His father was Jewish. His adoptive family is Catholic. Can he make aliya?

Timothy Steger's request has Interior Ministry stumped.

aliyah guy 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
aliyah guy 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A US citizen of Jewish descent, who was adopted as a baby by a devout Catholic family with some anti-Semitic leanings, is posing a tough challenge to the Law of Return. Two years ago, Timothy Nicholas Steger, 37, discovered that his biological father, Robert J. Kates, was a Jew who had been a member of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, New York. But attempting to make aliya last August, Steger was turned down by the Interior Ministry, which deemed that the connection with his biological parents had been severed as a result of the adoption and that he was therefore not eligible for citizenship. Citing the Law of Return, which states anyone with at least one Jewish parent or grandparent is entitled to immigrate, Steger appealed the decision four months ago, and he has been waiting for an answer ever since. "It is a clear violation of the Law of Return," said Steger, a former native of Los Angeles who arrived in Israel last February and considers himself fully Jewish, of the ministry's decision to deny his application. "If what they are doing to me is just, then it must be the same for Holocaust survivors who were adopted by Catholic/Christian families during World War II. It must mean that they are also no longer Jewish because of the adoption." He also pointed out: "I had no choice in the matter. I was only a baby [when I got adopted]." An Interior Ministry spokeswoman, however, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that most Holocaust survivor children brought up by non-Jewish families during and following the war were not officially adopted. "The Law of Return does not make reference to this very complicated and rare issue," she acknowledged, after checking with the ministry's legal department and confirming that Steger's case highlighted a procedural loophole not addressed by the immigration law. "We have [Steger's] appeal and we are dealing with it as fast as we can. Our goal is to try to accommodate every person's desire to become a citizen." Steger said he would soon be out of money and even if his application was approved, he would have to leave the country for a short time to replenish his finances. "I am pretty close to being starved to death," he said, explaining that he could not work while waiting for the appeal to be resolved. "I have been deeply depressed for the last six weeks, but now I have finally faced the fact that even if my request is accepted I will still have to leave for awhile. I really believe that this bureaucracy is meant to keep you walking in circles in the hope that you will just give up and leave." Asked why, even with this headache, he still wants to become Israeli, Steger responded earnestly: "I have been researching [Israeli] history and I know what the pioneers went through to get here and build this country. Hearing their stories just makes me want to stay here and fight a little more - I truly feel a connection to this country and with these people." Steger's connection to Israel and the Jewish people is not a logical conclusion of his upbringing in a devout Catholic and often openly bigoted family. "Half of my family had overt neo-Nazi leanings and my [adoptive] parents never told me that I had a Jewish father, even though they must have known," said Steger; his adoptive sister was an outright neo-Nazi. Steger became an active member of the anti-neo-Nazi movement in Los Angeles during the late 1980s and the 1990s. "I can't explain why I chose that path, but inside I always hated any form of racism," said Steger, who organized concerts to combat the growing skinhead movement and worked closely with the Anti-Defamation League during that time. Back then, Steger started dating a Jewish woman and the relationship became serious. It was through that relationship that he began learning about Judaism and Israel, making his first trip to Israel in 2000. "It always felt like home for me here," said Steger. Although he has yet to establish contact with his father, Steger did appeal to his father's former rabbi, Harry S. Rosenfeld, who vouched for Steger's Jewish paternal lineage. "I am Jewish," said Steger, who has had little contact with his adoptive family since coming here. "And this [bureaucractic battle] is the greatest tragedy that could befall a Jew. I am being rejected from the land that is promised to me as a sanctuary from those who would persecute me."