I had a discussion last week with a former Pardes student named Jessica who works with an agency here that helps converts obtain citizenship and equal religious rights in Israel. I had been referred to her in order to gain a better understanding of what my rights are as far as being a recognized Jew, and it looks like I'm in for one hell of an uphill battle. During the conversation she told me that she "converted from Judaism, to Judaism, to Judaism." What she meant is that she grew up Jewish, but because her mother had converted to Reform Judaism, she herself was not considered Jewish by Orthodox standards. As some of you (all two of my readers) may know, Jewish custom rather arbitrarily holds that in order for a person to be "naturally" Jewish, the mother has to be Jewish--the Jewish status of the father is irrelevant. This particular young lady converted to Orthodox in the U.S. after she started to become more observant in college and thought she might like to make aliyah...and then had another Orthodox conversion in Israel. The Orthodox here, as I've been consistently bitching about in this barely read blog so far, of course only consider Orthodox conversions legitimate, but that's not all--as far as American Orthodox conversions go, only a handful of American rabbis live up to the Israeli Orthodox standards, and therefore, only a handful of American Orthodox rabbis are perceived as legitimate enough to perform conversions that will give you the status of "Jewish" with all the trimmings: the ability to officially marry a Jew in Israel, your children considered legally Jewish, and when you die, being laid to rest in a Jewish cemetery. So for Jessica, she had to go through two of the strictest brands of Jewish conversion before she obtained full recognition, and had she been raised Jewish to begin with. The Rabbinute here are apparently some of the most paranoid people to walk the earth. It's one thing to be thorough. It's another thing to wash your underwear three times before you wear them again, just to make absolutely sure. That's what obsessive compulsive people do.
The more I think about this, research it and discuss it with people who have dealt with Orthodox conversion through the Rabbinute, the more I turn from being understanding of why they want to be careful about conversions and granting automatic right of return citizenship us, to being completely and utterly frustrated with what seems to boil down to an antiquated, out of touch, ultra-Orthodox entity with little connection to or understanding of the real issues that Jews face today regarding our identity, and turning Judaism into an elite club. It cheapens Judaism and they don't have any idea what converts go through to step into our Jewish skin, or what kind of trauma they are asking us to inflict upon ourselves by denying the validity of our conversions in favor of an insanely strict version of one, one which, ironically, many converts only adopt during the conversion process in order to jump through the hoops, and then drop as soon as it's over. After all, we too are in control of our own Jewish destiny and levels of observance. They aren't making people more frum. They are making people angry. They aren't asking people to truthfully take the mitzvot upon themselves. They are asking people to lie about who they are and what they think Judaism is.
Another issue however threatens my Right of Return status. In order to make aliyah, a convert is expected to stay in their Jewish communities where they converted for at least ten months. The idea is to keep foreign workers, refugees or otherwise insincere people from converting only to get themselves free citizenship in another country. This bureaucratic nightmare awaiting me is also understandable to an extent; Israel does not want to hand out free citizenship to everyone like it's candy anymore than the Rabbinute wants to become a conversion factory that doesn't take a potential convert's sincerity seriously enough. And in both cases, it can take ages and ages to get your case looked at as a unique one; no, I'm not a Thai sex trafficker. I sincerely believe my home is here, and my dedication to Judaism and Israel is strong and it won't be going anywhere very soon.
I've had several peers attempt to comfort me by reminding me that I can be just as Jewish in the U.S. as I can in Israel, but that's not the point. That's not enough. When you convert you join the Jewish people. Not the American Jewish people, but the Jewish people as a whole. As a nation. As Am Israel. This place is supposed to be my home with its doors always open to me, just like every Jew in the world. Saying I can be Jewish in the U.S. and that my legal status in the only Jewish country on the face of the earth is not so important, is like saying, "Sure, you can vote in the election. But we won't put vote towards the final tally, okay?" or, "Sure, you can join our baseball team! You're just not allowed to go onto the field. Is that cool with you?"
Besides, while I'm not making any definite decisions right now, I WANT to live in Israel. I DON'T WANT to go back to the States. I think of the mere two months I have left here and it makes me incredibly depressed. Like I'm counting down the days until my best friend will move away from me, and who knows when we'll meet again. Like I'm about to walk away from someone I'm madly in love with to go back to an ex that I'd rather not see.
Don't get me wrong...I'm not trying to rag on America. That's not the point. I do love my country, and there are things that I miss about it sometimes. In my heart of hearts, I'll always be an American, and I'll be keeping my citizenship anyway. But I have been looking for a place to settle for a long time, a place to call home. Yes, there's home back in Medford with my family, but being Jewish complicates it considerably. There are barely any Jews there, and hardly what I'd call a thriving Jewish community. Going back to Portland is like taking a giant step backwards. Right now, I have little tying me to the U.S.--no job, no significant other, no school, no really tight social group. So this would be the best time in my life to make aliyah. I can always decide to come back if it doesn't work out. I know it sounds insane probably to a lot of people who believe that we are teetering on the brink of war with Iran, but what can I say? Israel has issues, but I love her. I don't want to walk away from he when the going gets tough. I want to be with her.
Well, I am nothing if not persistent. I bitch and whine a lot. I'm neurotic and obnoxiously pessimistic. I expect the worse, and take every setback as evidence of my failures. I kick myself constantly, and I'm angry at myself more often than any healthy person should be. But I still don't give up if I want something badly enough. If it means something to me, then it means everything, and I don't stop until I get it. If I can survive my own negative, bullshit attitude and come as far as I have over the years and still find myself reaching my goal, then I can survive the Rabbinute. I may go home crying and whining, but I'll keep coming back until they are so annoyed, they'll have to take notice of me and say, "Okay, fine! You're Jewish, now go away!" But since I'll also be taking on the Israeli government to make sure I can obtain aliyah status in the first place, I'll have to be doubly obnoxious. It'll be like trying to slay a two headed dragon. Let's hope I don't become incinerated in the process.
About the Person Manipulating the Mouse and Keyboard
- Ma'ayan Dyer
- Jerusalem, Israel
- I write about being Jewish, but not being born Jewish, living in the Jewish homeland, longing for living in the Jewish homeland when I'm not living there, Jewish holidays, customs, ideas, thoughts, and the occasional thing that has nothing to do with anything Jewish. But mostly, this blog is very Jewish.