A government proposal to create a new status in Israel for people who have Jewish roots or belong to “emerging” Jewish communities was welcomed by leaders of communities that could be affected.
“This would be a big step forward,” Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, spiritual leader of the Abayudaya community in Uganda, told Haaretz. Members of that African community, who converted to Judaism over a decade ago, have seen some difficulties getting visas to study in Israel.
“Many of our members … would be thrilled to spend more time in Israel, especially to study,” Rabbi Barbara Aiello, the spiritual leader of a small congregation of self-identifying Bnei Anusim in Italy told Haaretz. Bnei Anusim are descendants of Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity during the inquisition.
Another group which could potentially be effected is the community of Kaifeng Jews in China, who have recently experienced government pressures because of their faith. Barnaby Yeh, an American activist who has been involved in the community expressed some skepticism about the implication that Kaifeng Jews would be interested in moving to Israel at all.
“The vast majority of them are either unable or unwilling to leave the city, let alone the country,” he told Haaretz. “The desire to emigrate has been grossly exaggerated.”
Last month, Haaretz reported on details of the still unpublished report, which is a project of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. The committee drafted guidelines on how Israel should treat individuals with a connection to the Jewish people or Judaism — but who do not qualify as Jewish under Israeli law.
‘Emerging’ Jewish Groups Cheer Israeli Plan To Ease Visa Requirements
Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.