Fancy family reunion for descendants of David

From an entryway transformed into a palatial garden to centerpieces spilling pomegranates, roses and orchids, it was a dinner fit for a king — or at least his descendants.

The Davidic Dynasty Center, headquartered in Union, N.J., held its inaugural dinner at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan last fall. Seated about the room were those who believed they could trace their family tree back to King David, others who supported any effort to promote Jewish history, and still others who were dubious about the whole project.

Established by Susan Roth of Westfield, N.J., the center is dedicated to bringing together descendants of King David, with a reunion of the royal family planned in Jerusalem in May 2008.

Roth, who herself claims to be a descendant of David through the lineage of the medieval sage known as Rashi, called the evening “the launch of a dynasty that has come together for the first time in 3,000 years.”

She takes her inspiration from the daily prayerbook. “For 3,000 years the Jewish people prayed three times a day in a siddur that the descendants of King David should help reunite the people of Israel as one nation, as one people, from the four corners of the Earth, and bring unity and oneness to the Jewish people and the Jewish nation,” she said.

“King David wrote about his descendants that we are the ones to lead the Jewish nation toward unity as he led the tribes toward unity as a nation. And I realized it’s been 3,000 years since these prayers have been said, but nobody has acted on the prayers. And so now hopefully the prayers will be answered.”

The 2008 gathering will include the opening of a Davidic Dynasty Museum and Genealogy Center in Jerusalem, funded by the Davidic Dynasty Center. Roth has also commissioned artisans in Israel to create “a royal crest” that will be a symbol of the Davidic dynasty.

There is just one problem: There is no real way to prove one’s genealogical connection to King David, as the center’s own Web site ( acknowledges in a disclaimer.

A handful of people can actually draw family trees showing their ancestry, but, according to Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, N.J., “lots of people” have a family tradition that says they are descended from David. “We have the tradition in part of our family. Lots of people do. It doesn’t prove anything.”

To really prove royal lineage, “you would need documentation,” he said. What kind of documentation? Something along the lines of witnessed letters handed down from one generation to the next, right back to the time — around 1000 BCE — of the ancient poet/shepherd/king.

But these technical difficulties pose no problem for the Davidic Dynasty Center.

“We are inclusive,” said Yisroel Cohen, the center’s representative in Israel. “We rely heavily on oral tradition. You don’t have to bring a pedigree.”

Among those tracing their family roots to King David was Esther Jungreis, the popular Orthodox motivational speaker, who, along with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau Jr., were two of the evening’s honorees. About 100 people attended the $275-a-plate dinner.

The center asks $70 for “royal” membership and $40 for “loyal” membership (those who just want to offer support). Non-Jews are not eligible for membership, even if they can claim lineage.

The N.J. center is a project of the Eshet Chayil Foundation, established by Roth in 1998 as a philanthropic foundation whose main interests include protecting traditional holy sites in Israel and assisting the country’s poor.

“The goal is unity,” Roth said of the Davidic project and her foundation. “I felt that if we’re praying for it for thousands of years, how much longer are we going to just pray for it? Someone has to answer those prayers. Of course, God answers all the prayers, but we are the instruments of God. We are his emissaries. Maybe I should just say I heard a whisper. God said, ‘Why don’t you do it?'”

The dinner reflected some of that unity, with attendees from across the spectrum of Jewish life — from secular Jews to those religious enough to require separate seating and a mehitzah dividing the men and women.

Roth said she discovered her own family ties to David while working on a book, “Moses in the Twentieth Century: A Universal Primer.” The widow of Michael Roth, the former president of Ascot Properties, she has assumed his role with Ascot and has worked on behalf of the local New Jersey Jewish community. She is also founder and CEO of two publishing companies as well as KinderKlassics, a distributor of Jewish children’s literature.

Some at the dinner came to hear the honorees, others to support Roth in her efforts. Among those who received free tickets were doubters of the cause, and those who saw potential. “The recognition of King David is long overdue,” said Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, religious leader of Brooklyn’s B’nai Israel. He plans to support the center.

The historicity of King David remains an intensely debated topic even among Israeli archaeologists and historians, some of whom accuse their opponents of political motivations for either supporting or denying the existence of David and his 1000 BCE kingdom.

The planned gathering in Jerusalem will include tours to trace the 2008 of King David, videos, sound and light shows, a royal banquet, the opening of the Davidic Dynasty Museum and Genealogy Center, and the completion of a sefer Torah in honor of King David that was begun at the inaugural dinner.