We have many examples in the United States that speak to cooperation between the religious streams in non-theological areas. AIPAC comes to mind as does the JCRC, Soviet Jewry, etc.
The best example in Israel is the Unity Committee of the Jewish Agency. We previously wrote about the positive results in the conversion dilemma. As we noted, approximately 3oo,ooo of recent olim from the FSU are not halachic Jews according to all streams.
While it would be wonderful to be able to convert the entire group in a halachic manner, it is really not possible. Firstly many have no desire to do so. A few came to Israel to continue worshipping in the Russian Orthodox faith, which has seen a major increase in worshippers, as a result. Others believe that they were singled out in the FSU as ”JIDS” based on a nationalistic or ethnic classification, and therefore there is no need to convert since they believe the world already recognizes them as Jews. Finally it is clear that in democratic Israel, you need not be a Jew to prosper in society.
Therefore, the emphasis correctly has been on the younger olim who are still in the childbearing age. When the older non–converts pass away in 20-40 years they will not have reproduced and will thus reduce the extent of the problem.
The great equalizer in Israeli life is the Army which drafts both young males and females. Since one quarter of inductees are immigrants, and one quarter of them are not Jewish, there are currently 7,500 soldiers who are not recognized as Jews.
There are a number of IDF programs SPONSORED BY THE MILITARY and concluding with their own conversion courts. These include:
· YUVAL – DESIGNED FOR SOLDIERS IN THE BEGINNING OF THEIR SERVICE. THIS IS A 16 WEEK COURSE THAT INCLUDES SOME BASIC TRAINING
· NATIV – A SEVEN WEEK COURSE FOLLOWED BY 2 SEPARATE ONE WEEK COURSES
· IN 2004 FIVE NATIV COURSES GRADUATED 1500 SOLDIERS.
· IN 2005 IT IS EXPECTED THAT 24OO SOLDIERS WILL GRADUATE
· OPEN NATIV –A SPECIAL PROGRAM FROM 8 AM TO 5 PM.
IMPORTANTLY 80% OF THE STUDENTS ARE NON-JEWISH AND THE REMAINDER ARE JEWS SEPARATED FROM THEIR TRADITIONS BY 80 YEARS OF SOVIET RULE. This is necessary so that the course does not get a stigma among young soldiers as being “for the goyim“ and discouraging attendance.
TWO WEEKS AGO WHEN I WAS IN ISRAEL, THE 669TH SOLDIER WAS CONVERTED FROM THE NATIV PROGRAM (669 in gematria is AM YISRAEL CHAI).
Starting with 0 army conversions in 2001, the rate is slowly rising and 426 were converted in 2004. Importantly, 155 males and 514 females were converted. It is obvious how important this is.
The first army education course had 36 soldiers, while the upcoming one will have 600.
The leadership in the chain of command on this issue has been truly phenomenal, all the way up to the Prime Ministers Office. The goal of the Unity committee is to reach as close to 100% as possible, understanding that it will probably be closer to 80% which, if achieved, would be a great milestone
The issue of civilian conversion is much more complex and involves politics, and the competing interests of the streams. Hopefully it will warrant a separate report.