When Valery Dubinin fulfilled his lifelong dream and made aliya from Ukraine seven years ago, he never expected that the State of Israel would refuse to recognize him as a Jew.
His surprise, however, quickly turned to shock when, despite being armed with a ruling from the Petah Tikva Rabbinical Court attesting to his Jewishness, the Interior Ministry refused to register him as a Jew.
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"I don't understand how they can do this," Dubinin told The Jerusalem Post in fluent Hebrew. "I am a Jew. This is my land and this is my country, and I have a judgment from the rabbinate to prove it, so why won't the Interior Ministry recognize me?"
Interior Ministry spokesman Sabine Haddad told the Post that the ministry was not obligated to abide by the decision of a rabbinical court regarding a person's status as a Jew, despite the court being an official organ of the state.
"In principle," Haddad said, "the ministry does accept rulings from the Chief Rabbinate regarding a person's Jewish status. The exception, however, is when we receive conflicting information from another official source, in which case we reserve the right not to register the person as a Jew."
Haddad declined say to what the "conflicting information" might be in Dubinin's case, citing the need to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
Pressed to provide an estimate as to how many such cases there are each year, Haddad said, "There are not hundreds," but did acknowledge that it happened "occasionally."
After learning of the Interior Ministry's response, Dubinin expressed exasperation. "They will not tell me, either," he said. "When I asked them why they cast doubt on my Jewishness, they just refused to explain it to me. It is unbelievable."
Rabbi Moshe Klein, deputy head of the Conversion Authority, an arm of the Prime Minister's Office, told the Post he found it inexplicable that the Interior Ministry would refuse to recognize a decision made by another official state body.
"In the State of Israel," he said, "one authority must respect the decisions of another authority. Hence, when the Rabbinical Court recognizes that someone is Jewish, the Interior Ministry should register him as a Jew."
Rabbi Shimon Har-Shalom, director of the Shorashim Center in Jerusalem, which assists immigrants from the former Soviet Union with issues relating to personal status and Jewish identity, was also critical of the ministry's handling of the case.
"It is absurd that a clerk in a government ministry can simply choose to ignore a decision that was made by a state-run rabbinical court," he said. "This kind of experience only leaves people feeling embittered and contributes to their sense of alienation from Israeli society."
Har-Shalom, who has taken up Dubinin's case, displayed a thick file containing what he said was clear and convincing evidence of the man's Jewishness.
The file includes Ukrainian archival documents stating that Dubinin's maternal grandparents were Jewish, as well as a letter signed by Rabbi Pinchas Vishetzki of Donetsk saying that he had personally investigated the issue and was convinced that Dubinin was a Jew.
A source in the Chief Rabbinate familiar with the case told the Post, "I have no doubt that in the eyes of heaven, he is a Jew, and I would certainly count him in a minyan if he walked into my synagogue, regardless of what the Interior Ministry says."
Dubinin's saga began back in 1999, when he and his wife decided to move to Israel, motivated by a strong Zionist commitment.
When they submitted an application to make aliya, immigration officials told Dubinin they were not persuaded by the evidence he presented that he was a Jew, but told him it made no difference because his wife was Jewish, entitling him to immigrate in any case.
When Dubinin insisted on being listed as a Jew, the officials told him he would be better off sorting it out once he arrived in Israel so as not to delay his family's move.
Dubinin hesitantly agreed, and shortly after moving to Herzliya, he began trying to change his status at the Interior Ministry, but to no avail.
"I have been here for seven and a half years and I have been trying for seven of them to convince them that I am a Jew," he said. "I am tired already, but I am going all the way. Even if it takes another seven years, I will not stop until they recognize me as a Jew."