Adat Israel fights for recognition in Israel

It all began with a Zionist dream

The history of our community began more than 10 years ago, a work in progress that has been undertaken in conjunction with our volunteer Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, who was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1983 and is well known throughout the Reform movement. The birth and very existence of our synagogue is for the sole and genuine intention of living and developing Progressive Judaism in Guatemala. Adat Israel as you may now, is a community founded and formed by Jews by Choice; conscientious and responsible people who went through due process, regulated by Jewish law and supervised by authorized Rabbinical authorities of our Reform movement, all in order to be part of the Jewish people.

Rony Veliz, as some have read in Anat Hoffman’s newsletter, is and has been a member of our community since the beginning of our history. He lives in Antigua Guatemala about 45 minutes away from the capital city. He is a dentist and was raised as an evangelical, a religion he abandoned when he was 15 years old. At the age of 27 he found Judaism and decided that was his life’s passion, leading him to complete his conversion process in 2014. Rony has been an active and constant member of our synagogue, from his participation in services and festivities, to his contributions and donations for the development of it. His love for Judaism and the state of Israel culminated in the ultimate Zionist expression: making aliyah and achieving his dream of living in Israel. This request has been denied, and this must concern us all.

The Interior Ministry in Israel does not want to approve Adat Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish community despite being an active affiliated member of the WUPJ since 2012. Their reason? Our community was founded by converts. Due to Rony’s rejected request for Aliyah, he has turned to IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) to fight the case before a judge. The problem has unleashed a chain of issues: If Adat Israel is not accepted as legitimate, then neither are all its conversions, and neither is the work of all the recognized Reform Rabbis who have helped the development and formation of our synagogue. Not only this, by rejecting Adat Israel as a community, the Interior Ministry is actually testing  the WUPJ’s authority to recognize and declare communities valid.

 What is the metric to be measured against, in order to be accepted as Jews? What determines our status as Jews, when a legitimate conversion and belonging to the global movement are not enough? Our origin, our skin color, our last name, the level of observance, how much we know about Judaism? What else do we need to do in order to be seen as equals?

We greatly appreciate Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, Nicole Maor our lawyer at IRAC, and of course Rony, for continuing this fight for a more inclusive and just Judaism, for giving a voice to all those Jews by Choice and communities like ours, and for embracing all who embrace Judaism out of genuine love.

Rebeca Orantes is the president of the Adat Israel in Guatemala. She conducts weekly services for her community and others in the region. She is currently applying to the HUC-JIR rabbinical seminary.