The problem of conversion remains one of the most difficult the Jewish collective in Israel and beyond. Almost two decades, the state program of preparation for giuro project «Nativ».
In an interview with NEWSru.co.il General Director of «Nativ» Yonatan Meir spoke about the curriculum, about the dilemmas faced by students, as well as a marked increase in the number of immigrants wishing to convert to Judaism.
We emphasize that the project «Nativ» is irrelevant to the state liaison Bureau Nativ (Lishkat a-Kesher).
Mr. Meir, for starters, let’s clarify. Are you the coordinator of the civil project «Nativ», right?
To be precise, I am the General Director of «Nativ». It is a subsidiary company of the Jewish Agency «Sochnut», which was established in 1999. Previously, it was called the Institute for the study of Judaism, and is implementing part of the government to prepare people to gyuru. In other words, every person who wants to take a convert to Judaism, is study in the framework of this organization, and then brought before «Beit DIN» (special court for matters of conversion – approx. ed.).
First operated only the civil Department, but very quickly, already in 2001, opened classes for the soldiers, and today is the civil branch and the military. Civil Department uses the classes in almost every major populated area of Israel, and the military operate under the military system, but we are talking about two branches of one whole.
It is accepted to speak about 350 thousands of immigrants who are not Jewish according to Jewish law, but it is important to remember that this number is constantly growing: as a result of fertility, and the continuing aliyah. State system giurov was not able to cope with emerging challenges.
Not able to cope means that people simply do not come, not interested in the possibility of conversion?
Depends on whose opinion you listen to. Someone thinks that people are not interested in someone who believes that the requirements that were presented, closed people the way to gyuru. Anyway, we are talking about two thousand people a year.
Two thousand a year – a number that has not changed throughout all 17 years of the existence of «native»?
At first it was noticeably smaller, but then the number of passing giyur stabilized at about two thousand people a year.
Two thousand – those who begin their studies or those who complete the process?
Those who complete. I work in «Native» two years, and during that time we tried various ways of changing this situation. We were not the first on this path, we also a tried. But in the last year, we have seen the change that can be called strategic, dramatic, whatever you want. There is a real influx of students, we are opening dozens of new classes. I can tell in detail what changes we have introduced, but the fact remains that the number of students has more than doubled.
Can illustrate absolute numbers?
Yes. The average number of students in our civic classes each year was about 1850. In the last year it exceeded 3,600 people. For us this is proof that adapting the program, conducting the necessary changes, the situation can be influenced.
Would you describe the people who come in the last year? It’s immigrants of the last wave? It’s the old timers that have matured and came to the decision to pass the giyur?
People usually 25-40 years. There are people older and younger, but the bulk at this age. I can’t say that in the last year we have noticed some serious changes in the demographic composition of students. Yes, there were a number of students – immigrants of the last wave, but the experience in Israel was not and is not a factor in the decision of people to convert to Judaism.
You are talking about increasing the number of students almost doubled. How do you explain it?
We realized two important things: firstly, that necessary approach, assessing the situation through the eyes of a passing conversion, and not a teacher.
Requires a constant search for those relevant to individual students on the one hand, and differentiated approach to students on the other. Everything matters: the age of repatriation, the country of origin, place of residence in Israel. All this and many other factors can influence a person’s decision in one direction or another. Understanding these two components allowed us to change the training system so that there is a great demand.
In an interview to our website coordinator, military project «Nativ» Lieutenant-Colonel Nurit Kotick talked about the fact that soldiers, starting the process of learning is not always planned to complete his «Beit DIN» and the adoption of conversion. Civil project the situation is the same?
First of all, I want to stress once again that civil and military projects is the division of a single project. The same materials, the same teachers, almost identical to the program, often the same judges in the «Beit DIN». There is a stereotype, according to which the programs differ markedly from one another. However, in practice it does not. As for your question, there is no doubt, and the fears and insecurities that is people need, and many additional factors. And our task in this respect is twofold: first, to provide information and give people the opportunity to undergo this process, and secondly, help them to complete it and successfully complete the program.
If we continue to compare military and civilian «Nativ», the soldiers in the army receive an invitation to a meeting, hear details about the program and so on. As it happens in the civilian sector?
Research we conducted showed us very clearly that the problem is not information. In 2017, the information is disseminated through various channels and reach the people for whom it is relevant. And our task in the army and in civilian project are very similar. Sorry, we can’t use in the army the funds that have been very successful in a civil project. We keep in constant contact with the army in this matter, but while the effect is very limited.
That prevents the spread of civil experience to the army?
The use of our civil experience would require army investment of considerable funds. As is often the case in a variety of projects, all hampered by budget problems. We believe that such investments are justified and can have an effect. Many argue that in the case of soldiers it’s much easier, because they are undergoing in the framework of the military system, so no need for a differentiated approach, and similar things. From my point of view, this is an extremely incorrect statement, since we are talking about personal, almost intimate dilemmas of value in invading the world of man. Therefore it is impossible to consider them collectively, we need a differentiated approach, if we want to succeed.
Learning starts right away with Judaism or people to start studying the history of Zionism and so on?
First of all, I want to say that we consider the entire program as a whole. The basics of Judaism and Jewish history are not something that can be divided. Learning, of course, goes very slowly and gradually. Learning includes familiarization with the basics of Judaism, a very serious discussion of the meaning and essence of the process of conversion, and gradually in the course of study and as it approaches its completion, more attention is paid to preparations for «Beth Dean».
How long is the course?
Program civil project lasts for one year, and during these 12 months, from once to two times a week classes are held. It depends on the specific class.
You are accompanying students to the Beit DIN?
Of course. Moreover, if the need arises, we do this several times till the successful completion of the process. Probably worth noting that all studies, preparation for «Beth Dean» and everything about «Nativa», for free. Civil project crowd funded by the government of Israel.
And the army?
Also the government of Israel in cooperation with «Jewish Agency», the Fund and Genesis Fund FIDF.
Naturally, the majority of students come from the former USSR. There are students from other countries?
Of course. Every year we take students who have arrived from 60 countries. Almost any spot on the planet «delivers» to us students. In fact, if we allow ourselves to put aside the bureaucracy and to talk about essence, we are talking about a surprisingly exciting process. I’m only two years in the «Native» and used to do very different things, but the feeling you get watching the return of the descendants of the Jews in the Jewish collective, almost indescribable.
How is your relationship, if there is such with other organizations working on issues of conversion?
We are a state structure, the main structure of the state in preparation for giuro. There are of course, small organizations that do the same thing we are, but we have no contacts, and I can’t say anything about their work except that the volume is much less than ours. This is natural, considering the difference in budgets and everything else.
If you are in contact with the «Beit dynamics»? For anybody not a secret that people wishing to convert to Judaism, has repeatedly encountered an attitude that friendly you will not name.
We work with all the structures relevant to the process of conversion, which are our students. As a rule, our experience very successful and positive. In rare cases, when there are misunderstandings, we intervene, but often this is not necessary.
Out of two thousand students, on average, how many successfully finish the process and pass the Beit DIN?
The one who deals with the problem of conversion, knows how difficult and even risky to operate with numbers in this question. Overall I can only say that those who reach decisions be brought before «Beit DIN,» as a rule, pass it.
But how many leave school during the course?
Very often people leave the study for reasons not directly related to learning. To convert only part of what happens to a person. The student can change the apartment, can happen some events can interfere with studies. But the important remains that have come down to «Beth Dean» people, as a rule, successfully finish the process. This may be the first attempt or the second, but this is less important.
Judaism is not too sympathetic to trying to persuade people to convert to Judaism. In this respect, your activities are not contrary to the basics of Judaism?
This is an important point. I have two answers to your question. First, we’re not talking about those who woke up at night seeing the light, and decided he wanted to be a Jew. We’re talking about descendants of the Jews, that is called זרע ישראל. In relation to these people, Judaism adheres to completely different rules. They need to assist in the passage of conversion, and important commandment is to assist in this process. All the people who come to «Nativ», you know what it is about. Our mission: to provide assistance where it is needed. Such activities are not in conflict with any of the commandments.
One of the main problems is the requirement to keep the commandments after the process is complete. How do you see the solution to this problem, given that the majority of those who convert to Judaism people do not become religious?
First of all, we are not a «Beit DIN». Our task is to prepare those wishing to undergo conversion. To hold them or not is not really my problem. But beyond that, it seems to me that the definition of «religious», «secular» and so on, less relevant to everyday life. Around me and you people live, whose observance or nonobservance of the commandments are not dictated by formal affiliation to a particular slice of society. On the other hand, the process that people go through, it is so deep and serious that, meeting graduates later, we are again and again surprised how much they have deposited, how much has affected the lives of even those whose appearance about it does not say.
During the course, students should maintain an appropriate way of life – to observe the Sabbath, spend the holidays in a religious family and so on?
Yes, while studying the people are introduced to the practice of Judaism – spend Shabbat in families where it met, are integrated into the religious community and so on.
Children need to learn in religious schools?
In principle, Yes. But in special cases we help to find a solution. In this matter, and in all other related to convert to Judaism.
Interviewed Gabby Wolfson
To discuss visit NEWSru.co.il in Facebook