Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Seth Farber:Double life of converts

Jerusalem Post

Ilana has been living a double life in Israel. Though her first visit was as a Catholic, she ultimately decided to convert to Judaism, and following her conversion in Italy in 2006, she moved to Israel. Incredibly, despite the fact that the (Orthodox) Chief Rabbinate certifies her conversion, the civil organs of the State of Israel continue to deny her basic rights as a citizen.

Scandalously, Ilana lives without medical insurance, is unable to work, and has been waiting for more than two years for her case for citizenship to make it to the Supreme Court. In every other Jewish community in the world, Ilana is Jewish. Not here. This is because the Interior Ministry has taken it upon itself to review conversions that were performed worldwide in terms of its own bureaucratic criteria.

THE AUTHORS of this article have little in common. One is an Orthodox rabbi who directs ITIM, a nonprofit organization that helps Israelis and new immigrants navigate Israel's rabbinic bureaucracy. The other is a social historian and ordained Reform rabbi who directs AJC Jerusalem, the local office of the American Jewish Committee, which seeks to strengthen the Israel-Diaspora connection. What binds the two of us together is a passion for the Jewish people. Today, together, we are issuing a call to the Diaspora Jewish community to speak up on behalf of a vulnerable group among us - converts to the Jewish people.[...]


  1. "Ilana lives without medical insurance, is unable to work"

    Ilana converted in Italy, so I guess that means that she is a "Mizrachi" Jew.

    The unemployment rate among Mizrachim in many Israeli towns is 50-100% * and most Mizrahi families in Israel live in poverty.

    Medical care in these communities is almost non existent as well.

    Ilana is much better off than other Israeli Mizrahim in that she can always go to Italy to escape her poverty and obtain free first class medical care.

    Welcome to the "fold" Ilana. Hashem bless you as you cast your lot among the Jewish people.

    Sources and notes:

    *While the national unemployment rate is about nine percent, unemployment in the development towns is 50 to 100 percent higher.




  2. I'm confused. Are interior-ministry-sanctioned conversion standards identical to the standards now being promulgated by the Rabbanut in response to Rabbis Eisenstein and Tropper? I.E. would a convert under the RCA's new regional dayyanut system have to go through the mishegoss described in the Jpost article?

    If the interior ministry's standards are higher, then that is really bizarre and troubling and suggests that the citizenship bureau of the Misrad HaPnim has been taken over by zealots. But are they higher?

  3. JG says: *While the national unemployment rate is about nine percent, unemployment in the development towns is 50 to 100 percent higher.

    I know you're always eager to paint Israel in a bad light vis-a-vis the Mizrachim, but you better get your math right, JG. If the national unemployment average is 9%, and unemployment in development towns is 50% to 100% higher, that means that average unemployment in development towns is 13.5% to 18%. That's still pretty high, but nowhere near the horrific levels you claim.

    On top of this basic math error, your entire argument is built on multiple unwarranted assumptions.

    On a more basic level, answering every story of hardship among converts with "well, we Mizrachim have it worse!" is petty and immature.

  4. Jersey Girl said...

    "The unemployment rate among Mizrachim in many Israeli towns is 50-100% * and most Mizrahi families in Israel live in poverty."

    Being a Mizrachi in this country does not condemn one to a life of poverty in this country. Most of the country does not live in developement towns.

    Also the medical care as a whole in Israel is superior to American, Canadian and Italian care for that matter.

  5. I meant to type "in many Israeli towns, the unemployment rate among Mizrachim is 50-100%, not 50-100% higher. Sorry about that.

    I will try this again. I am not adding any commentary to the "" just statistics from the Israeli National Insurance Institute. (The second set of statistics is from a study published in Haaretz).

    "Every third child in Israel lives below the poverty line, according to the National Insurance Institute (NII).

    Over 400,000 families in Israel regularly do not have enough food to eat.

    28% of Israeli citizens, or 1,600,000 people are living in poverty. This includes 700,000 children.

    Ashkenazic Israelis on average earn 1.6 times more than Mizrachim.

    60% of Mizrachi families in Israel are living in poverty.

    80% of nutritionally insecure (hungry) families reported a deterioration in their situation in the last 22 years, as Israel economic conditions have deteriorated.

    24% of Israelis are forced to make choices between food and other expenses such as mortgage, rent, medicine, heating and electricity. About half choose to get along with less food."

    Unemployment in Israel is around 20%, for all Israelis. In the former development towns (where Mizrachim tend to live) it is as high as 50-100%.

    Medical care in Israel is fairly good, but the quality of the care varies greatly from community to community.

    " the mortality rate in cities in the center of the country as well as Jerusalem is 7 to 8 percent lower than the average national rate. (In other words for Ashk.).

    Although the number of doctors in Israel is similar to the rate in other industrial countries - 3.4 per 1,000 people - not all residents equally benefit from such prevalence. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (Ashk.) have more doctors than the national average - 4.2 and 3.9 per 1,000, respectively - while northern communities (Mizrachi) have only 2.3 doctors per 1,000 residents.

    Residents of the periphery (Mizrachi) also have access to fewer hospital beds and an inferior medical infrastructure compared to those in the country's center (Ashk), the report said. "


    I have worked very hard for the past 25 years to try to raise money to help alleviate the hunger and poverty of Jewish children in Israel.

    But here in the US, we cannot make a dent in the problem especially now.

    Currently 700,000 of our children go to sleep hungry on a regular basis and it frustrates and pains me greatly that we cannot seem to do anything to help their suffering.

    So, please explain to me why I should give a flying hoot about a woman who chooses of her own free will to come to Israel from Italy when Italy has nearly full employment and excellent universal medical care?

    She has chosen to throw her lot in with the Jewish people in Israel. Well right now a huge and distressing percentage of our people are hungry, impoverished and lacking in medical care.

    Anyone who wants to visit my family in Israel can go see Rabbi Rafael Ohanona in Haifa and see how our people are living and then let's talk about how "petty and immature" I am.

  6. "So, please explain to me why I should give a flying hoot about a woman who chooses of her own free will to come to Israel from Italy when Italy has nearly full employment and excellent universal medical care?"

    Of course you should give a "flying hoot" about her. I'd like to think that one should care about her as much as one would about the other 20% of Israelis who are also unemployed.

    If you want to argue that media focus on the plight of this woman and others in her position serves to take away public attention from hardships being experienced by other sectors of the Israeli population, then fine - I think you can make a very strong case for it. But I think you go way overboard once you start suggesting that we shouldn't care about people like her at all.

  7. Recipients and PublicityNovember 13, 2009 at 2:42 AM

    Seth Farber (of ITIM), Leib Tropper (of EJF) and Michael Freund (of Shavei Israel) are all American birds of one feather. All three have set up their own multi-million dollar supported organizations (ITIM, EJF, Shavei Israel) that have dedicated their lives and aims to seeking out people in trouble or stuck and in limbo getting Orthodox conversions then assisting and
    streamlining the conversion process for would-be converts whom they proselytize to, recruit or help in the Orthodox conversionary process above and beyond what any batei din that deal with conversions do.

    Since ITIM, EJF and Shavei Israel are not batei din they act in a sense as virtual para-halachic "supra batei din" (like paramedicas who get patients into hospitlas and to be seen by the doctors) that sheperd and sherpa the shaky nervous anxious converts-to-be to the central address of actual batei din, making the dayanim of the batei din part of a broader process that is mostly taking place outside of each bais din by ITIM, EJF and Shavei Israel, but which makes each bais din into a "bull's eye" formality that is targeted and manipulated (in EJF's case there are allegations of pay-offs from EJF as "stipends/grants" to some of its "affiliated" list of batei din even) to help do the "final official job of geirus" that ITIM, EJF, and Shavei Israel work on for their adopted/proselytized/recruited "clients".

    While EJF has access to several Charedi batei din, ITIM and Shavei Israel work with and even lobby the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's batei din to push for conversions for "clients" that they take on as "holy missions" to convert to Orthodox Judaism and thereby bring streams of people into the heart of the Torah and Orthodox world while mass conversions into Judaism have never been accepted as the "solution" to intermarriage and lack of Jewish "yichus" during any time in Jewish history.

  8. It's incredibly unfair to group these three organizations together. Neither ITIM nor Shavei are involved in the kind of mud-wrestling tactics EJF is involved in (e.g., power-mongering, bribery and below-the-belt defamation of opponents).

    Shavei is still problematic in that they actively seek out "lost Jews", but what's really unfair is your treatment of ITIM. From accounts I'm personally familiar with, the marriage process with the Rabbanut and etablishing Jewish status with the Interior Ministry has become a beurocratic nightmare. Dealing with an inner city Social Security office in the US sounds pleasant by comparison, and many perfectly legitimate converts (who have already completed the conversion process) and baalei teshuva are put on the racks for purely procedural reasons. AFAIK, most of the legit cases eventually make it through, but there's no good reason to make the process so fraught with difficulty and emotional trauma. Providing help in navigating this maze, as ITIM has been doing, is a good thing.

    Not everything that makes life easier for converts is a bad thing. The only reason you'd lump them together is if you suffer from the callous "who needs you" attitude towards newcomers to Judaism that's a very troubling feature of parts of the frum world.


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