Three people, three generations, all converted to Judaism on the same day, In Israel. Jews from all over the world have a right to come and live there and become citizens under its Law of Return. But not all of them are considered Jewish according to Israel’s rabbinate which controls all marriage for Jews in the country.
Someone with one Jewish grandparent can move to Israel under the law of return. But under Jewish law one is only a Jew if his mother was. And that means that her mother must have been as well. So someone whose father’s father was a Jew an get Israeli citizenship, but he will not be accepted as a Jew by the rabbinate and so will not be allowed to marry a Jew in a Jewish wedding held in Israel.
And the Israeli Rabbinate also only accepts as Jews those converts whose conversion it certified. Other converts, therefore, cannot have a Jewish wedding in Israel.
Giyur K’Halacha is an Israeli non-governmental conversion court network. Giyur K’Halacha provides an Orthodox conversion process for Israeli citizens.
Since its establishment in 2015, Giyur K’Halacha has converted more than 1,000 people to Judaism. The majority have been children of families from the former Soviet Union, but Giyur K’Halacha welcomes Israelis of every background and circumstance, including families seeking to convert adopted children and children of surrogacy.
One such convert is Ludmila. She immigrated to Israel with her husband Boris from Russia in the 1990’s, as part of the great wave of aliyah from the former Soviet Union. Boris is 88 years old and Ludmila is 85. The two were married in the Soviet Union 55 years ago. But that was in a civil ceremony, not a Jewish one.
Last week, however, the two were married again, only this time it was in a Jewish ceremony after Ludmila was not born Jewish and had only just converted. And so did her daughter and granddaughter, at the private Orthodox Beit Din, Giyur K’Halacha. Ludmila was orphaned as a child during World War II, grew up in an orphanage, and has no documents left to prove her Jewishness. However, she says that she remembers her parents speaking “a strange language” besides Russian and that they prepared meat meals in separate dishes.
The couple immigrated to Israel with their daughter Veronica and granddaughter Ludmila, who is named after her grandmother. When the female members of the family decided to convert, they turned to the private court, Giyur K’Halacha and after a course of study, they appeared in front of the private court, located at the Ma’aleh Gilboa yeshiva. The younger Ludmila, who was born and raised in Israel, helped her mother and grandmother with their studies and preparations.
After the three female members of the family completed their conversion process, Boris and Ludmila decided it was time to remarry, only this time it would be under a chuppah in a religious ceremony. Despite his advanced age and physical condition, the eager groom insisted on breaking the glass, as is tradition, in memory of the destruction of the Temple.
The wedding ceremony was held at the Ma’aleh Gilboa yeshiva, attended by family and Rabbinic court judges Rabbi David Bigman and Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, and Rabbi Benny Holtzman and students from the yeshiva. Ma’ale Gilboa yeshiva’s activities in the field of conversion are supported by Triguboff Institute.
After the wedding, their daughter Veronica said her parents’ story proves that even in old age, one must not lose hope, and must continue to live and improve.
“We are all very excited and proud of their accomplishments,” the younger Ludmila said. “I’ve grown closer to Judaism, observing the mitzvot for several years, but now that we have been privileged to convert in the Beit Din, the mitzvot take on a different meaning: As of today, we are Jews, and we have returned to our roots. I thank Giyur K’Halacha for their instruction and attentiveness.”
Shalom Norman, CEO of the Triguboff Institute, said that the case of Boris and Ludmila underscores the importance of changing attitudes in the field of conversion. “Today there are close to 450,000 citizens in Israel who immigrated from the former USSR who are an integral part of the Jewish collective but are not recognized or registered as Jews by the Population Authority of the Ministry of the Interior. This is a disaster on a national scale that has existential significance for the future of Israeli society. Adopting an inclusive approach in the field of conversion is perhaps the only chance we’ll have to overcome the deepening rift and polarization within Israeli society and for relations with Diaspora Jewry.”
“We are always excited when a convert joins the Jewish people, but when we are fortunate to see an entire family return to the fold, it is especially moving,” said Yael Belenky, General Manager of Giyur K’halacha, part of the ITIM organization.
“We can’t overlook the historical significance of what transpired in our Beit Din with these three generations of women, each of whom had such a strong connection to the Jewish people, and now with the Jewish religion. For every family like this one, we can add another stone in building the walls of Jerusalem after a long exile. Ludmila and Boris made aliyah under the Law of Return and were married for many years. They have daughters, granddaughters, and even a great granddaughter. Nothing was missing from their lives, yet they insisted on filling in something that was missing in terms of their Jewish identity – standing under a Jewish wedding canopy, in accordance with religious law, some 55 years after their original wedding.”
“To me, they are a living symbol of always being able to correct something, that there is no expiration date on love and faith, or on a true desire to build a Jewish home in Israel. It is an honor and a privilege to help them meet the great thirst Jews have to return to the bosom of Judaism.”