New Olim Israeli flags celebration zionist 390.
(photo credit: Elle Yahalom)
When someone applies for aliya today, the Interior Ministry vets their
application. Only once an application is approved can the individual exercise
his or her right to emigrate to Israel. Since the early 1970s, the amended Law
of Return has enabled anyone converting to Judaism – not only those born Jewish
– to make aliya. But over the past decade, this law has suffered an
enormous setback, one that torments hundreds of Jews each year.
in 2002, the ministry initiated a secret protocol that raised the bar on who is
considered a convert. Even if one went through the 10 plagues of conversion,
crossed through the Red Sea and accepted the Torah, one still is not accepted as
Jewish by the State of Israel... unless. Unless one can demonstrate a host of
proofs that seem to change with the winds.
One client whom ITIM:
Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life is now representing applied for aliya
from Israel but was told that she had to provide proof that she had been a
member of the community in which she converted for a year before the conversion.
When she brought that, she was told that she had to bring proof she had been a
member of the community for a year following the conversion. When she
brought that, she was told she had to bring a letter that she is a member of a
community here. When she brought that she didn’t get an answer.
2002, I have met tens of Jewish families and singles who converted to Judaism
under Orthodox auspices – in many cases I got their conversions certified by the
Chief Rabbi of Israel – but whom were unable to make aliya, or had their aliya
delayed for months because of the protocols of the ministry.
rabbinate may consider you Jewish, but the State of Israel doesn’t.
if the rabbinate doesn’t consider you Jewish, then you have to prove your
conversion took place in a “recognized community.” The problem is, there
is no list of “recognized communities.”
In recent months, the ministry
has gone even farther – because there are no checks and balances in Israel – and
has extended their new criteria to students as well. No less than 10
students who are in yeshivot and seminaries in one-year programs this year
contacted ITIM in the past two months after their requests for a visa extension
Why? Because even though their (or in some cases, their
parents’) conversions were fully Orthodox and accepted by the Israeli Chief
Rabbinate, they hadn’t demonstrated that their families lived in the converting
community for a year before and a year after the conversion.
Passover seder we emphasize how vulnerable we were as strangers. We commit
ourselves to a better future. And yet, we continue to oppress those Jews who are
fully committed to our people and our faith.
In one case that I was
involved in, a convert, recognized by the rabbinate as Jewish, tried to come to
Israel as a tourist, but was deported (and put on a plane on Shabbat), because
she didn’t meet the ministry’s requirements for aliya.
What makes the
ministry’s behavior even more grievous is that in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled
their criteria vis a vis converts to be illegal. And yet, the ministry continues
to operate using similar criteria. As one person expressed to me, in Israel, a
Supreme Court decision is only a recommendation, not a mandate.
these converts are already living fully Jewish lives in Israel, as tourists or
spouses of Israelis. But others are struggling to get here. ITIM is now
representing two families who converted abroad, and are not being issued visas
to enter the State of Israel, even though they are Jewish according to every
religious standard. Though the Jewish Agency certifies their conversions, the
ministry – and particularly its legal desk – refuses to recognize these people,
and simply buries their applications.
The layers of insensitivity and
incompetence, and worst of all randomness, are disgraceful for our country and
for the Jewish people. Shame on us for our silence. And shame on the clerks and
their bosses who let this situation continue unchecked.
At this year’s
seder, I thought about all those converts who rightfully deserve a place in
Israel. And I recommitted myself to doing all I can to bring them here in
the coming months. To do anything less is to reject the very message of the
seder night.The writer, a rabbi, is the director of ITIM: Resources and
Advocacy for Jewish Life and the rabbi of Kehillat Netivot in Ra’anana.