News broke a few days back about what to many seemed an unjust decision on the part of Israel’s stiff necked Interior Ministry. Thomas Schmidt, a German citizen, came to Israel in 2004 as a volunteer. During his visit he met Nir Katz, and Israel Jewish citizen, and they became a couple.
Schmidt became close to the Katz family. Tragically, on August 1, 2009, Katz, whose father was killed in the IDF Zeelim base disaster, was murdered in a horrific shooting attack at the Tel Aviv GLBT club for youth, where served as a councilor.
When Nir died, he was survived by his life partner, Schmidt, who had built a life for himself here in Israel. He continued to be a guest at the Katz home for holidays and family simchas.
On Sunday the Interior Ministry told him that his visa was about to expire and that he would have to leave Israel by the end of the month – after more than six years in Israel.
The Katz family had appealed to the Interior Ministry, to no avail, along with many others. “Humanitarian considerations” are two words apparently not understood by anyone in the Ministry, From Minister Eli Ishai (Shas) down to the small minded bureaucrats.
Just moments ago the deportation order was rescinded. It is not that anyone suddenly had an attack of compassion. The hand of the Interior Ministry was forced by a public outcry that led to nearly four thousand people signing on to a Facebook protest to reverse the decision. In addition MK Nizan Hurowitz pushed the issue directly with the Minister of the Interior.
This is good news for both Thomas and for the Katz family. It is good news for those who believe that Judaism holds “Midat HaRachamim” (acts of justice) to be central. The Jewish People have been referred to as Rachmanin Bnei Rachmanim (People of great mercy and compassion). The news is good for those who seek justice.
But our tradition reminds us that even in our most joyous moments we must remind ourselves that others still suffer.
Scores of Jews by choice – of all denominations – have been left in limbo upon seeking to fulfill the Mitzvah of Aliyah. Virtually all converts of color (those coming from Ethiopia are in a different path to citizenship) must jump through hoops, not to mention engage the services of an attorney, if they are to have the slightest hope of obtaining the right to live in Israel granted by the Law of Return.
The Interior Ministry bars non-Jewish students from obtaining a student visa unless they plan to study at a degree granting institution.
Just today I had to tell a person who hopes to complete his conversion in Europe that he may have to turn down his acceptance to study at the Conservative Yeshiva, in Jerusalem. The Interior Ministry will not even allow such a recent convert to come to Israel on a Bithright trip unless it has been a year since the conversion.
Just imagine the State of Israel demanding that a convert wait a year before beginning to keep Kosher or to observe Shabbat. But they bar the fulfillment of the commandment of Yeshuv HaAretz (settling in Israel) to these Jews by choice.
The Interior Ministry is not evil. Maybe they should not be blamed for these shortcomings. After all, Minister Eli Yishai has had his hands full deporting the children born to foreign workers and refugees – many of whom have known no home but Israel. His time has been consumed seeking even greater stipends for those who choose to remain outside the work force and prefer to suck on the teat of the welfare system. He has had to maneuver to keep Rav Amsalem, who holds a more open approach to conversion, from gaining access to Rav Ovadia Yosef.
So, it is with sadness still in my heart that I share the good news. Thomas Schmidt will remain here in Israel (at least until the next hearing on his petition to remain).