Adopted Children Face Conversion Problems

The center for converting children adopted overseas ceased functioning some two months ago and is on the verge of closing down permanently. The Conversion Administration in the Prime Minister’s Office plans to shut down the Shapira Center, an Orthodox Rabbinical Conversion Court near Ashkelon, and transfer its authority to the Ashdod Rabbinical Court. Dozens of parents have recently asked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to reopen this court, which was considered liberal, and is very popular among former Soviet Jews requiring conversion. Most children who were adopted abroad were converted in the Shapira Center, headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman. The center is run by Rabbi Yossef Avior, who has gained the trust of adoptive parents due to his moderate approach.

However, the Rabbinical Courts management believes that Avior is not strict enough and did not renew the contract with the Or Etzion yeshiva, in which the court operates, in January 2004. Although the center’s computer was removed and the payments to the staff stopped, Avior continued working and coverted about 1,000 people last year, including 186 adopted children, with volunteer staff. But in the last two months those calling the center have get a recorded announcement asking them not to leave a message. “I have letters from dozens of parents asking to convert children they adopted, and it hurts me not to be able to help them,” Avior said. Some of the children, who have already passed the conversion process, have not received their certificates yet.

“We, adoptive families who after years of suffering and prolonged waiting finally got to be called `parents,’ find the door to the children’s conversion court closed,” dozens of parents wrote in a joint letter to Sharon. The parents fear a “long, foot-dragging process” in which the children would be forced to resort to Reform and Conservative conversion. Sources from the Prime Minister’s Bureau said: “These days a decision is supposed to be made about the court’s location. When it is made, the court will no doubt be supplied with all the logistic means for effective routine activity.” However, the bureau did not answer most of Haaretz’s questions and the adoptive parents say they received no reply to their letter. The children’s services department at the Social Affairs Ministry, which supervises the adoption of children from overseas, also received queries from worried parents wishing to convert their children. “We are trying to solve the problem,” ministry spokesman Nahum Ido said.

Avior fears the Rabbinical Courts management’s intention to transfer the Shapira Center’s activity to the Ashdod Rabbinical Court would deter potential converts. “We meet the convert as an equal, rather than sit in judgment of him. Our center is in a blooming garden, and we provide the convert with a home. For us conversion is an ideology, not a necessary evil. We don’t make conversion easy. You don’t have to buy a shtreiml and live in Bnei Brak to convert with us,” he said. The Shapira Center converted 182 children who were adopted abroad during 2003 and 186 in 2004. In the past two years, an average of 235 children were adopted annually.

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