Pre-aliyah conversion project launched in Ukraine


(JTA) — A program to help prospective immigrants begin converting to Judaism before they immigrate to Israel was launched in Ukraine.

The program, titled “Maslul,” Hebrew for path or course, was launched Thursday at the Galitska Synagogue in Kiev with funding from the Harry A. Triguboff Foundation. Among those attending the launch was the Australian philanthropist Harry Triguboff, who was joined by senior staff from the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod, as well as dozens of leaders of Ukrainian Jewry.

Conducted as a partnership between several bodies, including the Midrasha Zionist of Kiev, the Jewish Agency and the Harry O. Triguboff Israel Institute of Conversion Policy, Maslul aims to prepare individuals who want to immigrate to Israel under its Law of Return but are not Jewish according to halachah, or Jewish law, to convert and register as Jews with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

The institute’s director, Shalom Norman, told JTA that the project “has the potential of covering 90 percent of the material and of the 400 hours necessary for conversion before the student even makes aliyah,” the Hebrew word for immigrating to Israel.

Maslul, which has a budget of several hundreds of thousands of dollars, will begin teaching a few dozen students with a staff of eight to 10 instructors who are recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Norman said. Classes will be given at the offices of the Midrasha Zionit in Kiev and in the eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk under the supervision of its chief rabbi, Shmuel Kaminezki. A third Maslul office is due to open later this year in Moscow.

Israel has hundreds of thousands of citizens, mostly from former Soviet countries, who identify culturally as Jewish but are unable to marry as such in Israel because they are not recognized as Jewish.

Triguboff, an Australian real-estate magnate of Russian-Jewish ancestry, told JTA that he regarded this “a serious problem.”

Unless efforts are taken to “make them part us,” he said, “this problem, that is not going away, will only become greater.”

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