about everything that had happened in his life: the path he had chosen and the plan he had created for himself. He realized that with the death of his father, he had no one to get answers about his past, to give meaning to his own life. He remembered the name of Samuel Jacobs, his great-grandfather who had immigrated to Scotland.

I thought that if I found out about his existence and his journey, it would help me find the answers I was looking for,” says Jeff, “I didn’t want his story, my family’s story, to be lost in the sands of time”.

Thus began Kaye’s ten-year quest for her ancestor, which culminated in her new book Gathering Grains of Sand – My Search for Samuel Jacobs , published by Gefen.

The book covers Jeff’s meticulous and moving search from Jacobs’ birthplace on a farm near Vievis, Lithuania, in Glasgow to unknown relatives in Israel. Mixed with recollections of his travels to Jewish communities in preparation for his own journey, Jeff talks about his Jewish identity and his role in some of Israel’s most historic aliyah missions.

He gives an insider’s view of the plight of the Ethiopians in the mountainous region of Gondar and the complex Israeli laws that prevent a mother from joining her son in Israel.

His poignant story of meeting the last Jews in Iraq and the desire of some to stay there is similar to the story of his ancestors about those who chose not to leave Scotland.

Kaye’s encounter with the Jews of Mizoram, India – believed to belong to the lost tribe of Menashe who were deeply immersed in the learning and application of modern Jewish practice despite their isolation, showed Kaye, “that amazing things could be accomplished with human determination”.

“I never thought that all my research would result in a book,” says Kaye. “I started my research out of curiosity and to leave a gift to my four beautiful grandchildren, so that they would know where they came from. “

It was a meeting with his long-time friend and accomplished Jewish educator, Avraham Infeld, that led him to start writing in 2019“. Avraham told me that writing this book would be about sharing and perpetuating my personal values with future generations; it’s the pinnacle of education,” says Kaye.

In reviewing the book, Infeld writes: “The reader is taken on an in-depth journey into the complexities of the rapidly changing world of Jewish identity. It is one of the most readable Jewish books of the decade.

Towards the end of the book, Jeff writes: “The real reason I chose to write is I hope that I will add my modest contribution to the continuing history of the Jewish people.

Essentially, to share my little piece of Jewish memory. “The journey itself was motivated by love for my family, for the Jewish people, for Israel, for Scotland and most surprisingly for me.  Even in the shadow of horrors, Lithuania crept into my heart.

“Every event and every person I have discovered has in its own way provided me with clues to decode the mystery of Jewish existence and survival, even though I know that many questions and dilemmas remain unanswered and unresolved.

Source: Alliance Mag

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