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(photo credit: Courtesy)
An American-born convert to Judaism who has been officially accepted as Jewish by Israel's Chief Rabbinate is struggling to obtain recognition from the Interior Ministry so he can make aliya, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Lukas (Lev) Morgan O'Neil, who was adopted and converted to Judaism as a baby and who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household in Orange County, California, has been caught in the midst of a bureaucratic quagmire over the past year, as Interior Ministry officials have consistently refused to accept his application to immigrate, asking for more and more documented proof of his Jewishness.
"I came here because I wanted to do the army, but for the past year have been stuck in this nightmare situation," O'Neil told the Post Monday. "It makes me very angry, because everyone I know has moved on and I am still in the same position."
According to the 21-year-old, his brother - who was also adopted and converted to Judaism as a baby - was able to make aliya four years ago with no problems at all.
"I have given them every kind of documentation possible, but they still want more proof from me that I am a Jew," said O'Neil, who appeared two months ago before the Tel Aviv Rabbinic Court to have his Judaism verified, even bringing his childhood rabbi with him to vouch for his Jewish roots.
In a letter, the court confirms the authenticity of O'Neil's childhood conversion, which took place three months after he was born.
However, after processing the letter from the rabbinic court, the Interior Ministry informed O'Neil last week that he still needed to provide additional proof of his Jewish connection for his aliya application to proceed.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad confirmed this, saying that while the ministry recognized O'Neil's conversion, he was still required to prepare a personal statement describing Jewish upbringing and verifying his Judaism.
"He was asked several days ago to provide the ministry with additional documents, but sadly, instead, has decided to take his story to the media," she wrote in a statement.
According to Hadad, complications in O'Neil's immigration process stem from his failure to provide the ministry with paperwork pertaining to his adoption and due to the fact that he opted to base his aliya application on his Jewish conversion.
"It's a much more complicated process," claimed Hadad.
While O'Neil denied to the Post that he had ever been asked to present legal documents about his adoption to the Interior Ministry, Rabbi Seth Farber, founder and director of Itim - an organization that assists many Jewish converts in navigating Israel's bureaucracy - said that O'Neil's experience was symptomatic of the Interior Ministry's new approach to international converts.
"Over the last four years or so, the ministry has been taking an increasingly negative approach to Jewish converts who arrive here from overseas," stated Farber, who was called upon two weeks ago to help O'Neil fight for his right to immigrate under the Law of Return. "This is a classic example of Israeli bureaucracy trumping any reason or sensible Jewish law."
Farber added that with O'Neil meeting all possible criteria needed to make aliya, it was almost as though "the Interior Ministry has decided it has more authority to decide who is a Jew than the rabbinate."
"At a time when we should be reaching out to Diaspora Jewry, the Interior Ministry is turning people off," he continued, adding that "as a rabbi, I am personally offended by the ministry's policies toward converts. They are the most vulnerable of all Jews because they do not have a support network to help them."
In addition, Farber said that the ministry's request for O'Neil to prepare a personal statement was "totally illegal."
"The Law of Return does not require any potential immigrant to do this," he pointed out. "In no other case has a convert been asked to justify his Judaism in this way. The Interior Ministry is engaging in outrageous behavior."
Hadad, however, said it was standard ministry practice to ask those applying for aliya to provide additional documents.