December 11, 2018 was an emotionally laden day for a recently married couple, especially the husband.
After a five-year conversion process, David Bonett converted to Judaism. Orthodox Rabbi Etan Mintz in Baltimore, Maryland supervised the completely kosher effort. However, a glitch in the man’s efforts to become an Israeli citizen has haunted his aliya process.
In 2017, David Ben Moshe, as he is now known, moved to the Holy Land. He met Tamar Gresser. They married in 2018. A charming, humor-filled woman who happens to be part of a prestigious Beer Sheva family, Tamar works in a bakery, as a sayyat ganenet/ nursery teacher assistant, and teaches Hebrew to new olim. The Gresser family, their friends and neighbors, have greeted Tamar’s husband with open arms, hearts, and hopes. They have been appalled, however, at the reception provided by Misrad HaPnim. It repeatedly delayed David’s citizenship application because of a crime for which he served time in a US prison for one count of the unlicensed dealing of firearms and one legal charge for the unlicensed distribution of oxycodone. While in jail, David studied chumash and Talmud, felt deeply moved by the integrity of Torah life, and changed his accordingly. As mentioned above, he converted to Judaism under orthodox auspices. Then he visited the holy land.
David made friends across the map of Israel. His wedding near Tel Avraham in Beer Sheva was lively, well attended, and a kiddush HaShem. Misrad HaPnim should have been there to get a sense of who this man is and what he’s all about.
The problem is Misrad HaPnim’s repeated delays at granting a teudat oleh status to David. Misrad haPnim officials have expressed doubt that David ben Moshe will not be a repeat offender. They have declined to renew the man’s visa in addition to failing to grant him Israeli citizenship. David Ben Moshe is now faced with the need to leave Israel on December 11, 2018. Misrad haPnim (the Interior Ministry) has thus forced ger tzedek David Ben Moshe into an illegal status by not granting him citizenship nor by extending his visa. The absurdity of the situation has not been lost on onlookers.
It is the core of Jewish belief that a person can change for the better. Talmud (Masekhet “Bava Metzia” aka the Middle Gate, 84a) records that Resh Lakish (Rabbi Shimon ben/son of Lakish), a violent former chieftain of bandits lived up to a halakhic precedent for that life-changing reality. Rabbi Akiva overcame his father-in-law’s inexcusable rejection of Akiva’s illiterate, rough-edged past. Both men became Jewish role models for the ages. Misrad HaPnim won’t consider that reality, though. The officials there remain stuck on Mr. ben Moshe’s legal offense, failing to assess David ben-Moshe’s post-prison life. It is one of admirable accomplishment by a man with an engaging worldview, a warm heart, a clever mind, and a profound sense of spirituality.
In the way of background to the mind-boggling situation, Israel has a long roster of mayors and MKs plus other public figures who repeatedly commit criminal acts. A former chief rabbi’s recidivism over the years has filled many headlines. A former mayor of Bet Shemesh served time in one of Israel’s prisons. His successors have spent significant amounts of time in Israeli courts. Several members of the recently replaced Bet Shemesh city council were arrested for corruption after several other appearances in Israeli courtrooms. When these and similarly incarcerated figures leave prison and/or pay fines, they return to Israeli society on the judicial assumption that they’ve done teshuva/repentance.
David Ben Moshe was deceived by statements from Misrad haPnim officials who informed him that his citizenship approval was pending. A months-long waiting period for that citizenship has become torturous, culminating in pointless returns to the site, and a December 3rd 2018 decision to deport the law-abiding newlywed, a successful businessman, to the USA at the end of Hanuka.
David ben Moshe is a well-rounded man of integrity. He behaves with utter decency. I know, because we are friends who met when he began to date his wife. She’s a daughter of friends who are highly respected in their Beer Sheva community.
Consider this: Principals from various AMIT schools across Israel recently toured some of the country’s prisons. They learned that repeat offenders aren’t always to blame for their crimes: they are refused entry into normative society after they make amends, choose honest, law-abiding lives and seek employment. They are denied jobs by bosses who learn of their criminal histories through background checks. Those bosses refuse to let the applicant make serious efforts to be reliable employees. Without a means of earning honest income, they are forced to support themselves by returning to crime. David Ben Moshe’s saga is a sad replay of such bigotry; Misrad haPnim has consigned the man to a life outside Israel’s world of gainful employment and citizenship.
David’s friends and family members have joined an effort to support the man. The civilly legal betrayal of a convert, the absurdity of the situation he’s in, and the need to pressure Misrad haPnim for an immediate approval of citizenship to David ben Moshe has resulted in a sharing of facts across social media, relevant statements from David, and the hashtag #LetDavidMakeAliyah.
A crowd-funding campaign to help David to manage the expenses of the bizarre attack on his perfectly decent post-teshuva character is at GoFundMe.
David Ben Moshe did teshuva. GOD accepts that. Misrad haPnim can accept it, too.
On Tuesday morning, December 4, 2018, David and his lawyer, Assaf Benmelech, spoke with officials in a Jerusalem branch of Misrad HaPnim. The result of the visit was learning that David must return on Thursday, December 6, 2018. No indication that his visa will be extended or his citizenship granted was made.
On Thursday, December 6, 2018 David announced the following on his Facebook page:
This morning I spent another 3 hours in Misrad Hapnim (The Ministry of the Interior) with my wife, and a lawyer.
Despite showing the relevant statutes as to why I was legally eligible for a Visa extension I was AGAIN DENIED a Visa or any other documents.
The lawyer then presented a letter from the law firm immediately demanding that I be granted a Visa to remain in the country, which they accepted.
Afterwards we met with the lawyer again who is now going back to working on the court petition. She will also return to the Ministry on Sunday morning to follow up regarding the letter.
However there was a BIG win we finally managed to change Tamar’s status with the government to married.
There was a interesting moment in the Family Reunification office where they AGAIN told us we were in the wrong place, and needed to go somewhere else. The woman who was helping us said she needed to speak to the manager and wasn’t sure if she was in yet.
So we told her than manger is definitely in, we just left her office and our lawyer is still there.
When we returned the manager (who I have gotten to know very well over the last year or so) fixed the problem and personally updated her status.
David learned that he would have to return to Misrad HaPnim on December 11, 2018, immediately after the end of Hanuka.
Hanuka, a time of miracles, is when we remember Yehuda HaMacabi’s rallying cry “Mi l’HaShem alai!” David Ben Moshe is caught in his holy fight for Israeli citizenship. Misrad haPnim ‘s only response to the man is enduring silence. His family members – extended and of origin, plus other supporters, prayed for positive results on ZOT Hanuka, a wonderful time for MORE miracles.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, December 11, the day that David was obligated to report back to Misrad HaPnim he and his lawyer endured a jarring experience. Misrad HaPnim officials still hadn’t reached a decision about granting David citizenship.
Lawyer Assaf Benmelech submitted a letter to the CEO of the Misrad haPnim/Interior Ministry, who has officially received David’s application for Israeli citizenship/oleh chadash status. In that letter, Benmelech demands that it be granted to David immediately or he will take David’s case to court. But can David remain in Israel now that his visa officially expired, with no indication that it can be renewed?
According to Misrad haPnim David doesn’t need a visa as he is applying for aliya. The Catch-22 is as exasperating as can be. David’s Israeli-born wife Tamar has finally achieved marital status, and he is her husband, struggling as they are to win his case for an Israeli identity. Israel’s government has left them in a troubling quandary.
Please do what you can to help the cause: Contact Misrad HaPnim with polite messages (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com ), contribute to the GoFundMe campaign, and pray for happiness-producing results.
May Av HaRakhamim Ohev Tzedek bless David ben Moshe with the rescue he needs. Please join us in our prayers for yeshuot rabot, nisim v’nifla’ot. #LetDavidMakeAliyah