Jewish Enough for Birthright — But Not for Israel

Kafkaesque Dilemmas Bedevil Would-Be Immigrants

TAGLIT-BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL

By Judy Maltz

Published January 23, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(Haaretz) — They grew up believing they were Jewish. They signed up for programs in Israel hoping to strengthen their Jewish identity. They came, saw, fell in love and decided to stay.

And then, just when they were about to accept their first job offer, they hit a wall. You want a work permit? Prove you’re Jewish – they were told by the Israeli authorities.

Variations of this story are increasingly being heard among graduates of Birthright, study-abroad and post-college internship programs in Israel. Scores of young adults whose Jewish identity had never been questioned are suddenly being asked to prove their religious lineage when they request a change in their visa status.

For those born to two Jewish parents who were longtime members of recognized congregations and have a rabbi who can easily vouch for them, it’s usually a painless process. But for those whose families were never affiliated with a congregation, whose parents or grandparents may have lost their Jewish marriage certificates, who are the products of mixed marriages or have a parent who converted, providing this evidence can be a daunting task. It could be nightmarish enough to have them pack their bags and leave.

Ironically, it seems the new policy responsible for making these young Diaspora Jews feel less welcome was prompted by a desire to facilitate their integration. In mid-2012, the Interior Ministry published new rules designed to expedite the process of awarding and extending work and student visas for Jews. These rules waived any fees required in the past and extended the duration of the permits for much longer periods.

The catch was that to be eligible, applicants had to prove they were Jewish, according to the definition provided in the Law of Return. That is, they had to be the child, grandchild or spouse of a Jew, or a Jew by choice converted outside Israel.

As evidence of Jewish lineage, the ministry requires a letter from a rabbi serving as the acting leader of a congregation, and in the case of converts, all the relevant paperwork documenting the conversion. Its decisions are contingent on the recommendations of the Jewish Agency, which reviews all these documents to determine if the applicants fit the definition of a Jew by Israeli law.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.