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Sunday 23 September 2007

Update - Yom Kippur

Dear Members,

After a short break we are back with more interesting insights into
contemporary Israeli Society and issues that are relevant to us as
Progressive Zionists.

The first article describes New Citizenship Rules proposed by the
Israeli Ministry of Interior, that will affect those people that have
converted from abroad. The second article, 'open door to converts', on
the same topic as the first, raises some interesting points about the
nature of conversion in Judaism, and how it relates to Israeli
immigration policy.

We also have a letter from our friends from the Galilee community of
Kishorit, reflecting back on the year they have had and looking towards
the future with optimism.

Finally, we would like to wish you all well over the fast.

Gemar Chatimah Tovah,

Charlie Gluckman and all at Pro Zion

Open door to converts

Open door to converts

As a country beset by unique demographic circumstances, Israel is even
more vulnerable to illegal migrants than the increasingly beleaguered
states of Western Europe.
Yet thwarting inundation by foreigners is hardly compatible with making
it more difficult for converts to settle here. Hindering the aliya of
those who have consciously chosen Judaism and life within the Jewish
collective is fundamentally antithetical to the goal of averting the
loss of a Jewish majority in the Jewish homeland.
Nonetheless, unimaginably, this is just the obstructionist route the
Interior Ministry now proposes, according to a draft overhaul of
citizenship criteria geared toward making it considerably harder for
converts to qualify for immigrant status under the Law of Return.
This is unrelated to the unabated controversy over the different brands
of conversion. The inexplicable bureaucratic hardheartedness appears
nondiscriminatory. Orthodox converts are just as likely to be targeted
as are Reform or Conservative converts.
The focus seems to be on overseas conversions. Under the draft
requirements, converts must prove that they resided in the Jewish
community abroad where their conversion took place for at least three
months prior to immigrating, spent a minimum of nine months in a
preparatory conversion course and joined Jewish community activities for
nine months post-conversion. There must be no history of applying for
Israeli citizenship pre-conversion, of illegal residency here, of
re-applying for citizenship directly post-conversion or of seeking to
bring non-converted relatives to Israel.
The purpose is legitimate - to prevent the exploitation of bogus
conversion processes for obtaining Israeli citizenship. The problem is
not to be lightly dismissed. Incredible as it may seem to some Israelis,
this country has become a magnet for outsiders, who consider it a
promising prospect for improving their living standards. Having been
firmly placed on the economic migrants' map of the world's more
desirable, prosperity-generating destinations, Israel does draw many
from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America who are as mercenary
as those crossing over into Western Europe.
One need only witness the nightly border incursions from Egypt by a
varied assortment of Africans, including both desperate refugees from
Darfur and those falsely claiming refugee status.
Nevertheless, the way to tackle this trespassing is hardly by pushing
away new Jews. By the proposed new yardsticks, Ruth the Moabite would
have had trouble winning official recognition of her Jewishness.
The plain fact of the matter is that Jews don't behave as any other
group struggling for survival would. While in ancient Israel the Jewish
people actively sought and welcomed converts - and grew substantially as
a result - during two millennia of exile Jews were forced to abandon
pro-conversionary attitudes and, eventually, actually appeared to
discourage conversions. In recent centuries, ever stricter
interpretations of the law took hold, in part to weed out the serious
and dedicated would-be converts from those acting on a whim or with
ulterior motives.
Israeli officialdom can hardly appoint itself as the ultimate judge of
any convert's sincerity or lack thereof. It makes no sense to alienate a
significant Diaspora contingent or to alienate family members of Jewish
immigrants already here and wishing to live as Jews. Israel will hardly
benefit if the offspring of these families are shunted aside. Such
actions are not only morally offensive, but also counterproductive by
any practical measure.
If any reform is necessary vis-a-vis conversions, it is of the
establishment's attitude, which must be modified in tune with the
evolving needs of the Jewish people, here and now. Anti-conversionary
attitudes are anachronistic and harmful.
If anything, the government of Israel should be leading by example with
policies regarding conversion that recall attitudes prevalent in the
ancient Jewish commonwealths. Such approaches are arguably more
authentically Jewish than those that emerged during centuries of exile.
By allowing common sense to prevail, Israel would be doing itself a
significant favor.

New citizenship rules hard on converts

New citizenship rules hard on converts

The Interior Ministry has prepared a preliminary draft of citizenship
criteria that would disqualify some converts to Judaism - Orthodox,
Conservative and Reform - from automatically qualifying under the Law of
The draft was distributed on Monday night to collect feedback from
organizations such as the Jewish Agency, the Reform Movement and the
Human Rights Association, which work with converts. The document was
obtained by The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
According to the proposed rules, the ministry would not automatically
grant citizenship to converts whose conversions took place abroad,
whether in Orthodox, Conservative or Reform ceremonies.
Rather, the convert would be asked to fulfill requirements that include:
a minimum of nine months in a preparatory course in Judaism; proof of
participation in the activities of a Jewish community abroad for at
least nine months after conversion; and residing in the Jewish community
that performs the conversion for at least three months prior to conversion.
In addition, converts who converted abroad and apply for Israeli
citizenship would face rejection for a number of reasons: The convert
applied previously, before conversion, for Israeli citizenship and was
rejected; the convert stayed in Israel illegally for a period of at
least six months; the convert has relatives in Israel [who he or she
wishes to join]; and the convert applied for citizenship immediately
after converting and family members, who did not convert, want to come too.
"The purpose of these criteria," write the Interior Ministry legal
advisers who authored the draft, "is to prevent exploitation of the
conversion process to obtain Israeli citizenship. The person requesting
citizenship must prove an honest, serious intention to join the Jewish
people and to accept the Jewish religion. He or she must prove the
conversion is not just for the purpose of receiving citizenship."
Orthodox Rabbi Shaul Farber, head of ITIM, an organization that helps
people navigate Israel's religious affairs bureaucracy, said that the
draft proposal went against the basic tenets of Jewish tradition.
"Judaism has always demanded special sensitivity to the vulnerabilities
of converts," said Farber. "These draconian measures written in the
draft seems to point to xenophobia and intransigence among Interior
Ministry officials."
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a senior member of Israel Religious Action Center,
the Reform Movement's legal arm, said there were two main problems with
the draft.
"First, the Interior Ministry has no right to be involved in determining
the length of time it is necessary to prepare for a conversion. There is
nothing in the law, neither Jewish nor civil, stating a minimum period
of time.
"Second, it is unfair to disqualify a convert from citizenship simply
because a previous request for citizenship was rejected or because he or
she has relatives in Israel.
"But we are still looking over the suggestions. And we also understand
the Interior Ministry's interest in protecting Israel's borders from
unwanted immigration."
Israeli citizenship, unlike the citizenship of other Western countries,
is intimately linked with religion. Under the Law of Return, only those
who are Jews according to Orthodox criteria, or those who are related to
a Jew (spouse, child, grandchild) are eligible for citizenship.
In addition, individuals who have converted to Judaism outside Israel -
whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reform - are also eligible for Israeli
citizenship under the Law of Return.
As a result of this link between religion and citizenship, ostensibly
secular institutions such as the Interior Ministry end up interfering in
issues that are inherently religious, such as conversion.
However, the ministry's jurisdiction in religious matters has been
limited by the Supreme Court. On March 31, 2005, the High Court of
Justice struck down a ministry regulation according to which foreign
converts had to live in the community where they converted for at least
a year before making aliya.
This ruling was based on the reasoning that the ministry had no right to
set criteria defining a religious act such as conversion. Nevertheless,
the Interior Ministry's legal department once again seems to be trying
to determine what constitutes a legitimate, authentic conversion.
In fact, Israel's official authority on conversions - Chief Sephardic
Rabbi Shlomo Amar - was not even consulted before the criteria were
drafted, according to Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, an aide to Amar who is the
senior authority on recognizing conversions for the purpose of marriage.
For more than two years, since the High Court ruling, the Interior
Ministry has been trying to put together citizenship criteria for
converts. Without clear rules, dozens of converts have been forced to
wait for many months to immigrate. Those who arrive in Israel remain
without rights and benefits.
Every year about three dozen converts who converted abroad request to
make aliya, according to Jewish Agency sources who spoke with the Post
last year.
In the past, the Post has reported that the Interior Ministry continued
to demand that people who converted abroad and ask to make aliya live in
the community where they converted for at least a year before making
aliya, in total disregard of the High Court decision.

Kishorit News

September 2007
January, the first month of the year, is named after the Roman god
Janus. He is depicted as a two headed god, one head looking backwards to
the year that has passed, and the other looking forward to the year that
is about to begin. The Jewish New Year, beginning this month, has a
different philosophical outlook. On Rosh HaSahana, the beginning of the
year, people are meant to look back. Account for the deeds and events of
the year gone by, and take responsibility for them. It is a time for
contemplation, a time when the gates of heaven are open to receive
repentance. This heavenly window of opportunity ends 10 days after Rosh
HaShahana, on the Day of Atonement. When the Shofar sounds at the end of
the day we are ready to start afresh, with a clean slate and a clear
Dear Member,
This past year in Galilee was a year of recovery. The war with Lebanon
brought to the surface hidden fears that resulted in an eruption of a
range of unforeseen behavioral manifestations that undermined the
capacity of our members to lead an orderly community life, so carefully
cultivated by Kishorit's staff and upheld by the community. Psychoses
and violent conduct became more apparent on a daily basis, and required
immediate and ongoing professional intervention. The main goal set out
this year, in the wake of the war, was to reinstate community life, and
reorganize the stability of a regular routine. Each of our members was
provided with counseling and guidance aimed at restoring a sense of
"normality", a key to reconstructing the badly shattered composure and
calm of the community.
Our vocational centers also suffered. Pastel Toys had to shut down
because it lacked a bomb shelter. As a result, Pastel Toys has suffered
a shattering decline in the volume of orders. To ensure its ongoing
operation (it is a work venue for 30 of our members), our marketing
efforts must be increased to make up for lost orders.
We call upon any of you with the ability to lend a hand – to connect us
with potential buyers for Pastel Toys products.
One of the lessons learnt during the war is that time-tables, plans and
budget do not always coincide with the reality of living in Israel. With
no time to spare, we have already started building a "state of the art"
bomb shelter, big enough to provide ample and comfortable protection for
all the members of Kishorit, should the need arise again.
The New Year at Kishorit marks a fresh and "green" beginning. In July,
in tune with our Galilean agricultural tradition, our members helped
plant a vineyard that will be added to the range of vocational
employment centers at Kishorit. We are pleased to report that the young
vines are developing beautifully. Our community can now boast ownership
of a soon to become productive vineyard. From its grapes boutique wines
will be produced in Kishorit's future winery.
Kishorit faces the coming 10 years with optimism gained through the
experience of our first decade. Combined with our growing expertise, our
unique home for people with special needs will continue to expand and
flourish. We know that the going gets
rough at times and requires implementation of measures designed to
protect the physical and mental wellbeing of our members, in times of
peace as well as in days of war.
Having survived over four weeks of daily rocket attacks on the Galilee,
and coped successfully with the aftershock, we know today that the
fabric of our community is strong, and will be able to withstand the
many challenges that it will need to face in the future.
Wishing you and yours, and all of us - a Peaceful New Year
Shannah Tovah
With Love,

Saturday 8 September 2007

Weekly Update - Shana Tova!

Dear All,

Please find attached three articles for your interest this week. The
first is on the theme of marriages in Israel, specifically the law
regarding consular marriages. The second article reports on a new Bat
Mitzvah centre that has been set up at Rachel's tomb. The founders of
this centre hope that this will encourage more girls to be Bat Mitzvah
and that the tomb will hold the same status for girls as the Kottel
holds for young boys that are Bar Mitzvah at the Wall. Finally, we have
an article that explains that after years of rising steadily, Israel's
poverty rate has finally began to drop.

We would also like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a Shana
Tova. We hope that the coming year is a sweet and happy one.

We also wanted to notify you that we will not be sending an update next
week; however we aim to send out the next one before Yom Kippur, and
look forward to being in touch again at that time.

Shabbat Shalom,

Charlie Gluckman and all at Pro Zion

Israel Poverty Report '06

Poverty Report '06
By Nehamia Shtrasler

After years of rising steadily, Israel's poverty rate finally dropped.
True, poverty has not been eradicated, but it's still a change in
direction: from increase to decrease - and that's good news. The rate of
families living beneath the poverty line went down from 20.6 percent in
2005 to 20 percent in 2006, and there are many reasons for this.

First of all, the substantial decline in poverty among the elderly is
due to the rise in old-age stipends. Secondly, the rise in child
stipends for families with three children. Third, lower income tax
rates, and fourth: the economic growth that brought higher wages and

The poverty report indicates a drop in the absolute number of poor
families, from 411,000 families in 2005 to 404,000 in 2006. You might
expect a corresponding drop in the number of poor individuals and the
number of poor children, but their numbers have actually grown. The
mystery is solved by the explanation that the poor populace has fewer
elderly families and more families with numerous children.

For decades, from the 1970s to 2003, the Israeli government tried to
combat poverty by raising stipends. Year after year the child allowances
and income supplements were raised - but not only did poverty not abate,
it actually grew worse. A "poverty trap" had been laid; a situation in
which it did not pay to go to work.

The government changed course in 2003. It cut stipends, slashed the
budget and lowered taxes to encourage people to find employment. It also
carried out reforms and privatizations. We saw the result in an annual
growth rate of 5 percent for the fourth year running, lower
unemployment, higher wages and the entry of 372,000 people into the

But growth brings more than new jobs. It also increases the government's
tax revenue, thereby enabling it to help those who cannot work. Efforts
included increasing the old-age allowance and aid to the sick, disabled
and weak - who are not part of the workforce.

The higher tax revenue also enables greater investment in vocational
training, subsidized day care centres, and public transportation
discounts - to encourage people to go to work.

In other words, economic growth is the prerequisite for reducing poverty
- as the 2006 figures demonstrated.

With the continued growth in 2007, the poverty figures published in a
year for 2007 will show a further reduction in the percentage of poor

Drawing bat mitzva girls to Rachel's Tomb

Drawing bat mitzva girls to Rachel's Tomb

Earlier this month, New Yorker Malky Grunwald, 12, held her bat mitzva
in a long, windowless hallway at Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, after an
IDF prohibition kept her and dozens of guests from celebrating in the
Jewish-owned community center next door.
Tamar Klein, another 12-year-old from New York, was luckier. On Monday,
hers was the inaugural celebration at the balloon-festooned, spacious
World Bat Mitzva Center next to the tomb.
Organizers hope the new center will help Rachel's Tomb acquire the same
allure for girls coming of age as the Western Wall holds for boys.
"Tamar's was the first of what I hope will be thousands of bat mitzvas
taking place at Rachel's Tomb," said Chaim Silberstein from Beit El, who
heads the center and the Rachel Imeinu Foundation umbrella organization.
"We would like to make our building at Rachel's Tomb the ultimate venue
for a young Jewish woman," said Silberstein, a South African oleh. He
hoped it "would answer a very important need in the Jewish world."
Silberstein said he had organized the purchase of the 74-square-meter,
three-story structure adjacent to Rachel's Tomb, after watching
Palestinians destroy Joseph's Tomb in Ramallah in 2001.
He didn't want that to happen to Rachel's Tomb, which he said was
Judaism's third-holiest site, after the Temple Mount/Western Wall and
the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Legend has it that when the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE, and
the Jews were exiled to Babylonia, God was so moved by Rachel's tears
from the grave that he promised her she would one day see the Jews return.
Jews, particularly women, have long made pilgrimages to the biblical
matriarch's tomb
Once, it was a picturesque place near an olive tree on the outskirts of
Bethlehem. Now, as Israel has carved out a safe passage to the tomb in a
city that is otherwise under control of the Palestinian Authority, the
site is surrounded by concrete barriers and watchtowers.
To preserve the tomb, Silberstein organized a group of donors, including
Grunwald's grandmother, Evelyn Haies, from Brooklyn, to buy the adjacent
structure from its Christian Arab owners.
Neither he nor Haies were daunted by the structure's location, behind
one wall and encircled by others at the very edge of the concrete
corridor that surrounds the tomb.
But they had to wait to embark upon a host of projects that included a
yeshiva, a museum and an educational center, Silberstein said.
For four years, the army used the building to house soldiers, while the
concrete walls were built around the tomb to protect both the structure
and visitors.
The building that now houses the center was only released back to the
Jewish owners in 2006, when the protective walls were completed and
responsibility for security was passed to the Border Police, Silberstein
Since then, he has worked to obtain permits to open the center, a
process expected to be completed as soon as he constructs a protected
passageway to cover the 200-meter walk from the tomb to the house.
But people are already holding classes in the structure, and on Monday,
Klein celebrated her bat mitzva there.
She bought eight plane tickets for family members to fly from the United
States, decorated the function room and set out the food, only to have
the army deny entry to the busload of guests.
At first, the soldiers made the guests wait on the bus. They then let
them enter the tomb, but not the center.
"My grandmother got off the bus and started walking to her 'house' [as
she calls it] and a whole bunch of soldiers came and blocked the door,"
Malky said.
A compromise was reached in which the soldiers brought the food to the
tomb and everyone piled into a hallway.
"It felt like a bomb shelter with no incoming and outgoing air, but
everyone was a very great sport," said Grunwald's mother, Elissa.
Neither she nor her daughter were angry at the soldiers. "It was cool
that we had someone protecting us," Malky said, adding that she felt
privileged to have had her bat mitzva at Rachel's Tomb.
Malky said Rachel was a good role model. "I admire that she loved her
sister so much," she said.
Elissa Grunwald said she had brought Malky to the tomb for her first and
second birthdays. She herself was first taught about the tomb by her
mother. She would like to see Malky married there.
Haies said she had decided to get involved in preserving it after the
1993 Oslo Accords were signed, out of fear that the site would be lost
to Jews. "They wanted to give it away, and no one was doing anything,"
said Haies, who spends five months a year in Israel.
When she is here, she goes almost daily to the tomb, and this time
helped organize study classes in the communal building next door.
But it has been frustrating, she said, not knowing from day to day
whether she and the study groups would be able to enter.
One morning this week, she personally put an area commander on the phone
with a soldier guarding the tomb, to assure him that they had a permit
to go in.
Sitting in front of the tomb, one soldier explained to The Jerusalem
Post that in spite of the large boulders protecting the area, it was
still dangerous because Palestinians threw things over the walls.
Silberstein said this argument made no sense, given the open visitor
access to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron despite its being
surrounded by thousands of Palestinians.
But the IDF didn't stop the Klein family from holding Tamar's bat mitzva
"I thought that for a bat mitzva girl, one of the most appropriate
places to enter that stage of life was as close as possible to the
grave, because Rachel epitomized what we believe a Jewish woman should
stand for," said David Klein.
"I learned about Rachel's Tomb in school and with my mother, and I
wanted to do it there," said Tamar.
She hadn't known what to expect and so was surprised at how pretty the
inside of the tomb was.
Among those in attendance was Rabbi Benny Eisner, who teaches at a local
Jerusalem yeshiva and who took part in the liberation of Rachel's Tomb
as a young IDF soldier in the 1967 Six Day War.
The bat mitzva "is the first of what I hope will be many more meaningful
and joyous celebrations at the compound," Silberstein said.

Government to allow limited consular weddings

Government to allow limited consular weddings

Couples will be allowed to marry in consular weddings in Israel as long
as both parties are classified as having no religion or belonging to
religions that are not recognized as religious communities in Israel,
the state announced Sunday.
It marks the first time the government has made a conscious decision to
allow any type of civil marriage ceremony for Israeli citizens to take
place on Israeli soil.
"This is a breakthrough," said Michael Corinaldi, the attorney
representing two High Court of Justice petitions demanding that the
government allow consular marriages. He predicted Sunday's decision
would set a precedent for the further expansion of civil marriages.
But Irit Rosenberg, one of the petitioners and head of the New Family
organization that champions the rights of unconventional families, told
The Jerusalem Post she was infuriated by the decision and had asked
Corinaldi to withdraw her petition. "I do not want my name associated
with the government's statement," she said.
Corinaldi received a letter earlier in the day announcing the state's
new policy from Shai Nitzan, head of the Special Tasks Division in the
State Attorney's Office.
In the past, consulates did conduct marriages in Israeli, under an
international agreement recognized by Israel that allows couples to be
married by a foreign consul if at least one of the partners is a citizen
of the country represented by the consul. But in 1995, the Foreign
Ministry issued a directive to all the consulates in Israel prohibiting
them from conducting such weddings for Israeli citizens.
In 2000, Corinaldi petitioned the High Court against the government
prohibition on behalf of New Family. In that petition, Rosenblum
demanded that the government allow consuls to conduct marriages
regardless of the religion of the two partners.
Two years later, Corinaldi petitioned the court again, this time
demanding that the government allow consular marriages for couples
classified as having no religion.
During the seven years since the first petition was filed, the state and
the High Court kept putting off the case. After one such postponement in
March 2006, Corinaldi complained that "the court has set 10 different
dates to hear the petitions. Each time, some other cabinet minister was
replaced. Once it was the foreign minister, another time the interior
minister and a third time the prime minister."
There has not been a single hearing in the 18 months since then.
According to Nitzan's letter to Corinaldi, consuls will not be allowed
to marry anyone who changed his religious classification or nationality
entry in the Population Registry before the scheduled marriage. They
will also not be allowed to marry a couple if one of the partners is a
foreign worker present in Israel without a permit. Before conducting the
marriage, the consul will have to make certain the couple has been
issued a document by the Interior Ministry affirming they meet the
state's conditions.
"We waited seven years only to achieve this impossible result," said
Rosenblum. "The new government policy will only allow a handful of
people to marry in Israel. We have won a Pyrrhic victory that will
enable the government to avoid the issue for another 60 years."
Rosenblum added that it was wrong to force foreign consuls to examine
the religious status of the couple. "This is an apartheid policy, where
religion is the determining factor," she said.