9 Venezuelan converts arrive in Israel to start aliyah process

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Nine Venezuelan converts arrived in Israel for the purpose of aliyah after their initial request was denied.

The Venezuelans, five adults and four children, arrived without fanfare on Thursday morning, Haaretz reported.

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

Under a compromise deal brokered 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 — underwent a second conversion described as “symbolic” earlier this week in Bogota, Colombia. They will have to wait nine months to claim citizenship after proving engagement in a Jewish community in Israel, Haaretz reported.

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The second conversion was directed by Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, who accompanied them to Israel.

The Venezuelans will live in a Jewish Agency absorption center in Beersheba in southern Israel, and will be members of the city’s large Conservative synagogue, according to Haaretz.

They 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 practiced and studied their religion for three years. The area where they lived suffered from shortages of food and medicine, and the converts’ safety was at risk, which made their aliyah that much more urgent, according to Haaretz.

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