Jewish tradition demands that we be very careful when making accusations. Like pillow feathers scattered in the wind that may not be put back inside in pillow – so too is an accusation made in public against others. Miriam was struck by leprosy when she spoke against Moshe (Num. 12: 1-15). The metzora (leper) was a motzi shem ra: a person who spoke negatively about others.
So it is with a great deal of trepidation, and an awareness of the possible burden I take on myself, that I write this blog.
I have alleged racism within the Interior Ministry in the past. See the blog I wrote about the deserving young man from Keifeng, China, who is being denied Aliyah for no other reason than race (at the time I was hesitant to make the charge in writing so I chalked it up to a shortage of person-power in the Interior Ministry even though I knew the truth: See here). Again I wish to emphasize that the problem is not within the Jewish Agency but within Israel''s Interior Ministry.
But the time has come to stop ignoring the elephant in the room. It is time to call for those who make decisions as to which converts to Judaism may make Aliyah based on issues other than the facts, and the demands of the law, to either change their ways or be fired. As one who recognizes that firing is not really an option in the bureaucracy of the government I would accept that those involved be pushed upstairs, aside, out, or to some nihilarian division.
For those who would charge that I am whining about the State not accepting non-Orthodox converts – this would be wrong. Our converts are accepted by law. By and large they do not encounter major problems in the Aliyah process if they indeed have all documents required by law.
At any given time there may be dozens of Jews by Choice waiting for approval. In most of these cases they will wait forever barring intervention of their behalf by the wonderful lawyers of IRAC who do holy work, and the caring people of the Masorti and Reform movements in Israel.
Just last week the fate of a large group of Masorti converts from Peru was tossed up to the Mankal (director) within the Interior Ministry. These are people who prepared for conversion over a period of five years and only then appeared before a Beit Din of three Masorti rabbis. They have committed the sin of being Indians (Native S. American). But why not let a system rife with Shas appointees continue to make the call?
Did you read about the Jew by Choice, who had applied for Aliyah, and was saved only an hour before deportation back to the States? He was converted with the Reform movement in 1993 and davened at a Masorti congregation (see here). Oh, did I mention that he too was an African American?
With regard to African-American converts one of the issues is the question of knowledge. Experience has shown us that many of the African American converts have more of a limited theoretical knowledge and therefore are deemed not to be "real" Jews. But can only white intellectuals be Jewish? And woe to an African American convert who may have even once purchased a falafel anywhere near Dimona. The Interior Ministry is all but certain, if they know of this, to assume the person is connected to the Black Hebrews. I am OK with looking into such a possibility but not continuing to investigate for months and even years without a decision. In the interim such a person may not work nor receive government health insurance.
And what of the woman from Bolivia who has been denied Aliyah? One of the reasons listed: She did not study with a rabbi. So what? Many prepare for conversion by study with Jewishly educated non-rabbis. Most of the other reasons provided are equally inane.
OK, here is one to consider. Are you sitting down? A man from South America was denied after applying to make Aliyah subsequent to his conversion. He is the fourth generation born to a Jewish grandparent. Under the Law of Return one may make Aliyah only to the third generation. So far - OK. But this person has converted to Judaism. His (non-Jewish) parents live in Israel. But the Interior Ministry has a list of criteria which they refuse to make public that bars such a person from Aliyah. The Interior Ministry makes the assumption that such a person cannot be serious in pursuing Jewish roots, becoming devoted to Judaism, and desirous of fulfilling the Mitzvah of making Aliyah. If one has third generation non-Jewish parents in Israel then Aliyah is not an option even subsequent to conversion.
How about the young man from the Abayudaya in Uganda who was charged 175NIS for a student visa to allow him to study at the Conservative Yeshiva? It took five months of pressure to obtain the visa. May color have been an issue? Only Jews are granted a student visa to study at a non-degree granting institution (such as Pardes or the Conservative Yeshiva). Only non-Jews are charged for a student visa. In this case Moses was granted the visa, having finally satisfied the demands of proving his conversion was within the parameters of the law – but was charged a fee that is only charged to non-Jews who apply to study at degree granting institutions (such as Hebrew University). Moses’ committed the sin of being born African.
Would Rabbi Sizumu of Uganda be permitted to make Aliyah?
These cases are not rare. Indeed they are all too common. It brings me no pleasure to write that they also occur among Orthodox converts.
Lest one ask “What about the Ethiopians or other minorities?” it should be said that these people are brought to Israel under separate agreements that go way above the regular staff in the Interior Ministry.
Judaism is by definition not racist. This is why people of any race may convert to Judaism. But there are Jewish racist. And there are bureaucrats determined to keep the gates closed to ninety nine deserving Olim if it means keeping out one who is not deserving.
The Masorti Movement is on the same page as the Jewish Agency and, in theory, the Interior Ministry. We want those who are legally entitled to apply for Aliyah to be accepted. We want problematic cases examined and decided in a timely manner. We want scofflaws, and those seeking to scam the system, kept out.
I fear that writing such words as I have may give ammunition to the enemies of Israel. We are subjected to so much criticism that is unjust. But when officials within our own government act with malice, then as the prophet Isaiah said, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.”