'I am ready to force Israel to fulfill my right to live here'

US-born son of Jewish man adopted by anti-Semitic Catholics may return to High Court for citizenship.

Timothy Nicholas Steger 88 (photo credit: )
Timothy Nicholas Steger 88
(photo credit: )
After more than two years of struggling through Interior Ministry bureaucracy, a US-born son of a Jewish father who was adopted as an infant by a devout Catholic family with anti-Semitic beliefs is contemplating petitioning the High Court of Justice in a final bid to become an Israeli citizen, The Jerusalem Post heard Wednesday. Timothy Nicholas Steger, 37, was turned down for aliya in August 2007 when the Interior Ministry deemed that the connection with his biological parents had been severed the moment he was adopted. However, using the Law of Return, which states anyone with at least one Jewish parent or grandparent is entitled to immigrate to Israel, as his shield, Steger appealed the decision within the ministry and has been waiting for an answer ever since. Just over a year ago, following a story about his plight in the Post, the Interior Ministry granted the Los Angeles native a temporary resident visa until his case could be decided. However, that visa expired two months ago and Steger is still waiting for an answer from the ministry. "I've seen three new interior ministers come and go," a disappointed Steger told the Post on Wednesday. "But there is still no answer on my case." "A right delayed is a right denied," continued Steger, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. "I'm trying to make a new life for myself and so far, I'm being blocked at every turn." Steger says he has spent more than $80,000 on immigration lawyer's fees trying to exercise his right to make aliya and even though he is working part-time as an actor, he is struggling to make ends meet. "I'm ready to take this matter to the Supreme Court and force them to fulfill my right to live here," he said. "But I am already $30,000 in debt in the US and it is a very costly process." Advocate Amit Acco, a partner at Ramat Gan-based Kan-Tor & Acco, which specializes in immigration matters and visas to Israel, said Steger's case was unique and that the Interior Ministry has a hard time "thinking outside the box." "They are not willing to investigate this man's Jewish roots and obviously they are not convinced of his connection," said Acco, who is considering picking up Steger's cause pro bono. "However, the reasoning that his Jewish connection was severed when he was adopted is irrelevant because this person is not Jewish according to Jewish law in any case." Under the Law of Return, however, Steger should have the right to remain permanently in Israel, Acco said, adding cautiously that it was all down to finding enough satisfactory proof of Jewish connection. However, Steger, whose connection to Israel and the Jewish people is not a logical conclusion of his upbringing in a staunchly Catholic and often openly bigoted family, said he had been able to trace his Jewish lineage through his biological father, Robert J. Kates, a New York-state Jew and a former member of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo. His father's former rabbi, Harry S. Rosenfeld, has even vouched for Steger's Jewish roots. "It is a clear violation of the Law of Return," said Steger, whose biological mother is not Jewish and who has not managed to reconnect with Kates. "I had no choice in the matter. I was only a baby [when I was adopted]." A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said it was unlikely that he would be approved for citizenship under the Law of Return, but that his application for temporary residency would likely be accepted in the near future. "We are dealing with his request and it is likely that if he has been eligible in the past for temporary residency then he will be able to receive that status again," she said.