Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Law of Return to Israel

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                  

The Law of Return is about immigration to Israel.  It is Israel's historical mission as the Homeland of the Jewish people to be able for a Jew to gain entrance and become a citizen.

This is a picture of my husband before I met him. He's standing in front of his lodge, a Masonic Lodge.  He was the only male Jew in this little town out in the West of the USA.  We met as I was the only female Jew living there.  We  married and made aliyah to Israel after a few years.  We had to drive 60 miles to the nearest synagogue each week.  It's hard being practicing Jews in little towns in the West, but there are those of us who have done so.

The Law of Return of July 5, 1950 gives legal sanction by according free and automatic citizenship to all immigrant Jews.  Many Arabs and Druzes were born in the land and lived there at the time of May 14, 1948 when Israel was re-born.  They became full citizens of the State since they didn't leave their homes when the Arab nations attacked Israel hours after it's May 14th announcement.  In fact, today Israel's population is 6 million Jews with 1.7 million Arabs of which most are of the Muslim faith.

"“Jew” is defined as anyone whose mother or grandmother is a Jew, or has converted to Judaism."  "In 1970, the right of entry and settlement was extended to people of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses."  The law since 1970 applies to those born Jews (having a Jewish mother or maternal grandmother), those with Jewish ancestry (having a Jewish father or grandfather) and converts to Judaism (Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative denominations—not secular—though Reform and Conservative conversions must take place outside the state, similar to civil marriages).

This is because Israel was created as a Jewish state. It's our reservation so that we may live in peace from the attacks of the world, which now seems pretty ironic.   It is the world's only Jewish state.  There are already 48 Muslim majority countries in the world and many find the count to be 57 countries today, not even counting the Palestine that Arabs have been trying to create since the Six Day War of 1967.  
1948 showing armies attacking new Israel

Before that time, they had turned down the offer originally made in 1947 to using half of Israel's land.  Israel had been promised that Palestine would become the Jewish Homeland and the Brits were given the mandate and told to help the Jews create this homeland.  Instead they accepted Abdullah's insistence on taking 80% of it, so what they offered to the Palestinians was 10% of the land and 10% remaining to the Jews for the Jewish Homeland.  The Jews got stiffed in the deal which they felt they had to accept as things were heating up in Europe at the time against Jews.  
Do I "look" Jewish?  I was Queen Esther that year in our city.  
Then, the problem comes up of identifying oneself as a Jew.  I remember making aliyah in 1980 with my husband.  We had made all arrangements through the shaliach in Portland, Oregon, and I don't remember having to present any legal credentials of the fact that we were Jewish.  Such things wouldn't have been had on documents in the USA.  Jew isn't stamped anywhere.  I could have had a confirmation diploma from Neveh Zedek's  Sunday School but who knew where that was at?
Morning prayers in USA before Aliyah-oil painting by me
       All we needed was our word, as I remember.  Anyone who looked at my husband could see that he was Jewish.  He had the stereo-type face of a Jewish fellow, and he was.  Born in Brooklyn, lived in Miami, he was even a Levite.  He had been in the USA Air force and was ready to move to Israel after a bout of anti-Semitic comic books were making the rounds in a high school where he was teaching history.
Change in morning prayers when living in Israel for husband and myself as a painter
My maiden name (surname) isn't easily identified, but it should have been known as being Jewish in Israel.  Goldfoot was also the name of a famous Israeli, Stanley Goldfoot, my 3rd cousin of Jerusalem, Chief of Intelligence for the Stern Group, otherwise known better as the hateful Stern Gang used by the Brits, known to Israelis as Lehi, led by Abraham Stern.  I was asked about my mother's surname, which was Robinson.  Robinson is  found in Christian, Jewish and Black cultures.  My mother had been Christian but had converted when she married my Jewish father.  I had no problems entering Israel.

 At the time, I hadn't made contact with Stanley and vaguely knew of him, but sure did after we settled in Israel.  We met at the famous King David Hotel, which Lehi had attacked in the Count Bernadotte situation.    Friending Stanley was one of the highlights of our life in Israel, and of course we had many more.  My husband found his father's cousin.  A rabbi, he  had established a  Boy's Town in Israel, located in Jerusalem.   We were treated royally, and were able to attend my first real Hassidic Wedding.  

There are people who would love to live in Israel and have reason to believe they are Jewish but who have no proof.  The map of Israel may not be on their faces.  I ran across such a person who was born to a Jewish woman, so he was told, but raised by his Muslim father in Syria.  He has a handsome face, and being Syrian, looked like many Jews to me.  I believe it must be hard to just look at a Mizrachi Jew and see much difference from most Syrians.

 He believed his parents  had married but had no proof of that, and all he had as proof was that gut feeling that he was indeed different from the rest of the family.  His stepmother was Muslim, his grandparents were Muslims, his father died when he was 3 and his sisters, girls sharing his father, were certainly Muslims.  He was the outcast-possibly born out of wedlock, thrust upon his stepmother as a baby of about 10 months or younger.  If they did marry, it wouldn't have been a Jewish wedding by any rabbi.

When he became an adult, he had that urge to find his birth mother who he had reason to believe may have been living in Israel by then.  All he had to go by was her first name.  He had no idea of what her Jewish maiden name could have been.  Jews in Syria in those days had to live on Jew Street, in a ghetto-like existence in Damascus.  He had no way to go through a conversion to Judaism in this country, nor even to read about Judaism and learn anything.  His father had been a Mason, actually a leader in the group, and he had that burning desire to follow his father in that, as well, but could not express this in such a country where it was outlawed.

So how does such a person gain entrance to Israel?    This man is an honest man--at least to a point, as we all are.  He did not want to make up names to get into Israel.  Having a Syrian passport would have raised the red flag anyway.  We didn't have problems because we entered with an American passport and of course were truthful.  If you come in on an enemy's passport, no doubt you need substantial proof of some sort.  All Jews had left Syria in the 90's with assistance from the outside and were taken to the USA.  Some of them had made it back to Israel, something Assad didn't want to happen.  This fellow may have had a Jewish mother but wasn't raised by her.  He just wasn't raised as a Jew.  Any Jewishness he was feeling had to have come through his mother's DNA.  Is this possible?  Isn't it environment that shapes a person's viewpoint and personality?
This is the subject of the book I wrote about my friend of his struggle to find his birth mother and to live in Israel in a land that held the same beliefs he did about G-d, relationships between people and life in general.  He knew it was far different that what he had been experiencing in Syria that he had found so distasteful. He made it to Egypt which wasn't the land of his choice.

Imagine how this stepmother had felt.  To see one's husband return to you after having a fling with the enemy-a Jew, and to return with his son when you only were able to produce daughters, must have been quite a slap in the face.  Then when her returned husband died, she just had another mouth to feed, this son of his.  Through it all, she most likely raised him as best as she could, being motherly, but couldn't resist those little barbs to wheedle him about wanting to be Jewish.

It made me wonder about how Benjamin must have been raised, that son of Jacob by Rachel, his true love, after she died in childbirth of  Benjamin.  He had to have been raised by her handmaid, Bilhah,  who was already the mother of 2 of Jacob's sons, Dan and Naphtali.  How did these mothers treat each other's children.  Was there jealousy?  Perhaps they were quite loving as we see in the TV program about a Mormon family.   So much is dependent upon mothers to teach children from the very beginning.  How did Jacob pass on his beliefs to his 13 children?  Yes, 13.  He had 12 sons by  2 wives and 2 concubines and 1 daughter.  The concubines were not from his family and the morality he was raised with.  Were they so different?  Had they changed by being the handmaids of Rachel and Leah?  One was Egyptian.  The first king of Israel was Saul, who was a Benjamite.
My friend  had a great fear of how he would be accepted in Israel.  Would people accept him as a Jew?  His intentions as he told me were to study Judaism once he was able to in Israel.  He even had ideas of becoming a rabbi.  Then he made connections with Israelis on facebook on a job hunt website.  They didn't believe him when he said he was a Syrian Jew.    He was horrified!   He sees himself as a Jew.

There have been other cases of people with a Jewish mother and Muslim father, but the difference between them and the subject of the book is that they were raised by that Jewish mother, knew of her history, her maiden name and that she taught them something about her religion.  The problem they all face is getting out of their country of birth and then entering Israel.

 The rest of finding out what happened can be found on

Resource:  facts about israel, 1973, Published by the Division of Information, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem
Letters From Israel by Nadene Goldfoot
Messages From a Syrian Jew Trapped in Egypt

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