The story of Dahlyt and Moshe Kese-Berezinbahr, the second of whom is a Ugandan Abayudaya Jew, was truly heartwarming (“Edison Couple Exemplifies Unique International Roots and Courtship” April 28, 2022). It is wonderful that their community recognizes the depth of their Jewish commitment and commitment to one another.
While the story of Dahlyt and Moshe is a happy one, the situation of the Abayudaya in relation to Israel is not. Though the Law of Return allows someone who converts with any of the denominations generally recognized by the majority of Jews in the Diaspora, the Ministry of the Interior has taken the position that a community consisting completely of converts is not legitimately Jewish. It doesn’t matter whether they converted with the help of existing denominations with well-established institutions in Israel or the Diaspora. That being the case, the Abayudaya, whether converted under the aegis of Rabbi Riskin or through the Masorti/Conservative movement, are not Jews as far as the Ministry of the Interior is concerned. This means they can never make aliyah or obtain student visas so that their young adults can get Jewish education in institutions of higher learning in Israel; Jewish education they can bring back to their community in Uganda.
The case of Yosef Kibita is instructive. He lived as an observant Jew all his life and studied as a primary and high school student in Jewish schools in Uganda. He came to Israel on a Jewish educational program before the Ministry of the Interior stopped issuing student visas to the Abayudaya. Not surprisingly, he fell in love with a country in which Shabbat and chag could be felt the way they are only in Israel.
He has been living and working at Kibbutz Keturah, a Masorti kibbutz, where kashrut and Shabbat are observed and Torah learning and tefillah are important aspects of kibbutz life. He is a productive member of the kibbutz serving as a member of the kibbutz guest house staff. Nevertheless, he has been in and out of court for four years fighting the Ministry of the Interior for his right to become an oleh under the Law of Return.
Another hearing on his fate and future is occurring as I write on Monday, May 2, 2022. Apparently, the decision will be to deal with him as an individual and not as a member of the Abayudaya community. This means he may obtain a path to Israeli citizenship, but the Ministry’s discriminatory position remains in place for the rest of the Abayudaya.
The next test case will be Rivka Nabulo’s. Like Yosef, she is a member of the Abayudya community who has applied for aliyah. Will she be treated any better than he was? More importantly, when will the Ministry of the Interior follow the plain meaning of the Law of Return as it applies to converts in general?Rabbi Michael Chernick
Achvah: The Partnership for Abayudaya Rights