9 Venezuelan converts can move to Israel under Knesset compromise


(JTA) — Nine Venezuelan Jewish converts will be permitted to immigrate to Israel after their initial request was denied.

Under a compromise deal brokered Tuesday by The Jewish Agency for Israel in the Knesset, the applicants — indigenous Venezuelans who belong to three families and converted to Judaism in 2014 under the auspices of a Conservative rabbinical court — will undergo a second conversion described as “symbolic.” They will have to wait nine months to claim citizenship, Haaretz reported.

Last month, the Interior Ministry, which claimed the Venezuelans’ engagement in Jewish communal life has not been sufficient, denied their request to make aliyah. Their story was first reported by Haaretz.

The Venezuelans come from the small rural town of Maracay, where no recognized Jewish community exists. Under the Law of Return, a recognized Jewish community includes at least one full-time rabbi and an active synagogue.

In such cases, the Interior Ministry requires a longer period of engagement in Jewish communal life following the conversion. The Venezuelans joined a synagogue an hour’s drive from their hometown and since then have been practicing and studying their religion for three years.

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency, said in a statement that he was “pleased that our compromise was accepted by all parties at today’s Knesset hearing on the matter and that the individuals in question will be able to come to Israel without delay.”

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, pledged to financially assist the Venezuelans during the absorption process.

“The Fellowship believes there cannot be a situation that cumbersome bureaucracy is conducted on the backs of people who have undergone a conversion process and seek to make aliyah to Israel,” he said in a statement. “This matter is even more severe when these people are in a country which is in the midst of a deep crisis and they are at risk of persistent hunger, crime and anti-Semitism.”

Eckstein added: “I salute the Conservative-Masorti Movement for its battle on behalf of those Jews and I’m happy about the apparent solution to their plight.”

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