While the world concentrates on security in light of the meetings between Sharon and the three Arab leaders, there is an equally dangerous situation in Israel that does not get much attention. I refer to the ongoing conversion crisis.
There is much background material on this issue in my autobiography. I have been involved in one level or another for 10 years. It is being played out under the banner of the Jewish Agency, the Prime Ministers office and the Chief Rabbinate. Despite the deep theological differences between the streams, there is agreement that the problem of 250-300,000 non-halachic immigrants must be solved if we are to preserve a Jewish nation.
One quarter of army recruits are immigrants and one quarter of them are non-halachic (according to every stream). The IDF at the highest level is determined to offer to each immigrant the opportunity as soon as they start their service to attend the Jewish Studies program either to learn about their heritage if they are Jews, or to complete the course and enter into the military rabbinic court system and become converted.
WE ARE SEEING GREAT RESULTS IN THIS EFFORT.
TO DATE 637 SOLDIERS WERE CONVERTED OF WHICH 487 WERE FEMALE AND 150 MALE.
Another 500 soldiers are in the process of converting and this is expected in a few weeks. Thus 90% of non-Jews who take the course go toward conversion, and 90% of them are successful.
At the present time 7500 soldiers in the IDF are non-Jewish. The target of the Institute and the IDF is to reach 3000 soldiers (of them, 500 Jews) to become motivated to take the course. A great debt of gratitude goes to Gen Elazar Stern for pushing the program, along with Professor Benny Ish Shalom the overall driving force of the Institute.
The civilian tract has been more difficult, and here the traditional attitudes of the reform movement in Israel toward orthodoxy always leave a bitter feeling in my mouth after each phone conference or meeting of the Unity Committee of the Agency. The committee has had an ongoing interest in this problem since the Neeman Commission had its hearings a few years ago. Not that the orthodox establishment has been blameless, but the appointment of Rabbi Druckman to oversee the religious conversion court while serving in the Prime Ministers Office has been a major positive step.
Prime Minister Sharon has taken a personal interest in seeing that there is no slackening of the part of the rabbinical leadership in this area. For the first time we are seeing real progress in the civilian path. There are 2000 students in the program Rabbi Druckman and the Sephardic Chief Rabbi have basically eliminated the intermediary who were obstructing the flow of candidates from the Institute to the Courts. Currently we hope that 70% of the candidates will pass the exam. Our goal is to get as close to 100% AS POSSIBLE.
THERE IS ANOTHER UNITY COMMITTEE MEETING IN TEN DAYS WHEN WE MEET IN JERUSALEM. I WILL HAVE THE LATEST FIGURES TO REPORT WHEN I RETURN.
We are on the right path. We cannot have one people if so many of our young are non-Jewish. Inevitably because of college, the army and societal interactions, they will inter-marry with young Jewish Israelis. This is an urgent problem and its solution must be accelerated without destroying the halachic (Jewish Law) process.