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Immigrating to Israel without The Law of Return: Part 1

January 6, 2010

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

You’d think being married to an Israeli citizen would make immigrating there pretty straightforward. From previous immigration experience to my beloved but overly bureaucratic Japan, the fact that it will be a tedious and time-consuming process is an absolute given. But I never expected the state would have the right to force my husband to choose between living in Israel and living with his perfectly law-abiding, educated, productive-member-of-society wife. Sure we weren’t allowed to legally get married in Israel, which was a low blow to my husband’s faith in his country, but Israel does allow its Jewish citizens to marry non-Jews if the ceremony is conducted abroad. We played by the rules and did that, but now the government has placed some major roadblocks in my path to being allowed to stay and work here.

Before I arrived in Israel, we spent a lot of time researching and making phone calls to prepare everything and make the immigration process as smooth as possible. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the process couldn’t be started until I was in Israel, but that once I arrived all we needed to do was present our marriage certificate to them, they would legally recognize the union, and I would be allowed to become a legal resident with the right to work.

However, when I arrived in Israel and presented the marriage license at the Ministry of the Interior, I was told it needed to be approved by the rabbinical court. We told them this wasn’t possible, to which the woman rather smugly replied, “I see. So she isn’t Jewish.” She then told us all the sources we had previously consulted gave us wildly incorrect information about immigration procedures, conveniently refusing to acknowledge that we had spoken with her own department several times. She handed over a list of about two dozen documents I need to procure and have “apostillated” (this is a new word for me despite my previous immigration experiences) in order to be considered to be allowed to remain in the country for more than three months, said she had no idea how to go about getting these things now that I’m in Israel, refused to answer my questions about what several terms meant or give any details, and literally shooed us out of her office. When I demanded to speak to someone with more authority, she refused and directed me to the American Embassy for more information.

The Embassy promptly directed me back to the Ministry.

After my first face-to-face encounter with the government, I have one piece of advice: if you’re not Jewish, hire a lawyer before you get to Israel.

During my research to find an immigration lawyer over here, I came across this ad campaign, which laments the 50 percent of the diaspora “lost” to intermarriage:

Not exactly encouraging.

But stay tuned for part two; I am not giving up!


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