Ministry campaign helps boost number of conversions

Since the campaign began, conversions have increased by more than 50%.

conversion class 248.88 (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
conversion class 248.88
(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
Although Kira was raised Jewish, practiced Judaism in her native Russia, and immigrated to Israel, she has never felt like a Jew in her own land. "In Russia I thought of myself as Jewish because my father was Jewish and that is how we were brought up," said Kira, who asked not to give her last name. "But my mother was not Jewish and it was so hard to learn, when I was immigrating here, that according to Israel's religious law I'm not Jewish." When she first arrived, she inquired into her conversion options at several rabbinical institutions, but the answers she received were vague and confusing. She decided to drop the issue until one day, five years later, she read her weekly Russian newspaper and saw an advertisement for conversions. "It gave me a phone number to call, a person to speak to, to get direct information," Kira said. "It was all of a sudden made easy and accessible for me." That advertisement was part of a year-long campaign started by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption to educate Russian citizens on the possibilities of conversion. The campaign included advertisements in Russian media, as well as on-the-ground information booths that could educate members of the Russian community on their conversion options. One year after it began the campaign, the ministry released a study Thursday examining the effects of its work on the 300,000 Russians living in Israel who are not considered Jewish by Halacha. In 2003 and 2004, the number of conversions in the Russian community had averaged 900 per year, said the study. Since the campaign began, however, the study found that there had been 2,334 conversions from the Russian community, more than a 50 percent increase. "I am happy to see that the results of our campaign have been positive," said Mirla Gal, general director at the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. She added, however, that they would like to see the number of conversions continue to grow. For Kira, seeing the advertisement and having an office that could direct and assist in her in the conversion process was all the prompting she needed. "To be honest, it is not like it is something that comes up. There is a don't-ask, don't-tell policy," Kira said. "But when it comes to other things in life, to get married to have a bar mitzva, it matters. When it comes to everything that is happy or sad it mattered." After she saw the advertisement, Kira began taking classes at a Petah Tikva school. In five months, she will complete the course requirements and undergo an official conversion. "I love my classes and I can tell that my teachers really love what they do," said Kira. "I never learned the bible or Jewish history before, and it is very interesting for me."