A Ger in Alexandria

The following is excerpted from Sometimes I’m all here, Sometimes I’m not by Peter Setter. The post was written on July 14th, prior to the six-month delay of the “conversion bill” issue.
People who know me well know that I am Jewish. People who know me better know I wasn’t born Jewish. Very soon, a change in Israel may force me to reevaluate how I see myself as a Jew.
This week a bill entered the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, which would fundamentally change Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora, the Jewish community outside Israel. The first provision places conversions to Judaism under the control of the ultra-Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate. The second provision would not guarantee automatic Israeli citizenship to converts. This bill would make my conversion meaningless in Israel.
Under current Israeli law, the question “Who is a Jew?” defers to the Chief Rabbinate: born to a Jewish mother or undergone an (ultra)-Orthodox conversion. Being part of a more liberal Jewish movement, my conversion does not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s requirements; however, under Israeli law I may immigrate to Israel. While Israeli would not recognize me as Jewish, I would be an oleh, an ascender to Israel, one to chooses to become part of the Israeli community.
Shaul Magid, an Indiana University professor, once compared the American Jewish community to that of ancient Alexandria. After the destruction of the first Temple, by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE, many Israelites went into captivity in Babylon and some escaped into Egypt. Later, when Cyrus conquered Babylon, the captive Israelites were allowed to return to Judea, though many stayed. After the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE, Babylon became the center of Judaism for nearly a thousand years. Though a large and vibrant community, the Jews of Babylon remained quite separate from their overlords. Unlike their neighbors to the north, the Jews of Egypt never returned in mass, and upon the founding of Alexandria, they were granted citizenship, actively playing part in the economy, culture, politics, and military. The Jews of Babylon were the prototype of how Jews survived throughout the ages, even down to the enclaves in modern day Western Europe and sections of Brooklyn and New Jersey. The Jews of United States resemble the Jews of Alexandria. Read more here.
Editor’s note: Many organizations have created educational resources around the conversion bill. Locally, the UJFC of St. Paul has created a resource page with a summary of the issue and a wealth of links for more information and updates.
(Photo: mileusna)