Timothy Nicholas Steger 88.
(photo credit: )
A US-born adoptee who has been attempting to obtain Israeli citizenship for more than two years finally petitioned the High Court of Justice on Monday to force the Interior Ministry to accept his immigration petition.
Timothy Nicholas Steger, whose birth father was Jewish but who was adopted as an infant by a devout Catholic family, arrived in Israel in February 2007 and subsequently requested to make aliya. His request was turned down last August when the Interior Ministry deemed that the connection with his biological parents had been severed the moment he was adopted.
However, citing the Law of Return, which states anyone with at least one Jewish parent or grandparent, is entitled to immigrate to Israel, and with the help of a recent legal opinion presented to the Supreme Court by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, Steger persevered and his dream to live in Israel might finally be recognized.
"I'm very excited that I will finally get my day in court," Steger told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "However, I'm still disappointed and even disgusted that the Interior Ministry can act outside the law in this way."
According to attorney Michael Decker from the Jerusalem law firm Yehuda Raveh, which is representing Steger, Mazuz's declaration last February stated that "an adoption does not disconnect blood ties," and it makes clear that a person born to a Jewish parent should be permitted to make aliya under the Law of Return.
"We are very hopeful that we will win this case," Decker told the Post, explaining that a similar case involving one Regina Bernik dating back to 2004 had prompted the attorney-general to write the legal opinion.
However, Decker went on to criticize the Interior Ministry for not automatically recognizing Mazuz's declaration and forcing Steger to take the route of legal action against the ministry.
In April, two months after Mazuz's declaration on adoptees with a Jewish parent was first reported by the media, the Interior Ministry still failed to recognize Steger's claim. At that time, a ministry spokeswoman told the Post that his case was being dealt with "as fast as we can."
"I've sent them two letters over the past few months but heard nothing back from them," said Steger, who has watched his finances dwindle as he waits for a final answer on his immigration application. "I've just been waiting to start my life and put down some roots here."
Despite the battle he has faced, Steger said that he still wants to become Israeli due to his strong connection to Israel and the Jewish people.
His interest in Judaism and in Israel started during the late 1990s when he dated a Jewish woman and the relationship became serious. He visited Israel in 2000.
"It's always felt like home for me here," said Steger, who not long afterwards discovered that his biological father, Robert J. Kates, was a Jew and a member of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, New York.
Even though he has yet to establish contact with his father, Steger did appeal to his father's former Rabbi Harry S. Rosenfeld, who vouched for Steger's Jewish lineage.
While Steger's journey looks set to end on an optimistic note, Decker, who will represent him in court, warned that the hearing could still be another six months away.
"We have asked for an immediate hearing because this case has dragged on for more than two years but we are not certain that this will happen," he said, adding, "it's such a disgrace that it has come to this. It's a shame that the Interior Ministry is not properly updated on legal changes."
The Interior Ministry did not respond before press time.