IDF Soldiers Undergoing Conversions Still Worry Bills Won't Pass

Immigrant soldiers concerned they may never be considered Jews.

The Israel Defense Forces has declined to comment on the political storm surrounding the military conversion bills, but immigrant soldiers undergoing conversion are deeply concerned that they may never be considered Jews.

"It's the most significant thing I've done in the IDF," a female soldier said yesterday. "It tears me up to think some rabbis don't recognize it."

army conversion bill Olivier Fitoussi
Olivier Fitoussi

The military conversion course was sponsored by the former head of the personnel directorate, Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern. It is supported by the current head, Avi Zamir.

Maxim Olanovsky, a 24-year-old student who converted to Judaism in the IDF more than two years ago, is also worried.

"It was very important to me to bind myself to this nation to feel I totally belonged," said Olanovsky, who immigrated from Ukraine at the age of 5 with a Jewish father and a Christian mother.

"I realized I wasn't seen as a Jew from the halakha point of view and it pained me," he said. "The course in the army was awesome .... They said there may be problems with certain rabbis. I knew it was a question of time until it blew up. Now I don't know if I'm Jewish or not, because these things are decided by the halakhic rulers. The state has no say."

A young man who immigrated from Russia when he was 20 also converted during his military service. About a year and a half ago, after completing his service, he married. But when he came to pick up his marriage certificate from the Rishon Letzion rabbinate, he was told the wedding didn't count because he wasn't Jewish. The city rabbi demanded that he undergo another conversion process with him.

Eventually the Gush Etzion religious council recognized his conversion and gave the couple a marriage certificate.

"The conversion course in the army gave me a feeling of belonging," he said. "Then ... they came and told me I'm not Jewish."