Israel denies aliyah to Venezuelan Conservative converts

Nine Venezuelans who converted by Conservative standards denied aliyah as they are not in a Jewish community.

JTA and Arutz Sheva ,

Aliyah flight
Aliyah flight

(JTA) — Nine Venezuelan Jewish converts had their request to make aliyah denied by Israel’s Interior Ministry, which claimed their engagement in Jewish communal life has not been sufficient to prove they are sincere in their adoption of the Jewish faith.

The nine applicants, all indigenous Venezuelans who belong to three families, converted to Judaism in 2014 under the auspices of a Conservative rabbinical court. They come from the small rural town of Maracay, where no Jewish community exists.

A recognized Jewish community includes at least one full-time rabbi and an active synagogue.

In such cases, Israel’s Interior Ministry requires a longer period of engagement in Jewish communal life following the conversion to be sure it is sincere. The Venezuelan converts joined a synagogue an hour’s drive from their hometown which necessitates driving on the Sabbath if they wish to attend services and since then have been practicing and studying religion as interpreted by the Conservative movement for three years.

After a grueling six-month correspondence between the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Interior, the Venezuelans were notified two weeks ago that their Israeli immigration requests had been rejected, a move which has been protested by voices even among some Orthodox figures, for example. Daniel Askenazi, an Orthodox rabbi located in the Colombian city of Barranquilla, who told Israeli media that deciding to unite their destiny to that of the Jewish people should be sufficient.

Leading the struggle in Israel on behalf of the nine converts is Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, who said that Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office had ignored requests to help. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky is said to be considering intervening with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas party.

“Sadly it is all too common that issues of race and denominational affiliation play into the decisions made by the Interior Ministry,” he claimed. It is, of course, hardly the case that race plays a part when over tens of thousands of Ethiopian falash-mura whose families had become Christian were allowed to return to Judaism. However, Israel accepts only Orthodox conversions from vetted rabbis and Israeli rabbinic sources have said that the Conservative conversion courts know that and were using the Venezuelans, turning them into a test case that would make it to the media.

In November 2016, Conservative Rabbi Juan Mejia, himself a convert, confirmed that the Venezuelans — whose conversions he says he personally oversaw — joined the Jewish community of Valencia at his behest. He asked Israeli authorities to accept the nine, citing the chaotic social situation in Venezuela, Mejia said their aliyah was a “matter of life and death."

A Washington Post article published last Sunday said about 6,000 to 9,000 Jews remain in Venezuela — the general population of which totals around 30 million people. Just 15 years ago there were 20,000 Jews living in the South American nation.

The Interior Ministry accepts Jews from all over the world. Citing Israeli government data, the Washington Post reported that 111 Venezuelan Jews moved to Israel in 2015 — more than double the level from three years earlier.