Are those with mental illness barred from aliyah?

Moshe* is 35 years old. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia after struggling with yeshiva learning in high school. After several delusional episodes, he was put on high dosages of antipsychotics and valium. He lived like that way for 15 years.

Four years ago, his older sister, Sarah, who lives in Israel with her husband and 8 children, invited her brother to come and live with her. Her aging parents were finding it difficult to manage their adult son, who needed a disability supportive environment. He was happy to come, and his sister was happy to have him.

Moshe is a mild-mannered, gentle man, who spends his day helping with his nieces and nephews, learning, and doing errands for his sister. With the guidance of a (private) psychiatrist, Sarah slowly weaned her brother off the strong medications. He is stable, integrated into her household, and well adjusted.

And yet, for four years he has had no health insurance, no auxiliary mental health services, and no real assistance.

The Israeli Ministry of Interior has been stalling Moshe’s Aliyah process for over 3 years. His sister, who also works full time as a teacher, has been sent to two different offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. At first, they accepted the application, and then when she didn’t hear anything, she went back and was told they lost the paperwork. She submitted again, heard nothing for months and then when was told he needed another letter from the psychiatrist. She went back to the private psychiatrist, resubmitted, never heard back, went in again, and was told no, now he needs you to have power of attorney. She consulted with a lawyer, paid again, and received power of attorney. She went back to the office, and finally after 6 months, received a letter, “your brother needs a guardian”.

In Israel, it is nearly impossible to receive guardianship over an individual who is not a citizen.  Only one judge is nominated for this in the family court system, but Sarah prevailed. She reconnected with the lawyer and tried to push it through.

After almost a year, a social worker evaluation, and finally finding subsidized legal services, she was told by the court that her brother is too independent to be appointed a guardian!  He can make Aliyah by himself.

Three years later Moshe still doesn’t have citizenship.  Because of his mental health diagnosis, he is unable to purchase traveler’s insurance, receive any type of benefits or healthcare.  Everything must be paid privately.  Meanwhile, he is supported by Sarah and her family, who have contacted the Ministry of Absorption, Nefesh b’Nefesh, and the Jewish Agency, repeatedly, all to no avail.

Why is mental illness so stigmatized, that the Israeli government will blatantly violate the Law of Return and put off letting a stable, nonviolent man, with no criminal history, make Aliyah?

I wish this were the only case like this I have seen, but in the past few years I have met several adults with mental health diagnoses be denied Aliyah.  I understand that the government does not want to take on the responsibility of managing a single person with no resources.  But once the individual has shown financial and emotional support offered in this country, I think to deny them is not only a violation of the law but a truly deep and painful bias against those who suffer from mental illness.

We must work to change this and create clear criteria within the Ministry of Interior and the Jewish Agency for those who have a diagnosis of mental illness and want to make Aliyah.

This week Sarah was told, that, once again, the Ministry of Interior would review the paperwork, and “get back to her.”  She and her brother are still waiting.

About the Author
Aviva Yoselis, MPH, is founder of Health Advize and director of medical advocacy services for the Shira Pransky Project. She is an expert in the field of health research, health behavior modification and shared medical decision making, with over 20 years of experience facilitating seminars and teaching classes on health behavior and health system navigation. She has a broad understanding of the biological sciences, bio-statistics, epidemiology, clinical trials and current issues in healthcare. Prior to moving to Israel, Aviva worked in the USA in health education and advocacy for low-income minority communities
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