David Breakstone
Deputy Chairman of the Jewish Agency executive
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Ticking babies…Boom!

Leaving the religious status of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in limbo is a security threat of our own making

Official reports put the number at 80,000. There’s a good chance there are many more. We’re talking about explosive devices concealed among Israel’s civilian population, set to go off sporadically over the next three decades. And there are more being produced all the time. Ironically, it’s no one’s fault but our own that they’re here, having been produced locally by people who not only made it across our borders legally and with the full knowledge of the responsible authorities, but also with their blessings.

Scattered randomly everywhere our children are — classrooms, playgrounds, shopping malls, movie theaters and even maternity wards – they blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. Chances are you’ve already come upon some yourself, but didn’t realize what you were looking at. Which is completely understandable, given their appearance. Though typically ending up weighing anywhere from 50 to 100 kilos and measuring 1.5 to 2 meters from end to end, they start out more or less the size of a large chicken and are packaged as cute little things, closely resembling Jewish babies. I know, because one just turned up in my family, bringing us untold joy.

For those who missed the previous episodes of “Amir and Veronica Get Married,” a quick recap. In its first season, after years of courting a wonderful young woman, Amir finally proposes. Those following the story breathed a sigh of relief. We’d been watching the love blossom between them week after week and had tired of asking ourselves if anything was ever going to change. Then suddenly we got our answer, with a dramatic twist that completely stunned us, not to mention the young man.

“Amir, there’s something I sort of have to tell you,” Veronica said hesitantly, her voice trembling. “I’m kind of not Jewish.”

Veronica, it turned out, is one of those 330,000 immigrants from the Former Soviet Union who arrived here as a child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Though she received a Jewish education in an Israeli school, celebrated the Jewish holidays with family and friends, and served in the army in defense of the Jewish state, she knew she’d be denied a Jewish burial if she were to die in service of the country she so loved. Even worse, and more immediate, she was now going to be denied a Jewish wedding.

It’s not that Veronica didn’t want to convert, but in an earlier installment she’d discovered that the doors of the rabbinical courts were closed to her as she was not prepared to commit to an Orthodox lifestyle, nor the outrageous stipulation that she only date observant men. Still, Veronica was not prepared to relinquish the profound bond she felt to the Jewish tradition, the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

Suddenly the statistic had turned into a person. That amorphous body of hundreds of thousands of FSU émigrés was no longer just a headline. It had knocked up against my family’s door and wanted in. The season ended with this star-crossed couple not knowing what to do.

Fortunately, I did. One call to the Masorti (Conservative) Movement set in motion a year of intensive learning that culminated in Veronica’s conversion before a Masorti Bet Din. But that’s not where the story ends. Though her conversion is recognized by the Ministry of the Interior, it isn’t by the office of the Chief Rabbi, which, of course, has sole discretion in determining who is allowed to marry as a Jew in this country and to whom. And as far as it is concerned, Amir and Veronica, who couldn’t conceive (pardon the pun) of having children who wouldn’t be Jewish, have now gone ahead and done exactly that. As things are, when the time comes for their precious little newborn to wed, she will face the same problem her mother did. And we – collectively — are looking the other way.

Obsessed as we are at present with getting PA President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, we are paying far too little attention to the ever-increasing number of those of our own whose allegiance we seek — at home and abroad – who are beginning to wonder if that includes them as well. And I, for one, am convinced that the plight of these Jews whose right of return is being granted begrudgingly poses a greater threat to Israel as a Jewish state than does the Palestinian demand that it apply to them as well. I am also more confident about our long-term capacity to defend ourselves against the external threat of an Iranian bomb than I am by our ability to defuse the already explosive situation we are breeding within.

Making aliyah was supposed to be the surest way of guaranteeing that one’s grandchildren would be Jewish. I confess that when I moved here 40 years ago, that was not the reason I came. Still, somehow the thought was always reassuring. Now I feel betrayed. And I am not alone. Amir and Veronica’s newborn will be joined this year by another 4,000 or so just like her (though surely not as cute), adding to the 80,000 already here. Ticking babies. Boom!

About the Author
Dr. David Breakstone is deputy chairman of the executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the conceptual architect and founding director of the Herzl Museum and Educational Center in Jerusalem. He also serves as a member of the executives of the World Zionist Organization, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF) and Keren Hayesod. The opinions expressed herein are entirely his own.
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