I have been dreaming of making Aliyah since my Bar Mitzvah 35 years ago. In recent years, I have been coming to Israel over the summer to study Hebrew. One of my Hebrew teachers became my friend. After a couple of years, we started dating. This past June, in a beautiful ceremony in the Galilee, she became my wife.
I learned that getting married in Israel is not so simple. There is no such thing as a secular marriage. You can have a Jewish wedding, or a Christian wedding or a Muslim wedding. I chose Jewish.
The Jewish weddings are the responsibility of the Israeli Rabbinut. To have a Jewish wedding you need for both the bride and the groom to be Jewish. My bride is a Jew. We know that because it is written on her Israeli identity card. I had to prove to the Israeli Rabbinut that I am a Jew. As I don’t yet have an Israeli identity card, this was not so simple.
It is a strange concept to me that I need to prove that I am a Jew. Since leaving college I have joined synagogues in Wichita, St. Louis, Los Angeles and finally Orlando. In all synagogues I was welcomed with no problems. I said I was a Jew and they said good and told me what my dues were.
Six months before the wedding, I flew to Israel to visit my bride and to get approval from the Rabbinut to get married. I brought a copy of the burial records for my mother’s mother, of blessed memory, which identified my grandmother as a Jew. I brought a copy of my birth certificate and a letter from a rabbi. I came to the Chief Rabbi’s offices in Haifa with all my papers. With my limited Hebrew I was able to understand that I should take the elevator to the second floor and go to office number 214. The door was open and a very nice rabbi with a white shirt and long grey beard waved me into his small office with a smile on his face and directed me to sit down. Pictures of the rabbi with what I assumed to be famous rabbis lined the walls of his office. Papers were scattered over his desk and black binders amidst sacred texts overflowed from his bookcase.
The rabbi only spoke Hebrew. With my limited Hebrew I was able to explain that I wanted to get married. I presented him with all my papers. The rabbi looked at my papers briefly, gave them back to me and asked me one question, “Who are the rabbis who signed the papers?” I told him the name of the rabbis. He told me that the Rabbinut does not recognize those rabbis. Then he took out a black binder with a worn paper list of about 50 rabbis in the USA that Israel recognizes. He asked me where I live and I told him near Orlando, Florida. He found a Rabbi in Miami that Israel recognizes. He said I had to have that rabbi confirm in writing that I am a Jew. I said that Miami is about as far from Orlando as Eilat is from Haifa and that there is no way that the rabbi in Miami can know whether or not I am a Jew. I reviewed his list once more. There was not another single rabbi in the State of Florida on his list. I took the number for a rabbi from St. Louis and a rabbi from Southfield, Michigan. Rabbi I.M. Levin. I tried to call the rabbi on the list from St. Louis but he had passed away. No problem. I grew up in Southfield and my family has been part of the Jewish community for four generations. If any Rabbi can verify I am a Jew, it is one from Southfield.
Rabbi Levin was very nice and said he would be happy to help me. I told him I would scan and email him all my documents. Rabbi Levin has no email. He told me I could email his daughter and later that night she would give him the documents. But Rabbi Levin wanted to talk to a family member. My documents would not be sufficient for him. I started to mention all my cousins in Detroit. He had never heard of any of them.
I decided to play my trump card. I had my mother call the Rabbi and tell him I am Jewish. She ended up speaking with him for about a half an hour. It turns out that not only am I Jewish, I am some kind of Jewish royalty from my mother’s side. My mother is related to Rabbi Soleveitchik and Rabbi Stollman, may the memories of the righteous be for a blessing. My mother asked Rabbi Levin, “Of course my son is Jewish, how do I know that your wife is Jewish?” Rabbi Levin answered that he didn’t get married in Israel.
In the end, I received my letter from Rabbi Levin and permission from the Rabbinut to get married. I was able to stand under the Chuppah next to the woman of my dreams in the promised land. Baruch Hashem.
Now I am working on my Aliyah application. I hope to be an Israeli citizen this Spring. It turns out, I have to prove once again that I am Jewish — this time to the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency and the Rabbinut are different entities and they don’t cooperate. But I am not worried. I have a Jewish mother. Wait until they get her phone call.
I am a zionist. I am so excited to finally realize my dream of making Aliyah. But I am going to work on changing things. We are a people, not a race. It is not my DNA that makes me a Jew. It is my actions, beliefs and my committment to my people that matter. If somebody wants to be Jewish, I say welcome and here are your dues.