Absorption officials say the courts' policy is extremely offensive to these immigrants, who cannot obtain Israeli citizenship until they have conversion certificates. Haaretz has data showing that out of 181 young Ethiopians who have completed preparatory conversion courses since 2005, only one has received a conversion certificate.
Yeshuas Alam, 24, immigrated to Israel in 2003. Along with 11 of his peers Alam studied Judaism, underwent a ceremonial brit, a ritual mikveh immersion and an exam at the special conversion court. Yet two years later, only three have received conversion certificates.
"I applied to the rabbinic courts and the authorities dealing with this matter and received no reply," Alam says. "I am here out of choice and want to be a loyal citizen, but I have no citizenship."
A friend of his says a court representative occasionally visits their living quarters on Kibbutz Tze'elim to ensure they are maintaining a religious lifestyle. "We don't have time to pray three times a day," he says, "but the rabbis don't accept that."
Genet Godne, 20, completed her conversion process in 2004 and is also awaiting confirmation of her Jewishness. "Everywhere that we have to present our identity card questions immediately arise. It's hard to understand how difficult this makes our life," she says.
Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar previously ruled that Ethiopian immigrants are "complete Jews, without any doubt," but noted that they need to undergo a process of "returning to Judaism."
Godana, Alam and their friends are graduates of the first phase of Kedma, a program run by the Jewish Agency in conjunction with the Education Ministry to prepare Ethiopian immigrants for conversion. Kedma officials say the courts' policy is creating a generation of frustrated young Ethiopians.
"These are young people who give everything to their studies and for reasons inexplicable to them are forced to live for years with questionable citizenship status. No wonder they grow frustrated, bitter and full of hate toward the State of Israel."
The Kedma studies were recently extended from 10 months to a year at the demand of the conversion courts, yet the courts continue to reject a majority of graduates.
MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor) says the figures indicate the failure of the state conversion system.
"A single clerk, the administrator of the rabbinic courts, is halting all maneuvers related to conversion. It's incredible that because of a single clerk the conversion system is paralyzed and so many people are suffering," Melchior said.
The deputy head of the conversion administration, Rabbi Moshe Klein, sees no problem with the conversion rate: "The question of why 80 people didn't even come to court I refer back to Kedma organizers. As for the 30 who passed the court and are waiting for the [mikveh] immersion, this is a budgetary problem that was resolved recently. We're left with 43 who failed in court. This does not attest in my view to a problem with the state conversion system."
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