(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Harry Triguboff, Australia’s richest man, will invest millions of dollars to expand efforts to help Jews from former Soviet states gain legal recognition as Jews in Israel, whether through historical documentation or simplified conversion.
“I think that rabbis have to facilitate the recognition of various people provided there is some connection with Judaism,” he told The Jerusalem Post in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
Many Jews who immigrate to Israel from former Soviet countries have difficulty proving that they are Jewish according to Halacha.
Though they get full benefits and citizenship under the Law of Return, the Chief Rabbinate and Interior Ministry do not consider them Jewish, which can become problematic when dealing with life events under religious control, such as weddings.
“The way that it works is that they are trying to find something that is lacking in the person’s Judaism. So that’s very bad. Because eventually, the young people will marry each other and some of them will not be recognized by the rabbinate,” Triguboff explains. “Eventually, so many of us will be ‘unacceptable’ that we’ll have to decide if they want to remain Jewish or just forget about it. Nobody wants to be second class.”
The Triguboff Institute will use the new funds to expand operations seeking out candidates for aliya in former Soviet states and helping them gather documents to establish their Jewish lineage. For those who cannot find sufficient documentation, the group helps them embark on a process of conversion so they will already be prepared when they arrive in Israel.
Their work saves time and money for the government, which devotes some NIS 40 million on conversions each year, according to the institute’s director-general, Shalom Norman.
“It’s a race against the clock, because whatever we can do to prove someone’s full lineage now, in three to four years we won’t be able to,” Norman says. For example, some people rely on testimony of living relatives who fled wars to prove their roots, who may not be around much longer.
Though much attention is focused on the increase in aliya from Western Europe given recent anti-Semitic events, the number of immigrants from former Soviet countries remains much larger. The war in Ukraine is pushing Jews to make aliya.
Norman says he expects 20,000 Ukrainian immigrants this year, as opposed to the roughly 10,000 expected from France.
Though Triguboff has critiques of the system, he has no interest in interfering politically to try and change it. Instead, he tries to fund more lenient and open-minded rabbis who work within the system, such as the Tzohar rabbis.
“We should stay out of politics, because it becomes too complicated. We don’t want people asking, ‘Did they do it because of politics or because they think they should do it?’” Triguboff says.
Asked what he thinks of fellow billionaire Sheldon Adelson taking such an active financial role in Israeli politics, Triguboff demurs.
“I don’t get involved in politics. I think that it is a waste of time and money, because very often a politician cannot do much, and if you give him money you embarrass him, so he can’t do anything.”
Yet he still has little patience for those whose priorities put legalistic hurdles in the path of those trying to come to Israel and live as part of the Jewish collective.
“I would like to ask the question of those people who are putting up the obstacles: how will they solve the problems?” he continues. With a restrained indignation, he talks of soldiers serving side by side in the IDF, but being buried in separate cemeteries due to lack of recognition.
“Whoever lives here and considers himself a Jew should be allowed to live as a Jew.”