A convert's will to become a citizen

Interior Ministry keeps converts waiting, "scoffs at" Supreme Court ruling.

conversion class 248.88 (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
conversion class 248.88
(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
"Sarah" has had a bad earache for the past six weeks or so. She would go to see a doctor but, unlike other newcomers, she hasn't yet received health insurance from the Israeli government - or a job permit, or free ulpan, or any of the other benefits she would have were she a new olah. "It's not a good situation," she said. "I have nothing." Sarah is one of dozens of converts who have been left in limbo despite a Supreme Court ruling in March, 2005 cancelling an Interior Ministry requirement that foreigners wait a year after their conversion before making aliya. Jewish Agency officials accuse the ministry of disobeying the ruling and continuing to keep converts waiting for months, as reported in Friday's Jerusalem Post. Sarah has been sanctioned by the Orthodox Rabbinate as a Jew since February. Impatient to live in Israel, she moved to Tel Aviv in March. "It was my decision because it was impossible for me to wait more time in Italy or France," she said. "For me it was one day being out of Israel. It was one day out of my life." Though she indicated nothing would dim her enthusiasm for the Jewish state, she said the way the Interior Ministry had delayed approving her immigration for more than four months meant that "for Israel, I'm not really Jewish." "It's not a very good sensation that you have to wait to become a real Jew," she continued, especially, the 33-year-old French-born woman added, since she decided to move to Israel 10 years ago and has been studying Judaism and attending synagogue ever since. "I can't explain, I felt Jewish," she said of her identification with Israel. "When I'm here I feel at home." Sarah's religious inclination shaped her intellectual interests, leading her to complete a doctorate on pre-Renaissance Jewry in Florence, Italy. As soon as she completed her conversion in Rome, she went to the Jewish Agency there to make aliya and was given the "depressing" answer that she would have to wait a year. She later received a call from a Jewish Agency official indicating she might not have to wait so long, but after two months and no progress, she decided to move to Israel anyway. She is due to return to the Interior Ministry for the third time two weeks from now, not knowing whether the one-year moratorium applies or whether her application will be accepted. According to the last letter relating to her case received by ITIM, a non-profit organization helping her try to make aliya, the Interior Ministry said her case is "being reviewed." Orthodox Rabbi Shaul Farber, the founder of ITIM, expressed frustration at the delays Sarah and others like her have experienced. "These are legitimate olim," he said. "The Supreme Court said they can come, and the Interior Ministry just slams the door in their face." He called it "absurd." The Interior Ministry, he charged, is "simply scoffing at the decision of the Supreme Court." The Interior Ministry rejected the allegation, saying that it had spent the past 14 months working on a new protocol in coordination with the state attorney which will allow the Jewish Agency to immediately allow foreign converts to make aliya. That process - which born Jews and converts who have spent one year waiting in their communities currently undergo - would take a matter of weeks rather than several months. A Ministry spokeswoman said the drafting process had been delayed by the change in government but that it would be completed "in the near future." Still, Sarah described the Interior Ministry clerks as "friendly" and added, "In the Interior Ministry in France and Italy I saw much worse situations." Anyway, she said, she didn't become Jewish or move to Israel because she thought it would be easy. For one thing, she expects to eventually teach languages to high schoolers here, despite having university positions awaiting her in France. "It's more important to me to live in Israel, even if I have to suffer more," she said.