Ask the aliya experts

Vol XXXIX: My family emigrated from Russia to the US in 1989; Would my status be the same as a regular oleh from the US, or would I be under a different category?

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The experts include Josie Arbel, Director of Klita Services at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI); Neil Gillman, aliya counselor from UJIA-Israel (serving olim from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Scandanavia and South Africa); and Shira Barzily-Wolfe of the Merkaz Meida for Young Adults (a joint project of Merkaz Hamagshimim Hadassah, the World Zionist Organization's Hagshama Department, and the Jewish Agency, in cooperation with the AACI and UJIA).
Send us your questions.
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    Vol XXXIX
    Q: My family emigrated from Russia to the US in 1989; I was ten years old at the time. I am now 26 and looking to move to Israel. Would my status be considered the same as a regular oleh from the US, or would I be under a different category?
    A: Olim born in Russia need their status checked & approved through Nativ. The Jewish Agency's aliya office in Brooklyn specializes in aliya of Americans of Russian background. Contact Marina Kaminsky, - tel 718-421-1957. In terms of benefits, nowadays olim are treated almost identically regardless of their country of last residence or country of origin. Olim from the US get the same government assistance as do other olim. The exception is a customs grant which is available to immigrants from certain Eastern European, North African, Asian/Middle East countries and all of Latin America, but then they are not eligible for exemptions on custom duties, so it probably evens out. In terms of this grant, your place of last residence is what determines eligibility.
    Q: My husband and I are considering living in Israel. He is 61 and I am 57. We want to know what rights we would have, especially as regards mortgage qualification and Betuah Leumi pensions. This is the second marriage for both of us. I made aliya in 1972 as a single person, worked as a salaried person for 8 years, but left Israel in 1984 while I was married to an Israeli. I have since divorced and remarried. My second husband lived in Israel as a child for a few years. His parents had made aliya in the 50s and the family left a few years later. Would we have to work in order to qualify in the near future for pensions? What kind of mortgage could we get?
    A: As returning residents, you can check out benefits at nearest Israeli consulate or embassy, or write to Misrad HaKlitah returning residents section. Check out info at I recommend he write AACI at because the topic is too complicated to go into details for this framework... They will help you check it all out.
    Q: I was born in Israel but have been living in the US since age 6. My daughter, born in the US and who is 18, went to Israel to learn in a religious seminary for the year. She was told when she was there that she needs an Israeli passport and a deferment from the army. Can she declare herself religious and get exempt from all future military service? If she gets an exemption, are there any restrictions in terms of the number or timing of future visits to Israel? If she gets exempt from the military does this impact on benefits if she makes aliya in the future?
    A: Your daughter is an Israeli citizen by virtue of you being one. Religious girls are able to get an army exemption, without it impacting their frequency of visitation, or their benefits. Should she subsequently want to make aliya the umber/length of visits do impact benefits in another way: Cumulative stays of over 3.5 years out of the 7 preceding aliya, or 18 months out of the 3 years prior to aliya affect the eligibility for benefits. A person is allowed a one time year-long grace period within a Jewish Agency program or university, which is not calculated. Your daughter, as the child of an Israeli citizen, cannot stay in Israel for over 4 months out of a year (cumulative) without it impacting her aliya calculations and thus benefits.
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    Q: My son was born in Israel and left at age 4. He is graduating college this May and plans to do an internship in Israel this fall for at least 6 months. If he decides to go to graduate school there is he eligible for tuition assistance? What is his military obligation? He is 23 years of age. Thank you.
    A: Your son should be eligible to immigrant rights as a returning minor. These include payment of tuition fees for graduate school. He should consult with your local Shaliach regarding the process and required documentation. Before coming into Israel, it would be wise to arrange confirmation from the Israeli consulate that he is not eligible for army service as long as he is only visiting Israel for a limited period. If he immigrates he will be required to serve 6 months, and then yearly reserve duty.
    Q: I was born 1964 in New Jersey, USA. One month after birth, I was given up for adoption to a Catholic family who were required by their church to raise me Catholic. Not even knowing about my past, I always had disagreements with their religion and ultimately converted to Judaism. I was circumcised at birth, and for the past 5 years have kept Torah, Shabbat, feasts, read Hebrew, etc. My shul is unaffiliated (i.e. not Conservative, Reform or Orthodox), but agrees most closely with Conservative. At age 35, several years after affirming Judaism as my personal faith, my adoptive mother sent me the court records indicating my birth name, Michael Spinelli. (Spinelli is the Italian spelling of the Portuguese Jewish name, Spinoza).
    Unfortunately the state of New Jersey later passed legislation that no person can contact the birth parents unless the birth parents were simultaneously searching for their birth children. The Trenton/Princeton New Jersey area is however known for its Jewish Population. Short of changing the statutes of New Jersey, I have no way of affirming that I have a parent who practiced Judaism. How do the laws of return apply to me?
    A: The law of return states that a person who has at least 1 Jewish grandparent, or is married to a Jew, or is a Jew themselves through conversion, is eligible to immigrate to Israel, provided that they themselves have not willingly changed religion.
    If your conversion was carried out by a rabbi recognized by the Conservative, Reform or Orthodox movements, you will be eligible to immigrate to Israel regardless of your ability to prove your mother's Jewishness.
    Q: My parents immigrated from Romania to Israel in 1948. I was born in 1949 in Jerusalem, Israel. In 1954 when I was 4.5 years old my parents and I went back to Romania. In 1970 we all immigrated to the USA where I presently live. Do I have any citizenship rights and how do I pursue them?
    A: Based on the dates that you have provided, you are an Israeli citizen. You are most probably eligible to immigrant benefits with the status of returning minor (the minor refers to your age when you left - not now!) You would be eligible for a package of benefits which are very similar to those given to an Oleh.. To receive these benefits, you must make aliya. To do so, you begin by opening a file with a shaliach in a state near you (see
    Q: Shalom,I would like to become an Israeli citizen and live most of the time, in Canada, where I was born. Is there some way of doing aliya without moving 100%? I have family responsibilities which are ties.
    A: The law of return states that a desire to settle in Israel is a condition for the Law of Return to apply. Many people commute back and forwards but would generally spend the majority of their time in Israel. Spending less than 6 months per year in Israel could have repercussions on your eligibility for membership of one of the health funds (kupot cholim). The important question is - if you are going to be living "most of the time in Canada" why exactly are you making aliya - would you bebetter off with a different status until you made the move more permanent?
    Q: If a descendant of Bnei Anousim - as I am - wants to convert and make aliya, why the State of Israel doesn't offer the possibility to convert to Judaism in Israel, as there are countries where the Jewish communities close their doors to the descendants of Bnei Anousim? Wouldn't it be right, and wouldn't it be better to give to every Jew who loves Eretz a real possibility to make aliya? It's actually impossible to convert abroad, and you can't convert in Israel: what does a Bnei Anousim descendant Jew has to do, in such a situation, to make aliya?
    A: Shavei Israel is an organization dedicated to helping Anousim as well asother "lost Jews" . You can contact them via their website
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    Vol XXXVII
    Q: I am a 50-year-old professional consultant. I have visited Israel and love it. I now have a contract in Israel, and I wish to immigrate. I bring my own work. I also want to open a small business. My father was Jewish but I cannot prove this and have given up finding any records for him. I never converted (yet... I want to) but also never took another religion. What steps do I need to go through to immigrate and begin my job? Can I arrive with my letter of hire and get a one-year work visa at the Ministry? I cannot find much information that gives simple directives for non-Jewish immigration.
    A: In theory, if an employer sponsors you, you should be able to get a one-year working visa - but have your employer look into it; it is their responsibility to make the arrangement for you. A working tourist visa based on a work offer for a non-Jewish person does NOT start the immigration process & you will need to leave the country after the term of your visa. Maybe you could find proof of a Jewish grandparent if you can't find proof for your father.
    Q: I went through the aliya process in San Francisco in 1990 and was approved. I was a single parent then and at the last minute, my son's father refused to allow my son to go, and I wouldn't go without him. My son is now grown and married. I still want to move to Israel. I am 51 and have never been there. Do I have to go through the aliya process all over again? Or is my approved 1990 file still valid?
    A: You would need to open a new file
    Q: I just made aliya last July. I turned 18 two weeks after arriving. I don't think I have to join the army but I do want to. Do girls have a problem joining the army on voluntary basis? And is there any difference between mandatory or voluntary service?
    A: You should have no problem volunteering - approach the local Lishkat Hagiyus and ask them to get the ball rolling. There will be no difference between voluntary and mandatory. You would go in for the standard period of time.
    Q: I want to make aliya, but I want to study and get my degree before I go the army. I've heard you have three years of free scholarship. Here in Venezuela I go to a public university, I'm in my first semester, I've heard that if I make aliya I will have to take a mechina first that is gonna last one year, plus the ulpan, so by the end, my free scholarship is only gonna last 1 year and a half; I wanna move to Israel as soon as possible, so what do you recommend me to do? I'm studying electrical engineering and I wanna continue it in the Technion. Do I need a really good Hebrew for that? And the other question I have is that if I enter the country and I get my passport, can't I go back to visit my family before a year? Thanks.
    A: The mechina includes an ulpan, so it will only take up a year of the "scholarship," leaving you two years, which, depending on how many of your credits transfer from your current studies in Venezuela, may be enough for you to obtain your degree. As to studying before entering the army, it is possible to do so, and then serve in a program called "Atuda." My understanding is that you need a level 3 (gimmel) to be accepted to university, something they will help you obtain in the mechina program. It is also possible that a year of study in Venezuela will exempt you from Mechina - check with Minhal Hastudentim (the Student Authority) via e-mail:
    You can visit your family (or anyone else for that matter) at any point, even within the first year (though you will be using travel papers, as a passport is only issued after a year).
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    Vol XXXVI
    Q: I made aliya in 2001 and left Israel back in 2003 to return to the states, where I now reside. I didn't notify any particular office, like the Jewish Agency, that I was leaving Israel. I am planning a trip to Israel at the end of this year. It will be my first time back since I left. Is there any particular office I should notify that I am no longer living in Israel?
    A: Anyone leaving the country should inform Bituach Leumi so that they don't get ongoing bills sent to them.
    Q: I am a gay Jew. I want to live in Israel with my boyfriend---he is Mexican. He would convert if he needs to. I know Israel is pretty good with gay rights, but I'm not sure how to go about this. Must he convert first?
    A: My understanding is that, as open to the concept of gay rights parts of Israel may be, a gay partner is not recognized as a marriage partner the same way a non-Jew married to a Jew would be, regarding eligibility for aliya. Therefore, your boyfriend would have to convert before being eligible, and the conversion would need to be conducted by a rabbi recognized by their religious denomination (i.e. if it were a reform rabbi, they need to be recognized by the governing body of reform rabbis).
    Q: I would like to make aliya and do my MA in Israel. I turn 29 in November, and will have to take supplementary courses for a year before gaining acceptance to a full MA program. Will I still be entitled to funding?
    A: As long as you begin your studies by age 30 (and within 3 years of making aliya), you will be entitled to two years' worth of funding (if you wish, it may be possible to have your preparatory year + 1 graduate year funded). Funding is at the rate of a government university tuition. If you attend a private institution, you will have to make up the difference in cost.
    Q: Also, I understand that I am too old to do even "Shlav Bet" military service. I am fluent in Hebrew (and in several other languages) and have a university degree -- is there any chance of the army still wanting me if I volunteer? I would be prepared to go the Machal route, if need be -- but fear I will be out of sorts among people many years my juniors.
    A: While it is not impossible, it does take perseverance; I know personally of two people over age 30 who were accepted after repeated entreaties, but it does not always work. Also, if your aims are for integration then it won't be all that useful to be serving alongside 18 year olds.
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    Vol XXXV
    Q: I would like to make aliya to Israel. I'm 22 and finishing up my BA at my US university now. Then I plan to establish my career in the US for a few years before making aliya. I'm Ashkenazi, Conservative and I've belonged to Congregation Ohev Shalom with my family since I was born. What are the conditions of aliya, and what are examples of things that might prevent me from being approved?
    A: The law of return states that any person with a Jewish parent or Jewish grandparent or who converted to Judaism and who has not converted to another religion is eligible to make aliya.
    Therefore, at least based on the information you have provided, there is no reason you would be barred from making aliya. If you mean "will I be eligible for the benefits (financial assistance and other forms of assistance) bestowed on an olah (new immigrant)," then extenuating factors include aspects such as whether or not either of your parents are Israeli citizens, the number + length of visits you have made to Israel. This would not bar you from making aliya, but would put you in a different category (an Israeli citizen for example), which has ramifications on the amount and type of benefits you receive. Aliya is a big decision. It should not be undertaken without visiting Israel, and speaking to a local counselor (shaliach). The one in NJ is located at the Israel Program Center: 901 Route 10 Whippany, NJ 07981-1156 Tel:(973) 884-4800 ext. 166.
    Q: If a family is having internal family issues, would you advise against aliya?
    A: Aliya, like any major life change, can be an extremely unsettling process, and it is highly advisable that it be undertaken when the family is not already under stress, especially if the family is considering coming all together.
    Q: As far as I know, women who are 17 years of age or older are exempt from the army service when they immigrate to Israel. However, as I gather this law is subject to change.
    Can you update me on this matter by giving reference to relevant official documentation?
    A: The law has indeed changed from 1/1/2006 and women immigrating under the age of 20 must now serve, unless granted an exemption based on religious grounds.
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    Vol XXXIV
    Q: I would like to do an intense ulpan for at least three months this coming summer. My family live in Ma'ale Adumim so I would like to be as close to them as possible.
    Can you recommend a good Ulpan in the Jerusalem/Ma'ale area? Would I need a particular visa with my British passport or a regular tourist visa?
    A: The following ulpanim have summer sessions and are located in Jerusalem: Ulpan Or, Ulpan Milah Q: I understand that the additional mortgage points for olim only apply if this is your first time buying a home? What happens if you buy a caravan first, for cash? And then you want to buy a regular home later? Are you considered a homeowner?
    A: It is possible you are considered homeowners even if it was just a caravan. You would have to check with a Mortgage bank. But if the caravan wasn't registered with Tabu and other formal procedures associated with owning a home, you may still be eligible for mortgage points.
    Q: My daughter made aliya in Dec. '05 at the age of 22. She will be attending college in Israel as an olah chadasha and should complete her studies in 2 years. She knows she is not required to do military service but she wants to enlist in the IAF when she finishes school as she feels she has this obligation. I am very proud of her and I encourage her to try, but what are her real chances of voluntary enlistment?
    A: Highly unlikely though not impossible, and more likely if she has skills the army needs (technological, technical, language, etc.) She can always try.
    Q: If I am in my 50's and Jewish, can I become an Israeli citizen without immigrating?
    A: No - the Law of Return specifically says that a person must wish to settle in Israel in order to be eligible for the Law of Return.
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    Vol XXXIII
    Q: We are considering aliya with our family but may want to spend a year prior to formally changing status. Is there a program or option for us to come, have the kids in school in Israel and my wife and I study or volunteer? We are religious and the kids are 6, 11 and 14. Also, are there tax or other consequences of making aliya and then returning to the states permanently?Thank you.
    A: There is no official program, but you can come as tourists, and there are no shortage of volunteer/study opportunities. It is possible to enroll kids in the school system as non-olim; AACI has info on registering children as tourists and the other aspects regarding such a visit. You can contact them at Be aware that spending over 18 months will affect sal klitah should you subsequently make aliya. If you do make aliya and then return to the states, you are free to do so, but you will be Israeli citizens with rights & obligations & implications for your children's status should they ever return. This is an area AACI has a lot of experience in.
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    Vol XXXII
    Q:My grandparents were Jewish, and my father is Jewish, but my mother (who left me as a young child) was Christian. I have been brought up as a Christian despite the only family I know being Jewish. Would I be eligible to make aliya even if I am a member of another faith?
    A:The Law of Return stipulates that a person who has at least 1 Jewish grandparent, or is married to a Jew, (or is a Jew themselves through conversion), is eligible to immigrate to Israel , provided that they themselves have not willingly changed religion - as you have not done so, you would be eligible for aliya.
    You can contact the Aliyah Dept in the UK - 020-8369-5220 for more information.
    Q: Back in 1999, I applied for aliya through the Whippany Shaliach office, and my aliya file was put on hold because at the time I was married to an Israeli and applied for an aliya while he was remaining in Israel living with his mother.
    We were separated at the time, and when I told my Shaliach I was planning to divorce a week later, he told me I had to wait for my divorce and get to have the aliya processed. I am now divorced and even have a get from the Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv.
    My question is why couldn't they process my aliya then anyway? Why was it refused (I proved my being born Jewish through my mother's ketubbah)? I recently read women who were married to an Israeli were able to get their aliya put through? I feel this was wrong.
    Anyway, my family doctor had written at the time that I had anxiety disorder (which was from my separation at the time) and they said that was another reason they didn't put my aliya through... They sent me to a social worker who then told them that he didn't think I was ready for such a move.
    Is this allowed to happen to a Jewish woman wanting to immigrate to Israel? What can I do now, and should I apply now again from the aliya office in NJ who once turned me down and told me I needed to wait for the divorce papers? (Which I currently have, plus the Israeli get.) Thank you.
    A: I don't like to speculate on why a person didn't receive aliya approval seven years ago, although the process of a separated (i.e. not yet divorced) person would certainly be complicated. In general however, a person is eligible to make aliya if they are Jewish and are not likely to be a hazard to other people (from a health / criminal perspective) so I don't see that there should be any barrier to your making aliya.
    Q: I lived in Israel for six years (1961-1967), after which I emigrated to Canada. I am planning to return to Israel for my retirement years. Is there any benefit to us in buying a house as returning citizens?
    A:You may be eligible for mortgage assistance, though Misrad Haklita will be the one to decide. It also depends on whether you own or owned a property in Israel, or whether you will be first time buyers.
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    Vol XXXI
    Q: I was pretty surprised to see a discussion about mortgage assistance to olim in your recent column. It was my understanding that olim are no longer entitled to any special assistance with their mortgage loans.
    Please correct me if I am mistaken. Thank you.
    A: Olim (within 10 years of aliya) are entitled to assistance. Assistance is in the form of increased points for the "Zekaut" mortgage. Amounts of assistance vary by family size and other considerations, and although since April 15, 2003, grants are only given in very specific circumstances, it's worth checking through the mortgage banks if you qualify.
    Q: In 1999, when I was 18-years-old, I made aliya. I got my teudat zeut and everything an oleh chadash is subjected to get, but not the passport. Due to a family problem I had to return to Brazil after six months and never more got back to Israel. I left Israel showing my Brazilian passport at the airport and did not tell anyone at Israeli Agency I was leaving. Now, I'm planning to go to Israel as a tourist and I am afraid that maybe I have problems with army and with the monetary help I received before (When I left I hadn't received a call from army yet). Will I have problems with the army or government?
    A:We advise that the matter be checked through the Israeli Embassy consulate before visiting (if you left prior to having a draft notice you probably were not in violation of any law. When you return however, it is possible the army will require you to serve your 3 years as you would have had to at your age of aliya (18). You need to check with the embassy though to make sure.)
    With regard to the financial assistance, it may depend on the type you received. Was any of it in the form of a loan, to be repaid within a certain amount of time? Speak to someone at JAFI (the Jewish Agency for Israel; aka the Sochnut) who could probably tell you what the rules were in 1999.
    Q: In the 80's I spent several months in Israel as a tourist, (never more than 6 continuously) but I don't remember the exact dates. If I want to make aliya, how can I find out for how long I can benefit from new oleh rights? Are all lengthy stays in Israel taken into account or only those from a certain date preceding aliya (for example.20 years)?
    A: If you haven't been here since the 80's and even then for only a few months, you should be eligible for all olim rights unless there are other extenuating circumstances (having an Israeli parent, being born in Israel etc, for example). In general, aliya rights are intact unless someone has been in Israel for a total of three years out of the seven preceding aliya, or 18 months out of the three years preceding aliya.
    Q: I am a high school student who plans on making aliya. Would it be more beneficial for me to go to an American university or an Israeli university? Will I get a better job in Israel if I graduate from an American college?
    A: There are many pros to getting your degree in Israel. Aside from the fact that tuition is free (a huge savings given how expensive US universities are) for olim who begin their BA studies before 27, and who go to a national university vs. a private university/program which is only partially subsidized; it is also wonderful way to integrate into Israeli society, learn the language, and make sure you are in touch with the employment trends and demands in the society.
    Two things to keep in mind: 1) a single woman who arrives in Israel before her 20th birthday needs to serve in the army unless she is granted an on the grounds of being religious. 2) to study in Hebrew you will need to have a level 3 (gimmel) Hebrew. Olim receive a free ulpan that may help you gain functional Hebrew, and you can take subsequent ones to reach the level of acceptance. There are A few degree programs in English, but the aren't fully subsidized, although they will still be significantly cheaper than an American university.
    As to employability, Israel's universities are topnotch and unless you are planning to go into a profession where an American degree is needed (i.e. if a firm is looking for an American-licensed lawyer), I imagine the Hebrew you gain in university and while living in Israel during your studies, will be more valuable in helping you obtain employment.
    Q: My husband and I are looking to make aliyah in 2007. We are both reform converts who are now studying with Chabad for an Orthodox conversion. Our greatest barriers to conversion would be a non-issue in Israel, so we would like to move prior to our Orthodox conversion. Though we are eligible through the law of return, how difficult would it be to finish up our Orthodox conversion in Israel? Is this something the Rabbinate does?
    A: I called the Rabbinate to verify if this can be done, and was told yes. Basically, Chabad (or whatever group a person has begun the process with in the US) must contact the Misrad Hadatatot Giur Office (Department of Religious Affairs Conversion Office) to refer the applicants and their file. In case you want more information, contact the Giur Office at 02-531-1176.
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    Vol XXX
    Q:: I read recently that the Jewish Agency in the States is requiring converts to submit an affidavit proving that they have been a member of a congregation here for at least a year before making aliya. This was after the Jewish Agency office in Houston, TX also told me this. But I understand that the Interior Ministry has given instructions to ignore the procedure, pending its cancellation. Will I be required to obtain an affidavit attesting to the fact that I have belonged to a congregation for at least a year in order to make aliya? My husband is Israeli and both of our children have Israeli citizenship.
    A: The Shlichim are asking you for this affidavit because they are being instructed to do so by the Ministry of Interior. What you can do, as I was told by Hava Schoffman at the Jewish Agency, is ask that the Shaliach submit a request that your file be processed without the year wait, and see if they make an allowance. You can refer the Shaliach to Hava if they have any questions.
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