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What could be blocking these Jews' aliyah?


Simon Rocker, The Jewish Chronicle, November 30, 2007
A black Jewish family from South London have been forced to delay their aliyah because of unexplained stonewalling by the Israeli authorities.

Carl and Maleka Levy - Reform converts to Judaism from Rastafarianism - had been set to begin a new life with their five daughters in Ashkelon three months ago.

But this week the family, who are regular worshippers at Bromley Reform Synagogue in Kent, vented their frustration at the failure of Israel's Interior Ministry to approve their emigration.

"It's awful," said Mrs Levy, whose youngest, 10-month-old daughter was named Ahliyah in anticipation of their move. "As far as we understand, Israel welcomes people home. We are Jewish, so I don't see why we are being treated this way."

Israel's Law of Return, granting citizenship to

diaspora Jews, makes no distinction between Progressive and Orthodox converts. But in recent years, the Interior Ministry has tried to impose new conditions on the entry of converts.

Rabbi Uri Regev, the Israel-based president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, said: "It is unfortunate and regrettable that obstacles are being put in the way of the Levy family, who should be fully treated as fellow Jews by the state of Israel. We do not know of any objective reason why they should be treated differently, other than the colour of their skin."

An Interior Ministry official said on Wednesday that she could not go into the case without being given a passport number of the Levys - information unavailable to the JC.

One possible reason for the ministry's stance - cited by representatives of the family - is that officials may suspect a link with the Black Hebrews, a sect not recognised as Jewish, which is based in the southern Israeli town of Dimona.

Five years ago, Mrs Levy went to Dimona to have her fourth daughter, Shlomeet, also a Hebrew name, because she is a believer in natural birth and an Israeli Jewish friend in the UK had told her about a natural-birthing clinic in the town.

"I was very excited. It's the land that I love and I'd be spiritually connected even more," she said. "What better way than to have my baby there. I was over the moon."

But as for any ties with the Black Hebrews, she said: "They come from America. What is this got to do with us?"

Bromley Reform Synagogue's Rabbi Tony Hammond said the Levys "are a well-liked family who are involved in the synagogue and who have embraced their Judaism wholeheartedly. They have been put in a terrible situation. We're looking for it to be put right and for the community here and in Israel to support them."

Mr Levy is an odd-job man, aged 51, who came to Britain from Jamaica in 1969. When he was young, "my mum told me I'd got a Jewish name but I didn't really understand what she was talking about"?. It was only when he adopted Rastafarianism in his 20s and started reading the Bible that "I realised where my name came from".

But he and his English-born wife, who is a dressmaker, felt something was missing. "Reading the Bible, we noticed the Rastas wasn't observing the laws... celebrating the Holy Days and keeping Shabbat. We felt that was important," he said.

Keen to explore Judaism, they looked up the nearest synagogue, Bromley, a 20-minute drive away, and were invited to a Shabbat service. "I remember a family came up and asked if we were Falasha [Ethiopian] Jews,"? Mrs Levy laughed. "After the service, a family came up and said: 'Would you like to come to tea?' It was lovely. That's one of the things that made us feel comfortable."

After 18 months studying Judaism, with their children enrolled in cheder, the Levys were formally converted by the Reform Beth Din in 2004. But they had visited Israel several years earlier at their Israeli friend's prompting.

"Reading the Bible and then going to the places in the Bible was awesome," Mrs Levy told the JC. "There's a beautiful song, Home Is Where The Heart Is. My heart was at home in Israel."

Having first contacted the Jewish Agency's aliyah department in London two-and-a-half years ago, they say the department's emissary was "bewildered" at the Interior Ministry's stalling as they prepared their move this summer. "?We did everything we were required to do," Mrs Levy insisted.

A tower of boxes in their small living room awaits shipment to Israel. "Shlomeet said to me last month, 'Aba [Father], when I am going to start my new school in Israel?' Mr Levy said. 'If God wants his people to come home, why put barriers in front of people?'"

Keywords: Israel, immigration, conversion