In Memoriam: Dr. Neville (Yosef) Lamdan

Neville Lamdan was born in Scotland in 1938 and passed away in Jerusalem on February 14, 2022.

Neville was educated as a historian and a diplomat. He received his Doctorate in Modern History from Oxford (1965) and his thesis, entitled The Arabs and Zionism before World War I, was published in book form by the University of California Press (1976). He began his professional career in the British Foreign Office (1965-1971) and continued in the Israeli Foreign Ministry (1973-2003).  He was a member of the Israel Mission to the UN in New York (1976 –1981); Diplomatic Representative in Beirut (1982); Liaison Officer to the US Congress in Washington, DC (1985-89); Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Geneva (1994-1998) and Ambassador at the Vatican (2000-2003).

While stationed at the Israel Embassy in Washington, DC in the 1980s, the Lamdan family lived next door to Anita and Irwin Pikus, who later helped found the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, which Neville joined. In the late 1990s, with retirement approaching, Neville took on a new challenge, one that occupied much of his time for the rest of his life.

As an historian, Neville knew that Leopold Zunz’s historical investigations and writings had an important effect on 19th century German Judaism and Jewish genealogy.  His work was recognized as a respected academic study. Neville’s dream was to establish a modern day institute, similarly devoted to academic Jewish genealogical research.

Neville was ahead of his time and while it was not easy at the beginning, he had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and persisted with terrific tenacity. The International Institute for Jewish Genealogy and Paul Jacobi Center (IIJG) was inaugurated in Jerusalem in 2004 with a brilliant, two-day symposium that Neville organized almost single-handedly. Bit by bit, year after year, he kept at it. Early on, Neville met in person with Douglas Goldman of the Levi Strauss company and with the late Harvey Krueger, a New York banker, who both agreed to provide the Institute’s initial financing.

Along the way, Neville took time for his own family research and pioneered a three week stay onsite in the Belarus archives in Minsk. Over the years, Neville conceived and successfully engineered a countrywide study of Scottish Jewish genealogy, the first of its kind. Under his leadership, IIJG sponsored numerous cutting edge academic research projects in Jewish genealogy, produced a multi-volume publication of the late Paul Jacobi’s rabbinic genealogy studies, followed by IIJG’s symposium on Genealogy and the Sciences at the Weizmann Institute a few years ago.  

Neville retired as IIJG Director in December 2012 and in April 2013 was elected Chairman of the IIJG’s Executive Committee till his retirement in 2021. In August 2013, at the 33rd IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (Boston), he received the IAJGS Lifetime Achievement Award for his vision in establishing the Institute and success in directing it from 2006-2012.

Once he stepped down as IIJG’s Chair, Neville was able to dedicate his time to writing a book of his family history, their way of life in the Old Country and the transitions to modern society. It is currently being edited and hopefully will be published later this year.

Neville is survived by his wife Susan, three sons, and seven grandchildren. He is deeply missed by his family, friends and the genealogy community.

Obituary written by Prof. H. Daniel Wagner, Chairman of the International Institute of Jewish Genealogy & Paul Jacobi Center