Fighting for Global Jewish Communities of Color and the Right to Make Aliyah

September 8, 2020Anat Hoffman

What do the Abayudaya community of Uganda, the “Jews of the Amazon” of Peru, and the Adat Israel community of Guatemala have in common?

They began as “emerging” Jewish communities. These communities, all comprising Jews of Color, were established by Jews-by-Choice who were committed to living a Jewish lifestyle.

They were ultimately converted within the main existing streams of Judaism and then accepted as formal members of those movements. The members of Adat Israel in Guatemala were converted by recognized Reform rabbis and were accepted by the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The Abayudaya community and the Jews of the Amazon were converted to Judaism by the Conservative Movement and then became recognized Conservative communities in Uganda and Peru.

According to a recent Israeli Supreme Court ruling, Jews who are converted outside of Israel in communities that are recognized by the Reform or Conservative movements are eligible to make aliyahaliyahעֲלִיָּה"Going up." The honor of being called to recite the blessings before and after the Torah reading. Also refers to immigration to Israel, to "make aliyah" to Israel; plural: aliyot. Lit. "Ascent." . Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, however, refuses to recognize the validity of the conversions of these communities.

We at the Israel Religious Action Center's Legal Aid Center for Olim petitioned both the Supreme and District courts against the Ministry of the Interior’s decision regarding these communities. After waiting more than three years, in a brief recently submitted to the Supreme Court, the Ministry of the Interior stood behind its refusal, claiming that group conversions performed in these emerging communities should not be recognized by the State.

If they have their wish, these communities will not be recognized as Jewish by the State of Israel, and community members will not be eligible to make aliyah.

This means that the two Peruvian women – cousins from the Jews of the Amazon who came to Israel in 2014 hoping to join their parents, who had already made aliyah – will never be recognized as Jewish by the state.

And Yosef Kibita, a member of the Abayudaya community, will never be recognized as Jewish by the State, despite the Jewish Agency for Israel already recognizing the Abayudaya community as Jewish within the Law of Return.

And the dentist from the Adat Israel community who converted in 2014 and applied to make aliyah and never received a response from the Jewish Agency will not be recognized as Jewish. None of them will ever be able to become Israeli citizens despite their belief in Judaism and identification as Jews.

We reject the Ministry of the Interior’s position to not recognize these communities as Jewish. It goes against the existing agreement to accept any recognized Jewish communities under the Law of Return. The Ministry of the Interior’s position, with its racist undercurrent, will further deepen the rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

Because of our response to the brief, a Supreme Court hearing has been scheduled for December. Follow along with the Israel Religious Action Center for updates on this story as it unfolds.

To learn more about the work of the Israel Religious Action Center, visit irac.org and subscribe to its weekly email newsletter, The Pluralist. 

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