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November 07, 2012

Almost Blocked By Racism

Moses SebagagoOnce notified of his acceptance, he needed to make sure he could get a visa to Israel.“Getting the visa turned out to be extremely complicated. We had to deal with the fact that he comes from a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations, he’s a convert, and his skin color is not white.”

Moses Sebagago
Moses Sebagago

Ha'aretz has an interesting piece on a 32-year-old Ugandan lawyer, Moses Sebagago, who is a member of the Abuyudaya tribe. Sebagago applied to study at the Conservative Movement's yeshiva in Jerusalem but had some trouble getting there.

The Abuyudaya split from Christianity in the early 20th century, identifying as Jews and following Jewish customs. In 2002 most of the 1,500 Abuyudaya were converted by the Conservative Movement.

According to Ha'aretz, the Abuyudaya now have seven synagogues – one of them Orthodox –a mikvah, one rabbi, Gershom Sizomu, who received smicha from the Conservative movement, and two ritual slaughterers who were trained in Israel. It also has a Jewish school and  youth groups.

Even so, when one of the Abuyudaya needed a student visa, Israel's Interior Ministry, headed by Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the stridently anti-African haredi Shas political party, refused to cooperate:

…Getting himself accepted to the yearlong Jewish studies program at the yeshiva, which caters mostly to students from North America, turned out to be just one obstacle Sebagago would have to overcome before arriving in Israel. Once notified of his acceptance, he needed to make sure he could get a visa to Israel and find some funding to pay for his studies. “Getting the visa turned out to be extremely complicated,” recalls Rabbi Andrew Sacks, head of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, an organization of 160 Masorati or Conservative rabbis. “We had to deal with the fact that he comes from a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations, he’s a convert, and his skin color is not white.”

Sacks, the rabbi who converted Sebagago in Uganda 10 years ago, took it upon himself to wage the battle on his behalf with the Interior Ministry. After much back and forth, Sebagago eventually received a three-month tourist visa, which was recently extended to allow him to stay in Israel until the summer and complete his program. The World Council of Conservative/Masorati Synagogues, for its part, provided him with a scholarship to finance his studies. “We’re absolutely thrilled to have him here with us,” says Zvi Graetz, executive director of the council.…

Even with financial aid from the yeshiva, Sebagago couldn't afford to bring his wife and two children with him. He came by himself to Jerusalem for the year-long program of study.

Comments

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This is once again truly shameful behaviour by SHAS. However, my hope is that as more and more Israelis and more and more Diaspora Jews get to know Jews of "non-traditional origins" on a personal basis, they will learn to relate to them as fellow Jews and will drop their prejudice.

I have a feeling this story is as much about his non-Orthodox affiliation/conversion as it is his origin and skin color.

The question is, would he have encountered as much difficulty getting a visa if he had an Orthodox conversion and was headed to Ponevezh yeshiva?

I have a feeling this story is as much about his non-Orthodox affiliation/conversion as it is his origin and skin color.

I concur.

It has nothing to do with colour - I'm white and orthodox and the misrad hapnim took a year to sort my visa... They held my passport for six months, literally hundreds of phone calls and multiple visits to the office and still it took them nine months to even acknowledge they had my paperwork... Sorry mate it ain't your colour its Israeli govt efficiency or lack thereof!!!

Dov,

It's not "lack of efficiency," it's internal policy.

There is also a group of Abayudaya seeking Orthodox conversion- the Putti Jews. You can "Google" them. A couple of Putti Jews went to study in yeshiva in Israel. However, I don't know if they fared any better with the Israeli government authorities. Does anyone know?

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