(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
About 50 new immigrants from Ethiopia, candidates for conversion to Judaism, hiked in Sunday's simmering summer heat from Arad toward Jerusalem in protest of the inability of the Conversion Authority, the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry to coordinate to help them join the Jewish people.
Police managed to stop them after several kilometers when representatives from the three groups agreed to meet with them.
These young men and women are participants in the Kedma program.
During the preparatory one-year program, participants, all new immigrants who are not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law, are taught Judaism before conversion.
After conversion some are enrolled in higher education institutions.
However, during the five years since Kedma was created, approximately 500 have dropped out due to a lack of coordination between the Conversion Authority and other organizations that deal with immigration absorption.
Rabbinic judges of the conversion courts refuse to convert these young men and women until they are sure that after the conversion they will be enrolled in religious educational institutions.
Meanwhile, the organizations responsible for placement of these students in educational institutions refuse to fund tuitions and dormitory costs for the religious institutions. As a result, potential converts are stuck.
Also, young people who return home are often not called to appear before a conversion court to complete the conversion process.
Rabbi Menachem Waldman, Head of the Shvut Am Institute, who is responsible for the spiritual aspects of the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants, called the situation "a tragedy".
Waldman explained, "We have young people with motivation to join the Jewish people. But these kids face a bureaucratic system that places obstacles in their way."