Poster children for the conversion bill

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
July 16, 2010 18:15

S. has been through the entire conversion process twice – unsuccessfully

3 minute read.



David Rotem.

David Rotem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

When she was growing up in the Soviet Union, S. had no question about what she was – both the regime and her family agreed that she was Jewish. But after two decades of battling to be recognized as such in Israel, she and her two children remain identityless, making them the poster children, she says, for MK David Rotem’s (Israel Beiteinu) controversial conversion bill.

S. says that the bill’s bid to delegate authority to approve conversions to city rabbis will necessarily liberalize the process. “I hope that the bill would make the conversion process more friendly, and take away some of the strength of the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “The way that the system works today, if you’re not willing to pretend that you’re haredi, they’ll never accept the conversion.”

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S. should know – she’s been through the entire conversion process twice. After immigrating in 1990 under the Law of Return, S. was told that her mother’s Judaism was not certain, and that to be recognized as Jewish, she would have to convert. “I thought that it would be an interesting opportunity to learn more about my history and about my religion,” S. recalled. She enrolled in a conversion program in Jerusalem and completed it, but when she appeared before the rabbinic court to validate her conversion, it did not accept it.

In the mean time, S. had met her partner, an Israeli of Yemenite descent. The two could not legally marry here, because of S.’s status as a non-Jew. When she was pregnant with their first child, she realized that it was imperative for her to try again to convert, so that the child would be born Jewish.

This time, S. did not leave anything to chance. She enrolled for one-on-one study with the daughter of a well-respected rabbi, who accompanied her along all of the steps of the process. This time, S. said, the demands made by the converting authorities were even stricter. They told her that for her conversion to remain valid, she must enroll her future children in religious preschools, and demanded to see proof of her partner’s Jewish identity. Her life partner, who is not religious, but whose father was the sexton of his synagogue, was offended. When the rabbinic court rejected her second attempt at conversion, it was her partner who said that he was not willing to have himself or the mother of his children submitted to such a procedure for a third time.

S. and her partner remained unmarried. They are unwilling to fly overseas for a civil marriage, and are unable to have a state-recognized Jewish marriage under the law. They now have two children – a boy and a girl. The boy was circumcised according to Jewish law, even though he was not technically born Jewish. But it is the future of the daughter, S. said, that is of greater concern. “My son can marry a Jewish woman, and their children will be recognized as Jewish, but what about my daughter’s children? This situation could continue for generations.”

“This situation simply proves to what extent there is a need to solve the problem of conversion,” said Rotem. “My bill is trying to look out for the interests of new immigrants such as S., and Israel Beiteinu as a party has committed to and will continue to maintain their interests.”

Under Rotem’s law, S. said, she could have selected a municipal rabbi who would have been more receptive to her desire to convert without becoming haredi. S. said she practices “many of the commandments, celebrates all of the holidays and maintains a completely kosher house.” She is, by her own admission, much more religiously observant than many of her secular fellow Israelis, but on paper, she is not Jewish at all.


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