Jews pray in the synagogue in Donetsk.
(photo credit: DONETSK JEWISH COMMUNITY)
The national-religious Tzohar rabbinical organization has recently opened an office in eastern Ukraine in a bid to prove the status of immigrants according to Jewish law before they arrive in Israel.
According to Tzohar executive vice president Yakov Gaon, up to a quarter of a million Israelis from the former Soviet Union are Jewish according to Halacha but lack the documentation to prove it. As such, they are unable to marry in Israel and exist in a limbo in which they are considered Jewish by secular state institutions but not by the Chief Rabbinate.
“There are 250,000 immigrants from the FSU who need help,” he said.
Tzohar’s Shorashim program that helps conversion candidates to allocate documentation will run the new office in Dnepropetrovsk, one of Ukraine’s major Jewish population centers and a transit center for many Jews fleeing the fighting in the nearby Donbass region, together with local mohel Dr.
“Many Jews have issues and problems in proving that they are Jewish,” Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki of Dnepropetrovsk city told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Proving one’s status often involves traveling to farflung former Soviet republics and digging through dusty archives and “they don’t have the finances or organizational ability to do it.”
“I know many people who have been denied the possibility of making aliya because they just didn’t have enough documents,” he said. “Many people say ‘I’m really Jewish but won’t be able to prove it so forget about it.’ It’s a pity.”
He explained that while Gaisinovich has been involved in similar efforts on a much more localized scale, the new partnership with Tzohar should allow him to expand his efforts significantly.
Due to generations of assimilation, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain the Jewish identity of those coming from the former Soviet Union. A lack of paperwork only compounds the problem, according to Gaon.
“To preserve a Jewish Israel we try to get them all relevant documentation when they are in Ukraine or Russia so the process [of absorption in Israel] is more user friendly and [so it is] easier to be part of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel,” he said.
Dnepropetrovsk was chosen because of the large numbers of Jews coming through there on their way to the Jewish state, he added.
Given that the new Shorashim office will be located within the city’s Menorah complex, billed as the world’s largest Jewish community center, containing an Israeli consulate, a Jewish Agency office and the headquarters of the local Jewish community, it ought to serve as a “onestop shop” for prospective immigrants, Kaminezki said.
The undertaking is being also being sponsored by the Triguboff Institute, according to Australia’s JWire.