- Sam Sokol
‘I’m the Granddaughter of a Jewish Woman With a Number on Her Arm, Why Does Israel Greet Me This Way
These Ukrainians escaped bombarded Mariupol. Now they have to fight Israeli bureaucracy
Sam Sokol and Anastasia Shub June 19, 2022
When Marina and her family landed in Israel last month, after fleeing the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, she thought her nightmare had finally ended. But when the displaced mother of two attempted to officially immigrate under Israel’s Law of Return – which grants automatic citizenship to Jews and their descendants – she was told she was ineligible.
Arriving with a letter from Mariupol Rabbi Mendel Cohen attesting to her Jewish status and an official copy of her grandmother’s birth certificate, Marina was certain the immigration authorities had made a mistake. After all, not only was her late grandmother Jewish, she had been sent to concentration camps during World War II and had the tattoo to prove it.
“I am the granddaughter of a Jewish woman with an identification number on her arm, who went through all these concentration camps, who was receiving compensation as a Holocaust victim during her lifetime. And why did Israel greet me this way, treat me like this? My grandmother is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish."
However, a representative of Nativ, the Israeli government body tasked with verifying the eligibility of immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, was adamant. “He said this birth certificate was written in red ink, which is inadmissible,” she recalls, complaining that she and her family – who currently have temporary Israeli tourist visas – are now stuck in “limbo.”
“I am the granddaughter of a Jewish woman with an identification number on her arm, who went through all these concentration camps, who was receiving compensation as a Holocaust victim during her lifetime. And why did Israel greet me this way, treat me like this? My grandmother is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish,” Marina says. “My daughter went to Jewish kindergarten, then attended Jewish evening school. She had a bat mitzvah in Israel in 2020. My son was circumcised in the central Kyiv synagogue.”
While moving to Israel in normal times can be a long and time-consuming process, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the Jewish Agency announced it was easing much of the bureaucracy involved and that new immigrants would be allowed to fly to Israel before completing the lengthy process of providing proof of their Jewish roots. However, this only deferred some newcomers’ problems.