By Jessica Elgot • London Jewish Chronicle
An 80-year-old man has had his Jewish status challenged by the Beth Din, after he attempted to join a matchmaking service.
Two years ago, Joseph Marks's wife Marilyn, who was not Jewish, died of ovarian cancer. Mr Marks, a former film producer from Shepperton, Middlesex, applied to join Connect, an independent Jewish marriage service which is part of the Jewish Marriage Council.
In April, he was asked to meet Dayan Menachem Gelley at the London Beth Din. Unknown to him - and as he found out later - Connect routinely ask the Beth Din to investigate Jewish status before it accepts a marriage candidate.
Mr Marks said: "I have devoted a lot of time to seeking compensation for my family who were murdered by the Nazis in Treblinka. I went there on the understanding he was going to help me with my restitution claim.
"We sat in an empty boardroom and after sifting through my documents, Dayan Gelley asked me where I lived, and then commented that there weren't many Jews in Shepperton. I pointed out there are three synagogues there.
"He produced my mother's death certificate. He said it was invalid, despite the fact it is signed by an esteemed advocate in Israel, where my mother is buried. He said: 'We don't recognise that.'
"He looked over at me and said: 'I don't think you're Jewish. And I don't think your mother was Jewish either.'"
Mr Marks said he was unable to produce his mother's ketubah as his parents had had a "speedy wedding" at a registry office in Stepney.
He added: "My wife tried desperately hard to convert but she kept getting knocked back and she got too upset with it. I told Dayan Gelley who smiled and said: 'Yes, we make it very hard for people, don't we?' I am furiously angry. It is utterly insulting. I can't believe that a man who is in a higher position than a rabbi, could do that to someone, and speak to someone like that. Why do these men adopt such an attitude?"
Mr Marks has devoted much of his life to seeking compensation for what was stolen from his family by the Nazis.
He recalled being in Poland, just weeks before the Nazi invasion. He said: "My mother, Brucha, wanted to stay with her family. But I became ill, so we came back to London on the day war was declared. In 1942 we were contacted by the Red Cross to say the family had all been wiped out."
"My parents were founder members of the Orthodox Highams Park and Chingford Synagogue in 1930. They were observant Jews who brought me up speaking Hebrew and Yiddish.
"The dayan rejected my birth certificate, their marriage certificate and my mother's death certificate. I can't trace any further back, and I've been trying for years because of the restitution claim.
"All trace of my mother's family was wiped out in Poland and when our house in Chingford was bombed during the war, all my mother's documents were burnt to a crisp."
Dayan Gelley said: "We can't take his word for records existing if we can't find any evidence that they do exist.
"We have a family genealogist and a record archivist still chasing and hunting. We'd be delighted to help the gentleman when we do find something.
"It is the same for everyone, no matter how old they are. It's nothing to do with having children; you can't marry a Jewish person to a non-Jewish person, whatever their age."