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Friday, 17 February 2017

The Grapes of Wrath Turned Into Wine

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes

and the children's teeth are set on edge' (Ezekiel 18:2)

Geoff IsaacsGeoff Isaacs was living on an exquisitely pretty New Zealand isle when his comfortable life was shattered by a letter.

Aged 63 and so at a time of life when many people anticipate a well-earned retirement, Isaacs learned something that destroyed his identity and caused him to move to the far side of the world.

The letter was from a brother informing him that they were not genuine siblings; that Isaacs had been adopted in early infancy and worse - that he was the sole member of the family never to have been told about his true parentage.

Isaacs’s story has now been written in semi-fictionalised form by his cousin, Mimi Tanaman ** and it explains that as he traced his birth parents, he discovered that he is Jewish.

Indeed, Isaacs says that during research, he discovered also that he is the only person raised as a non-Jew in his paternal family in a lineage that extends to the 16th century.

Further, the discovery has made him appreciate why he had always felt somehow disconnected from his adoptive family and why he senses that he had always harboured greater ambition than any of them.

Lost and FoundAfter many tribulations outlined in the book, Geoff and his supportive wife, Jenny both underwent a full conversion to Judaism and were re-married in a widely publicised Jewish wedding ceremony in Tzfat, northern Israel. They now divide their time between Israel and Italy.

I feature Isaacs’s story here because I met him this week just as Steven Spielberg announced that his next movie would be based on the infamous 19th century case of Edgardo Mortara, an Italian Jewish child who was forcibly removed from his family by the Papal Police and raised as a Catholic because of a faux baptism administered by a teenage girl!

The boy was never returned home, became a priest and even tried to convert his family to Catholicism.

These two stories – along with Howard Shulman’s memoir, Running from the Mirror about being abandoned by his Jewish parents several days after birth when he developed a severe facial disfigurement – are all quite different yet have a horrid, haunting uniformity.

All are about one person’s entire identity and personality being stolen by others on a whim.

They also raise enormous questions; demand that we ponder why some people are pulled by a quite incomprehensible atavistic urge to seek and return to their heritage while others recoil in horror – and also renews the eternal debate about nature versus nurture.

** Lost & Found: The person I Was. The Discovery of Adoption. The Person I've Become is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $7.99 and in paperback @ $9.99.

© Natalie Wood (17 February 2017)

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