Toronto couple faces ‘devastating’ bureaucratic obstacle to Aliyah

Edith and Jack Kalb, an upstanding retired couple from Toronto, is appealing to Israeli politicians for help in resolving a seemingly ridiculous obstacle to their move to Israel, where their only child and grandchildren live.

By: Atara Beck, Senior Editor, World Israel News

A Canadian couple – pillars of the Zionist community for decades – has been planning Aliyah (immigration to Israel), scheduled for the end of August, but Israeli bureaucracy is standing in their way.

Edith and Jack Kalb recently sold their apartment in Toronto and purchased a place in Modi’in. They filled out all the necessary forms for Nefesh b’Nefesh (NBN), the leading Aliyah organization which, according to its website, “in cooperation with the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel, is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from the USA, Canada and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah and the move to Israel.”

NBN, however, apparently could not help the Kalbs because they were blocked by government bureaucracy. As Edith explained in a letter to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated July 21, 2016, which went unanswered:

“We have lived in Canada since the 1950s and raised our family here.  We have been going through the Aliyah process for several months now.  We have filled out all the forms from Nefesh b’Nefesh and have supplied everything that was required.  We have valid passports, proof of citizenship, letters from our rabbi, our ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate), etc. All other forms of identification and proof of birth. The only things missing are our birth certificates.

“After all these months, we were told yesterday that we are being denied access to Israel because we cannot supply birth certificates. I have made some inquiries and it will take several months to get these documents, if they are at all available. We are talking about almost 70 years ago. We are devastated with this news.

“My husband was born in Kazakhstan in 1945 while his parents were on the run from Nazis. I was born in Czechoslovakia to Holocaust survivors in 1947.

“We are tax-paying, law-abiding citizens, in good standing in this country. We are collecting old age pension in Canada…

“We are being denied entry to Israel over documents that are 70 years old, to a country where they accept everyone from the world who wants to come home.

“We are desperate, devastated and appeal to you to help us with this matter.”

World Israel News (WIN) followed up this week with an inquiry to the interior ministry, to no avail.

Yael Katsman, head of communications for NBN, told WIN that they were “concerned and that no one should have to go through that.” According to Katsman, “it’s a Jewish Agency issue,” adding that she would try to help out.

Interior ministry ‘rejected’ appeal for help

WIN contacted Avi Mayer, the Jewish Agency’s international media spokesperson, who responded:

“According to the Law of Return, the determination of eligibility for Aliyah is made by the Government of Israel via the Ministry of the Interior. As part of the Aliyah process, all candidates are required by the Ministry to provide certain documents, including birth certificates. The Kalbs informed our offices that they do not have their birth certificates. After considering the circumstances of the case and noting the difficulty of obtaining the necessary documents, our staff recommended to the Ministry of the Interior that the Kalbs’ Aliyah be approved without birth certificates. The Ministry rejected our recommendation. A subsequent request to reconsider the situation has yet to be answered by the Ministry of the Interior.”

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The Kalbs lost a son nine years ago. Their only other child, daughter Lisa Parshan, made Aliyah to Beit Shemesh exactly a year ago, where she lives with her husband and four children. The Aliyah bug for the Parshans began in earnest when their daughter spent a gap year in Israel doing Sherut Leumi – National Service – and encouraged the family to move there. Their son is now entering the IDF.

A Jewish couple wants to ‘come home’

Edith served for many years as president of Emunah Women of Toronto, a prominent religious Zionist organization that raises substantial funds for charitable projects in Israel. She was the first – and for quite some time, the only – Hungarian interviewer in Toronto for the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation, which tells the story of Holocaust survivors first-hand. Since the passing of their son Brian nine years ago, the Kalbs donated a Torah scroll to the synagogue where he belonged and initiated a scholarship fund for learning-disabled students in Jewish elementary and high schools.

The Kalbs’ hard work and activism on behalf of the Jewish community and the State of Israel, however admirable, is not the point, Edith told WIN in a telephone interview. The fact remains that they are a Jewish couple in good standing that wants to “come home.” That’s all that matters, she said.

She also questions whether the immigrants from Ethiopia and other non-Western countries were required to present birth certificates before coming to Israel.

“We are hard-working, honest people, and being rejected from Israel because of lack of birth certificates from Eastern Bloc countries is absurd and ludicrous,” she wrote in an email.

WIN contacted Dov Lipman, a former Member of Knesset who now heads a caucus for English-speaking immigrants together with MK Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Lipman reached out to his connections in the interior ministry, but it has yet to be seen whether his efforts will bear fruit.

“I discovered over time in the Knesset, and since, that one of the problems in this country is that they don’t help,” he explained. The attitude, he said, is Kacha – a Hebrew term meaning that this is just the way it is.

“That has to change,” he stated. “I understand why, in general, they want birth certificates, why they need to stick to the system, but there has to be a way to think outside the box when the situation demands it. Otherwise, they put up barriers for people who want to be part of the country. There needs to be a mind shift from Kacha to ‘Let’s make this work.’”

“It all boils down to government bureaucracy,” Lipman continued. “People are comfortable in their positions and don’t want to rock the boat. There were times when I have been able to use my connections to help, and I hope that this time it works.”