Jewish-American basketball player fights for his right to make Aliyah

Jared Armstrong launched a campaign, trying to make his point that he should be allowed to become an Israeli citizen.

Jewish-American basketball player Jared Armstrong (photo credit: JARED ARMSTRONG)
Jewish-American basketball player Jared Armstrong
(photo credit: JARED ARMSTRONG)

He grew up as an observant Jewish African-American boy in Philadelphia. He played basketball professionally, and after visiting Israel on Taglit-Birthright Israel, he decided to make aliyah – immigrate to Israel and make it his home.

Yet Jared Armstrong had no idea that he was in for a roller-coaster of bureaucracy from the Israeli government. It decided that even though he went through a Conservative conversion, he was not eligible to make aliyah.

Recently, Armstrong has launched a campaign, trying to make his point that he should be allowed to become an Israeli citizen.

“I was born a Jew” Armstrong, 24, told The Jerusalem Post. “I was raised in Severn, Maryland, until the age of 10. My parents got a divorce, and we moved to Philadelphia.”

He explained, “I grew up an observant Jew. We kept Shabbat and the High Holy Days. I was not allowed to play sports on Saturday, instead you would find me in shul.”

 Illustrative photo of a pickup basketball game (credit: Steven Abraham) Illustrative photo of a pickup basketball game (credit: Steven Abraham)

Armstrong earned a scholarship to Slippery Rock University and graduated with a degree in fitness management.

“I started a training business called ‘Who Would’ve Thought,’ where I mentor young athletes and help achieve their dreams and aspirations.”

Armstrong’s father is not Jewish, yet his mother went through a conversion by Congregation Temple Beth El, which is not acknowledged by any of the Jewish streams in the US, and therefore was not acknowledged by the Jewish Agency.

In June 2020, Armstrong started his aliyah process “when I lived in Philadelphia.” He now resides in Tel Aviv – unfortunately for him, as a tourist.

“I applied for aliyah abroad through the Jewish Agency and learned that my family was not considered Jewish in their eyes. So I did a full conservative conversion that met the criteria on the Jewish Agency website.

“Two days before my date at the Misrad Hapnim [Interior Ministry] to receive Tuedat Oleh [immigration certificate], the Jewish Agency didn’t want to approve my conversion, due to Zoom during the pandemic. This was not mentioned anywhere on the Jewish Agency website. I took their advice, and I converted to take away any doubt and satisfy the standards and written requirements.

“Since I came to Israel on Birthright, and was already in Israel, it was transferred to the Ministry of Interior, who did not recognize me as Jewish, but they repeatedly stated that my conversion was not ‘sincere’ when I was already coming from a Jewish heritage. I was accused of only wanting to move to Israel for the job opportunity, to play basketball for Hapoel Haifa. Also, accused of being a black Hebrew Israelite.”

Armstrong says, “I’m still in Israel to fight for my right to become a citizen.”

His conversion process was handled by Rabbi Michael Beals, of Beth Shalom in Wilmington, Delaware, a synagogue affiliated with the Conservative movement. Beals is considered as “Joe Biden’s rabbi” and has been interviewed many times in the American media.

“Beals is my rav, and has been my rabbi for two years. I met Rabbi Beals through the connection of my mother’s sister, who has been a member of Congregation Beth Shalom for over a decade. Since I moved to Israel, we talk on a weekly basis.”

Armstrong recently launched a campaign online, assisted by Hallel Silverman, a social media influencer.

“How would you feel if you were raised Jewish but the Ministry of Interior said you weren’t? That’s me currently. I’m here to make aliyah. I need your assistance and noise to help me become an Israeli citizen.”