Israeli legislation can ease lives and prevent tragedy

The lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis stand to be changed by two pieces of legislation reported in today’s Ha’aretz. The first, the lead item on the front page, is a government-backed bill concerning couples who seek legal recognition of their union—without having to wed under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel or undergo a civil marriage outside the country.

The bill does not specify the sex of the members of the couple and thus would apply to same-sex unions. It would also apply to couples whose members are of different faiths and therefore cannot be wed in Israel, where marriage is in the hands of the clergy. This is especially important for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were allowed to become citizens under the Law of Return because they have at least one Jewish grandparent but who are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate because they are not born of a Jewish mother. In Israel they cannot marry Jews. Having to bypass these strictures by undergoing a civil marriage abroad (Cyprus has a thriving wedding-package business based on Israelis) is both humiliating and expensive.

This bill has a long way to go before it becomes law, but it is a promising start. Meanwhile, an amendment to another law has already been passed by the Ministerial Legislation Committee, but this piece of life-changing news was buried at the bottom of page 5, perhaps because it will affect a much smaller number of people.

The amendment allows the courts to free adoptive Jewish parents of a non-Jewish child from having to prove that they are living as Orthodox Jews. Israeli law allows adoption only of a child that is the same religion as the adoptive parents. But until now, adoptive parents who had brought a child from abroad and sought to convert that child in Israel were required to adopt an Orthodox way of life and to send the child to Orthodox schools.

Now the courts may rule that what is best for the child does not require a punctilious examination of the “Jewishness” of the adoptive parents.

This item touched me because it brought to mind something I had written for The Jerusalem Post in 1996. In those days the paper ran occasional profiles of special-needs children in need of adoption. The peak of my journalistic career was learning that one of the children I had written about was adopted by a family in the north of the country.

But another child I fell in love with most likely ended up in an institution because he was born of a Christian mother and the law, as it stood then, meant that he could be adopted only by a Christian family, or, if he was to be converted to Judaism, an Orthodox family or one that was willing to adopt an Orthodox way of life—thus severely limiting the pool of potential adoptive families. This was Daniel, as I described him then:

“Daniel is a beautiful child. With his lithe body, large brown eyes, broad smile and golden-brown skin, it’s easy to imagine him acting the happy child in a breakfast-cereal commercial.

“But Daniel’s life has been anything but happy. Born in Europe and brought here by adoptive parents who then decided they couldn’t care for him, he lives in a temporary home run by the government adoption service.

“Each day this seven-year-old hopes a new family will come and give him a real home. He has even drawn pictures of the family he hopes will someday love him. But time is running out for Daniel. If an adoptive family can’t be found soon, he will have to be sent to an institution.”

The law made it virtually impossible for that Daniel to find a family, but the amendment can save the Daniels of today.

Text copyright 2013 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.

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12 Responses to “Israeli legislation can ease lives and prevent tragedy”

  1. Marilyn Bono Says:

    A very interesting and hopeful piece, Esther. This is important for the individual child, the family and the society.

  2. Tobie Says:

    Thanks for this post, Esther. It’s very hopeful for both the marriage issue and especially adoption.

  3. Sandi Says:

    It’s about time!

  4. Nancy Barth Says:

    Hi Esther,

    I enjoy getting your reports (as well as Hadassah articles), thanks, and I have another issue to ask you about. I get emails about the Prawer Plan to remove Bedouin. How do people feel about it? Is it saving their culture or wiping it out? It sounds bad to me on the basis of the propaganda that I get, but I’m wondering what’s the real story Topic for another blog?

    Best wishes to you and your whole family, Thanks – love, Nancy

    • estherhecht Says:

      Thanks, Nancy. I don’t know how other people feel about the Prawer Plan, but I know how I feel about it. I won’t write a blog post about it, but some years ago I heard a lecture by a Bedouin woman on the consequences of forced urbanization for Bedouin women. The life of a Bedouin woman is not easy under any circumstances, but it is far worse in the towns to which some Bedouin were forced to move. In rural areas a Bedouin woman has an economic function. She tends the flocks, she may grow some vegetables. In the towns, she no longer has this economic function because there no longer is land on which to graze flocks and grow vegetables. Because of cultural constraints, urbanized Bedouin women become prisoners in their own homes, without status because they have lost their economic function. In general, the Bedouin towns are disasters. Unemployment is very high and so is the crime rate. Any change in how the Bedouin live must be worked out with them, taking their culture into account. Eventually they will become urbanized, but it will be a long, slow process. Esther

  5. Gepetto Sanchez Says:

    Hello Mrs Hecht,

    I’m writing a research paper about some certain subject, and found a very interesting info in one of your articles in Hadassah magazine website; which I’d like to cite as a source in my paper. However I’d like to ask a few questions about them before I use them in my essay, if you also don’t mind. Is there a way where I can reach you, like an e-mail address ? Great blog btw, very informative and interesting articles. Thanks in advance.

    Gepetto Sanchez

    • estherhecht Says:

      Dear Mr. Sanchez,
      You may ask me your questions through the comments function of my blog and I will attempt to answer.
      Sincerely,
      Esther Hecht

      • Gepetto Sanchez Says:

        Hello again,

        I’m a doctorate student of history, in Oslo, Norway, writing a research paper about the Jewish contribution to the historic watch-making industry of Switzerland, Geneva to be more specific. While I was searching the internet about the watch-makers of Geneva, I came across with one of your articles in Hadassah magazine, “The Jewish Traveler: Geneva (http://www.hadassahmagazine.org/site/apps/nlnet/content.aspx?c=twI6LmN7IzF&b=5763109&ct=8082509)”, where it says that in the past the Jewish people living in the Swiss-cantons were actively involved in the watch-making industry; however, right now, it appears that the only Jewish-owned watch company out of 68, in the city of Geneva, is Raymond Weil. I’d like to use that information in my paper and I was wondering if Patek Philippe watch company is also included among these 68 companies you have mentioned in your article. Thank you.

        Yours sincerely,

        Gepetto Sanchez

      • estherhecht Says:

        Dear Gepetto, I did not have an opportunity to visit the Patek Philippe Museum when I was in Geneva, but I later phoned their spokesperson to ask about a possible Jewish connection. He said he did not know of any. I did not compile a list of the 68 companies but took the information from a reference work, which undoubtedly is a secondary source. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful. I would love to read your paper when it is finished. Sincerely, Esther Hecht

        On Sun, May 18, 2014 at 11:00 PM, Esther Hecht's Blog wrote:

        >

      • Gepetto Sanchez Says:

        Mrs Hecht, thank you very much for your reply. You were really helpful and, yes, as soon as I finish my paper I’ll send you one copy. Thanks again.

        Sincerely,

        Gepetto Sanchez

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