She hid her non-Jewishness until age 19

Student in religious high school "came out" as non-Jewish when National Service opened a conversion course.

Hillel Fendel ,

A woman completes her conversion to Judaism. Illustrative.
A woman completes her conversion to Judaism. Illustrative.
Flash 90

Conversion courses exist in the IDF, in the Rabbinical Court system – and now in the National Service. These very days, some 20 post-high school National Service youth volunteers are completing the first-of-its-kind Netiv Leumi (National Path) conversion course, and will celebrate the upcoming High Holidays and Sukkot festival as Jews.

Among the graduates who will soon appear before the Rabbinical Conversion Court is one 19-year-old girl from a southern-Israel town who only recently divulged her life-long secret - that she is actually not Jewish.

Sarah (not her real name) was born in Argentina to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. Her family immigrated to Israel when she was six years old, and she lived her life as a religious Jew in all respects – studying first in a public-religious school and later in an ulpanah (national religious girl's) high school, taking part in all activities of the religious Bnei Akiva youth group movement, and then turning to National Service – the alternative of choice for religious girls who generally do not enlist in the IDF.

"It was hard to keep this secret from all my friends," she now says, in an interview with the Matzav Haruach weekly, popular among Israeli teens and young adults, "and certainly as a young girl spending so many hours with my friends in Bnei Akiva, in school, and on Shabbat. Until this conversion course was opened in the National Service, I was quite apprehensive: I could not see myself living here as a non-Jew or in a secular lifestyle. That's why I was so happy when I heard of this course, and I jumped at the opportunity."

Sarah was apparently intimating that she could have continued to live as a Jewess without anyone being the wiser. She wished to be true to herself and to her community, however, and therefore sought a way to convert officially.

The National Service conversion course is modeled after the successful course provided in the IDF for soldiers. A full day each week is dedicated to Jewish studies, which include tours, special Sabbaths, Bible studies, Jewish law and philosophy, the Jewish life-cycle and calendar, Zionism, the State of Israel, and more. In addition, the soon-to-be Jews spent every day of the last month rounding out their studies in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Each student is accompanied by a religious family throughout their year of studies.

Most of the volunteers in Israel's National Service are religious-Zionist girls, while a small number are boys whose profiles preclude regular IDF service, both religious and not, and even Arabs.

National Service Authority Director Sar-Shalom Jerby explained the importance of the new conversion course: "We made the decision to open the course, with the support of the responsible Government Minister, Uri Ariel, after we found that over 100 of our [religious] volunteers were not Jewish; some of them did not even know it. We turned to them discreetly and suggested that they sign up. We feel that the integration of converts into the Jewish nation is critically important, and I hope that this course will serve to enable additional young Israelis who wish to be Jewish to integrate fully."