UJC calls for Olmert's input on conversion

The Conversion Authority has been without a director since the Prime Minister's Office dismissed Rabbi Haim Druckman in May.

olmert thumbs-up 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert thumbs-up 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The heads of the umbrella organization of North American Jewry have called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to become "personally involved" in the conversion issue. "Few crises have so divided Israel from the North American Jewish community," Joe Kanfer and Howard Rieger, the chairman of the board and president, respectively, of the United Jewish Communities, wrote in a letter to Olmert dated Wednesday. "We are writing to you to express our deep concern regarding the untenable instability that has characterized the conversion system in Israel over the past few months." The Conversion Authority has been without a director since the Prime Minister's Office dismissed Rabbi Haim Druckman on May 22. The cabinet decided on June 15 to appoint a committee to hire a new director of the authority, but the committee does not yet exist. The letter "comes out of a sense that the issue is not moving forward," said UJC Senior Vice President Nachman Shai. The UJC heads asked the prime minister to "take an active role in the future of the Conversion Authority and move conversion in Israel to a high place on your agenda... We hope that greater and deeper involvement by you personally will make a marked and real difference in the view of immigrants seeking conversion and in guaranteeing the future of conversion in Israel." According to Riverdale, New York-raised Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, which helps Jews navigate through the marriage process in Israel, Olmert has hesitated to make a public statement encouraging conversion, such as Ariel Sharon did when he was prime minister. On Sunday, he said he hoped Olmert would "reconsider his silence and heighten his involvement in this critical issue." Despite the personal and political issues Olmert currently faced, he was responsible for the Jewish people as a whole, Farber said. "The chaos that characterizes the conversion system in Israel over the last few months is simply untenable," he said. "We have received more than 800 calls in the last couple of months from individuals who are either in the process of conversion or who have completed conversion, who are struggling to determine their status as Jews." Regarding the newly-established committee, Farber asked, "How we can ever expect them to hire a director if they can't even decide the membership of the committee?" Until the UJC letter, there had been no political incentive for the prime minister to take an active role in moving conversion forward, he said.