Friday, June 7, 2013

Getting a Visa in Israel

I wrote a few posts ago that we were having trouble renewing our tourist visas. Thankfully, all of the paperwork came through and we are perfectly legal now. 
Upon entry to Israel, we received a three month tourist visa. We tried to obtain a visa for all six months before we left for Israel, but were assured that it is a simple process that can be done from Israel. In our case, not so simple. 

Ultimately, the big problem was that we didn't know our options. We had two choices: to pay for the extensions on the spot, or take the time to prove that we are Jewish through the Jewish Agency and then the fees would be waived. But, they didn't tell us that. Instead, the Ministry of the Interior clerks looked at us and said that the fact we wanted to stay in Israel for another three months so that our kids could learn Hebrew and build a connection with Israel made no sense whatsoever...unless of course we are Jewish. So, they said, or at least we heard, you don't get your visas until you prove you are Jewish. 

We were clearly upset with this news. Like, yelling upset. One might think that at least one of the three people we spoke with in the office that morning might have mentioned that we could just pay for it and be done. Alas, for some reason, they insisted we prove our Jewish status.

Proof comes in the form of a letter from a rabbi who lives abroad and who can verify one's Jewishness. Unfortunately, a rabbi cannot vouch for herself. Fortunately, the East Bay Federation Mission to Israel was in town. I called Rabbi Chester to find out that he was at Yad Vashem, but was about to leave. With a half hour to get his signature, we quickly printed a letter and raced to the museum before he left Jerusalem. Thanks, Rabbi Chester, for attesting to our Jewishness!
As it turns out, once you prove you are Jewish, you actually have some rights. Everything having to do with visas is much easier. That may be why the Ministry bureaucrats assume that everyone would want to go through the process; especially a rabbi. Truth be told, if we had the option, we might well have chosen the "prove you are Jewish route" anyway. Yet, had we chosen it, we wouldn't have had the stress of thinking we had no way of rectifying our illegal presence in Israel. 

100% Kosher!
In the end, we are certified Jews, and I have learned enough about the process to help others not go crazy with stress when they deal with the Israeli government. Well, at least not on this issue. Below is a link to the document I put together for IRAC. It will be on their website. IRAC, being the social action arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, works on behalf of those for whom obtaining verification of Jewish status can prove difficult. They are fantastic. Though I did not have contact with Nicole Maor, the attorney who handles these cases, until after our process was complete, she was amazingly helpful in putting the puzzle pieces together so we could  understand what happened with our process. One more reason to appreciate the institution and the people who work on behalf of Reform Judaism here in Israel.  
If you know anyone planning an extended to trip to Israel any time soon, please feel free to forward this guideline. Hopefully, it will help reduce the stress. 


  1. I love the way that you took something that could have been just another reason to be angry at Israeli bureaucracy and turned it into menschlikeit. Such a rabbi!

  2. I had a very similar experience.