(JTA) — Several Israeli institutions are launching a project to ease the aliyah process for prospective immigrants from Ukraine and Russia before they depart for Israel.
The project, announced on Wednesday by the Harry O. Triguboff Israel Institute of Conversion Policy, aims to assist Jews who immigrate to Israel under its Law of Return to register as Jews with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate after arriving in Israel. It will also help those who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish religious law who immigrate under the same law to initiate a preparation process that will enable their future conversion while still in their countries of origin, the institute’s director, Shalom Norman, told JTA.
The law allows both Jews and their immediate relatives to immigrate to Israel, but the Chief Rabbinate recognizes as Jewish only converts or those whose mothers are Jewish, as per Jewish religious law, or halachah.
As a result, Israel has hundreds of thousands of citizens, most from former Soviet countries, who are unable to marry in Israel because they are not recognized as Jewish.
According to the Triguboff Institute, about 20,000 Jews are expected to immigrate to Israel from Russia and Ukraine this year, the highest figure since 2001. Only a third of all immigrants to Israel, or olim, in the last decade from former Soviet countries are halachically Jewish or able to prove that they are after they immigrate, Norman said.
Under the project, non-halachic Jews preparing to immigrate will be able to begin a preparatory process for future Orthodox conversion in their countries of origin, building credit ahead of the process’ completion in Israel by its Chief Rabbinate, Norman added.
The initiative has a dollar budget of seven figures, which Norman declined to specify, and would be carried out in cooperation with Rabbi David Stav’s Tzohar rabbinical organization, which helps to involve non-religious couples and their families in religious wedding ceremonies, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Ohr Torah Stone movement, and the Kiev Zionist College of the Ofer Fund.
The project also would assist halachic Jews with the bureaucratic process of registering as Jews with the rabbinate – an element that they often neglect before arriving because it is not essential to immigrating but are later unable or unwilling to complete because they have no easy access to documents required by the rabbinate.