Joel Covington (also known as the rapper Rebel Sun) came to Israel from the United States with his wife in 1999, and promptly became entangled in a years-long snafu with the Interior Ministry. As reported by In Jerusalem ("Waiting in Zion", November 4, 2005), despite his wife Shoshana's status as a Hebrew University student, the ministry has refused to give them official visas yet has consistently granted them "in-progress" status, allowing the couple to re-apply for their visas while living in Jerusalem in a kind of legal gray-zone. According to Rebel Sun, 28, the ministry has also been reluctant to explain the reasons behind the refusal. Shoshana theoretically qualifies for a student visa and her immediate family would also receive visas in that case. As the university does not have a policy of checking students' visas, she has been able to continue her studies despite her ambiguous legal status. The family is seeking four visas: a student visa for Shoshana, an artist visa for Rebel Sun and two more for their Jerusalem-born daughters. Of African-American origin, the Covingtons are forthright about their desire to convert to Judaism and become Israeli citizens, but according to Israeli law they cannot join an official conversion program without a visa. They haven't left the country during this time for fear they would not be allowed back, and in the meantime Shoshana, 24, has completed one degree at Hebrew University and is working on her second, while Rebel Sun achieved prominence in the capital city's hip-hop scene as the agile lead vocalist for the popular funk/hip-hop band Coolooloosh. In August last year, the couple received a letter from the Interior Ministry rejecting their latest visa application and ordering them to leave the country immediately. Unwilling to comply, Rebel Sun enlisted the help of his band-mates and together they formulated a strategy: to take it public. They hired a lawyer to formally appeal the edict, and recorded the song "Fight Rebel Sun," which became an anthem for the Covingtons' struggle to stay in Israel. Through performances, an on-line petition, letters of recommendation and other efforts they were able to raise public awareness of the issue, especially among the hip-hop community where it became something of a cause celebre. Yet they still received no reply to their latest appeal from the Interior Ministry - until recently. "We had a court date on September 25," Rebel Sun told IJ. "We were only in district court, and they didn't have authority over the Interior Ministry, but they gave us a 45-day grace period which will give us an opportunity to apply again for visas. It was in the judge's discretion; he decided to help and to ask the Misrad Hapnim [Interior Ministry] to reconsider our application." That was not the end of their bureaucratic troubles, however: "It was kind of disheartening to be back in the offices of the Interior Ministry ... and you have to call to get an appointment but they don't answer the phone. Just yesterday they gave us an appointment for November 15 [to re-apply]... but our grace period ends on November 12, so my lawyers are going to ask to extend our original 45-day period until the end of November." If the grace period is extended, the Covingtons will have another - and perhaps final - opportunity to acquire their visas from the Interior Ministry. The family would then be able to begin the conversion process, which would be relatively easy because they have been studying Judaism for years, know Hebrew and basically already live an observant Orthodox lifestyle. Rebel Sun is positive about the ultimate outcome and sees some good aspects in their experience. "For the simple fact that I got this far I am optimistic," he says. "It has gone on this long... [but] I have been able to establish myself as an artist here in a way that I couldn't do in the States. If I have to go, I will continue to be engulfed by my career, and the question will be: how to get back?"

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