When New Yorker Bruce Smith prays three times a day for a “return to Zion,” it’s a very personal plea. He is desperate to immigrate to Israel with his wife, Fanny, and their three children, but he can’t: Fanny is an Orthodox convert to Judaism.
Ironically, the problem is that Fanny Smith converted through the Orthodox Vaad Harabonim of Queens and not through the less stringent conversion programs run by America’s Reform and Conservative movements — conversions that Israel’s Interior Ministry is obliged to accept under Israeli law.
The right of people who convert in the Diaspora under Reform or Conservative auspices to make aliyah, or immigrate to Israel and claim citizenship as Jews, is detailed in Israeli law — a reaction to various attempts by ultra-traditional, or Haredi, politicians to bar them. But it has always simply been taken for granted that all Orthodox converts have immigration rights under Israel’s Law of Return, which permits entry and instant citizenship to Jews everywhere.
But now, the Interior Ministry, which sets immigration policies, has begun discriminating from among the Orthodox.
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