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Question
QUESTION: שׁלוֹם לוֹן


I am a Belgian of non-jewish descent, and I am atheist. I however have a very strong fascination for Israel as a country, and I would love to spend several years living in Israel in order to fully discover the country and its culture. I don't believe in regular tourism methods, as Israel is too diverse (both scenery wise, population wise, ...) and also, having lived in several other countries than my own yet, I experienced the countries I lived in much more in-depth and came to a much better understanding than I could have ever achieved as a tourist.

Already for several years I have been checking options to emigrate to Israel, but the visa criteria are extremely complex and seem to also change regularly. I understand a work visa can only be applied for if you have a very special skill which is in demand (for example professional athletes seem to get in relatively easily) but for the average person a work visa cannot just be obtained. Making aliyah is obviously impossible when one has no jewish roots, and converting for the sake of a visa is a lie I am not really wanting to make. Part of respecting Israel and its unique history is respecting the special rules regarding emigration to the country and absorbing Jews moving to Israel. Lying about my atheism for the sake of a visa would be rather insulting to the country and its people, and also I do think the fascination/attraction to the country can easily apply to atheists since the country offers so much in terms of history, it can be seen as a cradle of civilisation overall. So the historical uniqueness of Israel alone is something which makes the country fascinating even to an atheist :) Take away religious attraction to the country, and you still have so many other fascinating sides of the country ... Also, many non-observant jews (of jewish ancentry but not religious  themselves) still move to Israel and make aliyah even when they are not religious and enter based on having a jewish (grand)parent only. So clearly the country attracts, even to many who are not religious.

What I was wondering is, whether a non-jew can legally reside in Israel without working permit (thus applying for residence permit but not working permit) subject to having a fixed income from your native country and proving you are financially self-reliant. I know some people who wish to reside in Israel for a while and have a fixed income anyways, just leave and hop across the border and back every 3 months to renew the tourist visa. This however seems a lot of hassle. In several countries one can move in as long as he can prove to be financially independent, and then be issued a residence visa. Is such thing possible in Israel at all, or do residence permits only get issued when someone is either Jewish or received a working permit first?



תוֹדה רבּה


Gerrit
גר׳ט


PS: I have studied Hebrew for a year and while my vocabulary and grammar are limited (you cannot master a language with just 2 hours of class a week) I did learn to read and write in Hebrew and continue to follow courses to further learn the language (of course it goes a lot slower than in an Ulpan, but step by step I hope to at least be able to have a basic communication skills in the near future)

ANSWER: As far as I know there aren't any visa requirements for Belgians visiting Israel as tourists. I don't know exactly how long a tourist can stay here but I assume it's at least 6 months.

I just received a letter on this subject from a campaigner for the Reform Jewish Community about the problem of Israeli citizenship for Jews who have converted to Judaism through the Reform congregation. They are also active in promoting a more liberal approach towards non Jewish visitors to Israel. I suggest you contact her or look into their activities, at leas they would be able to give you more information than I.
you can write to:  pluralist@irac.org

Here is an excerpt from here letter:
Imagine making aliyah- leaving your work, family and friends behind. Making a bold journey- only to be rejected by the Israeli authorities. In the past couple of weeks we lived an intense drama with one of our brave olim (new immigrants), who was arrested and almost deported. We managed to stop the deportation just as he was boarding the plane.

Kirk Maxfield, who had a Reform conversion in 1993, was arrested at his home in Haifa for overstaying his tourist visa. Mr. Maxfield had applied for citizenship, but was not permitted to stay in the country while his case made its way through the system, as is normally the case.

While all streams of Judaism agree in principle that Jews by birth and Jews by choice should be welcome in Israel they disagree on what constitutes a “proper” conversion. In 2005, IRAC won the right for Jews who had a Reform or Conservative conversion abroad to be granted full rights of olim in Israel. In spite of this victory, many converts find themselves denied this right.

Some converts are particularly discriminated against. Each year, dozens of African Americans who converted to Judaism abroad make Aliyah. When they arrive here they go through intense scrutiny because of fears that they are connected to the Hebrew Israelites, a community of African-Americans in Dimona whose members are not recognized as Jewish. During this process, the converts are not granted a work visa, or medical benefits, like other olim. Sometimes they are deported prematurely, like Mr. Maxfield.

Through our Legal Aid Center for Olim, headed by Adv. Nicole Maor-Center, we do our very best to help them fight the system and convey to them how deeply we value their desire to become part of Israeli society.  If Israel is to remain a homeland for all Jews it must welcome all Jews.

The new Knesset will have the largest number of Orthodox members of any Knesset in history. The rights of non-Orthodox converts could be in further jeopardy depending on whom Prime Minister Netanyahu picks to head the Ministry of the Interior.

We need to continue applying pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a government that will respect the rights of all Israelis. Whether you were born into a Jewish family or came to Judaism on your own, living in Israel is your right too. Please help us protect that right by clicking here.

L’shalom,
Anat Hoffman
Executive Director, IRAC

Congratulations on your Hebrew. I think that's great. I love Israel, Judaism, the Hebrew Language and am always happy to hear about someone who takes a sincere interest in these matters.

Israel is a young country and the Jewish People are still tied to the strictures of the Jewish religion which mostly originated in the Diaspora, which changed many aspects of the Jewish religion and actually don't represent the true Jewish religion of the Jewish State, which, in my opinion is very liberal. I hope that as time goes on and the Jewish People continue to develop systems of the state that govern the state's position vis a vi foreigners we will see changes, but it's a very early time in this trend of things. I value your tolerance and patience in this matter and I believe an uncritical attitude is called for.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: שַׁלוֹם הַדַשׁ מְבּלגיַה


Thank you for your response! I will certainly check out the IRAC website. Is there any type of organisation who inform non-Jews on living in Israel, or where non-jewish expats in Israel exchange experiences regarding their move?

I am pleasantly surprised by all info in your answer! :) I have once asked something similar to someone who literally stated "you are welcome to visit a while, but please do not marry any of our women or wish to stay permanently". She either found the idea of non-jews living in Israel a threat, or was simply against the idea that non-jews too can be fascinated by the country. The Israeli embassy here in Belgium have not been very responsive neither, so I am very glad to hear about IRAC and about an organisation that wants to renew the debate on Aliyah and "open up" the country without overthrowing its unique jewish background.

There are many non-jews who have a sincere interest and fascination for Israel and for the Jewish culture. I know of a few who actually were hoping to convert for the sole purpose of being able to make aliyah, I am not really considering that because I think part of respecting the country's unique background is respecting its rules and not lie about your religion for visa purposes. It would be great however if non-jews who have a sincere fascination for Israel and support the Jewish people's right to their country, could live amongst them in Israel. One does not have to be Jewish to have a special interest and fascination for Judaism and Israel, and while some people may have bad intentions due to politics, there's a lot of others like me who have nothing but good intentions and would love to live in Israel with full respect and sincere interest in its culture and in the Jewish religion.

It is by the way undeniable that several places in Israel (such as Yavne, Jerusalem, Masada) have been extremely important cradles of civilisation overall. The historical value of these places is extremely fascinating. Jerusalem is considered a holy place for all three monotheistic religions, and even non-religious people (like me) cannot deny that the city has been of core importance for the development of civilisation (and thus very relevant regardless of being religious or not). It is this historical value which makes Israel such a fascinating place, regardless of religious believes. I hope one day the government will, when realising good intentions of a person, allow non-jews to reside in Israel and fully immerse in the country and its unique history. Most of us goyim who still wish to emigrate to Israel, also fully respect Judaism and the Jewish people.



Many greetings,



Gerrit

Answer
Israel is going through a phase of fear of losing its Jewish identity. I think this is going to gain momentum as politicians exploit it to get votes. It's a common trend throughout the history of many nations. It takes a while for a nation to feel confident enough with its identity to open up to foreign influence by opening its gates to immigrants with a different identity, especially with a Christian or Islamic orientation. America is a good example of a nation that is now opening itself to new influences, but then America was founded on very liberal values, even so there is strong opposition to Obama's policies of opening up America. I think, from the little I know of Europe that you are also becoming more open. We shall wait a see. I believe that Judaism is the first ever society that adopted a policy of openness to foreign influence. I'm referring to Judaism of Bibllical times not to Judaism of today which has been seriously damaged through its long experience in the Diaspora, but if we are true to our roots we will go back to the liberalism of Biblical Judaism. I'm referring to the law of the stranger. Here is an excerpt from an article, in Hebrew, on the net, by Aaron Amuzag, "The Bible(Tanakh) contains several expressions for foreigner: stranger, dweller, a stranger who becomes a dweller, and employee, a son of a foreign nation, a slave. in this article he refers only to foreigner who lives in the land. The Tanakh basis its approach on the fact that we were strangers in Egypt. There are four laws about loving the stranger. Lev 19:18, Deut 10:17-20, Lev 19:34, He also brings examples from Maimonides. The subject of protecting the foreigner in your land is fully dealt with in an article by Adv Joshua Shofman (Hebrew) on the section (parsha) of the Torah Mishpatim, (Judgements) Exodus 21:1-24:18,  

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Leon Gork

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I can answer questions on Jewish history and religion, especially the relationship between Judaism and other religions and questions about every aspect of Israel

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I've been a tour guide for more than 25 years in Israel and I've taught Jewish History and Religion in various schools at high school level

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BA in comparitive Semitic Languages and 5 years of university study in Jewish philosophy

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