Not Getting Lost in the Mix

26.06.2010 - Tel Aviv - Tony Henderson

Activist Valery Novoselsky’s grandmother was Ashkenazi Jewish with roots in Lithuania while grandad was a Roma from Eastern Ukraine. His grandad was orphaned at age 5 and adopted by a Jewish family, surnamed Novoselsky, becoming multi-lingual with Romani and Yiddish besides Russian and Ukranian, plus the dialect of the local German minority, the latter for trading.

His mother was part-Romani and part-Chinese without any Jewish background. His maternal grandfather was from Shanghai, and the family was originally from Shaanxi Province, close to Mongolia and Xinxiang. He was killed in a traffic incident in 1947, in Russia, when his mother was 5 year old. Therefore, she (and consequently Valery) grew up in a non-Asian environment without any knowledge of Chinese culture, and without communication among Orientals.

Her grandad was killed by the Nazis for one reason only – for being a *‘gypsy’*. Her Chinese father had to bribe the Nazi administration, in the Kursk region of Central Russia, so that his Romani wife and children would not be killed on racial grounds… A reminder that the Nazi Holocaust also affected Roma people and to the same degree as it affected Am Israel.

Over the 1930s and 1940s the Nazis of the Third Reich imprisoned and murdered to the order of up to 1,500 000 Roma. They continue to be victims of persecution, especially in the Central European countries of the former *”soviet block”*.

Till the age of 12 Valery Novoselsky lived mostly with the parents of his father, a family that spoke Yiddish between themselves. They did not teach the boy “mame loshn”, and that’s why he has a Ukrainian accented Russian which is fairly typical for many Ukrainians.

*“The street where I grew up and mostly lived till my emigration (aliyah) to Israel was considered as a ‘Jewish street’ by the residents of the city Dniepropetrovsk, a city considered by people from nearby cities as “Dniepro-Jewisk”… as ten percent of the local population was ‘somehow Jewish’,”* says Valery Novoselsky.

Having developed an almost consuming interest in his destiny Valery Novoselsky has become something of an authority on minorities, on Roma, and on the intricacies of conversion to the Jewish faith. He informs Pressenza that today only 45,000 officially registered Jews remain there. *“The overall population of a city of 1,200,000 persons, where the local Jewish community is very strong, both economically and politically.”*

*“Before my move to Israel I was living in Moscow, between the years of 1993-95, and I made appropriate efforts to convert into Orthodox Judaism, through the ‘giyur’ (conversion) process. However, despite my efforts by 1996 I still was not welcomed by the rabbi’s due to my Romani background and the negative feelings toward our people, ‘the gypsies’. Thus I got to know first-hand that these same feelings exist even among the Jews and Arabs, even if to a lesser degree then among the Gentile Europeans,”*

Mr Novoselsky continued, *“Can you imagine: I went through the circumcision process and still the rabbis behaved disrespectfully toward me. That`s why I dropped out from that painful racist process of conversion. Rabbis are happy and even proud when the grandsons of Nazis become Jews, but they are not happy at all when the grandsons of Jews return to the Jews… especially when these grandsons are partly ‘Gypsies’.”*

For the major part of his life Mr Novoselsky has lived either among diaspora Jews or Israeli Jews, and he has kept his Roma identity. *“I associate myself with the international Romani movement. And there are, at least, 11,000 of our folk in Israel-Palestine these days, according to statistics. We can recognize one another in a crowd. Even so, it is considered that Roma in Israel are a kind of “invisible minority” – since there is no strong difference between Roma and Jews looking at physical features. The Romani identity is strong and, we know ‘’who is who’,”* he insists.

*“In any case, I do not pretend to be either hero nor anti-hero. I am simply a product of our historical epoch trying to contribute positively to human history through the international Romani movement.”*

Valery Novoselsky uses a Romani ethnic passport issued by the International Romani movement. Though not fixated on his say quarter-Chinese origins, since Roma and Jewish people are also from Asia, he considers himself an *”Oriental”*.

There is now a clear consensus of opinion that the modern day Roma of the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and the Americas originated in Northwestern India. There is also a general consensus regarding the approximate timing of their emigration; the 11th century.

Cai Hongsheng, a history professor from Sun Yat-sen University in South China’s Guangdong Province, says: *“Gypsies set foot on Chinese soil some 200 years earlier than on European soil. To be exact, during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when they got to Northwest China’s Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.”*

Valery Novoselsky’s colleagues may wonder why he has such items as The Three Wise Men (Cantonese: Fuk Luk Sau – these Deities represent the three most important manifestations of health, wealth and happiness) in his room and as his computer wallpaper: *“I do not give them any direct answer on this, I just smile,”* he quips. Suitably enigmatic, very Oriental!

*“While I embrace my Roma background, I never forget that a small part of me relates to a ‘Great Country in the East’.”* In company with the famed television personality *“Yan Can Cook”*, his emailed correspondence ended with the flourish: *“Tzai tzen!”*


Over 1930s and 1940s the Nazis of the Third Reich imprisoned and murdered to the order of up to 1,500,000 Roma. Roma continue to be victims of persecution, especially in the Central European countries of the former *”soviet block”*.

Valery Novoselsky is Editor-in-Chief, Roma Virtual Network: [](

External Consultant, European Roma Information Office (based in Brussels) [](

See Valery Novoselsky’s writing, “The Ethnic Palette in the Land of Israel” (September 2007) on: [](

Also, Yang Zhijiu, a historian at Nankai University, wrote a paper titled: *”Gypsies in China’s Yuan Dynasty Luri Huihui”* that was published in 1991.

Categories: Middle East, Politics


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