Israel: 4000 couples per year cannot marry

4,000 couples a year cannot marry due to halakhic rules

By Lily Galili

At 1:30 A.M. Saturday,

Hava and Andre paced toward
their huppa at the Zebra Club, a disco for
Russian-speaking youngsters in south Tel Aviv.
The bride, in a long white dress, chewed gum
nervously. The couple was not really getting
married. They held the fake ceremony - attended by
some 700 young people - as a protest against their
inability to tie the knot in Israel due to
halakhic rules.

The overwhelming majority of the
revellers came from mixed
families or are not Jewish by
halakha, as a result of the
demographic changes in the
immigration from the former
Soviet Union in recent years.
An estimated 4,000 couples a
year are prohibited from
marrying in Israel. Thousands
of other couples prefer not to enter wedlock
under rabbinical officiation and cannot accept
the fact that their new homeland deprives them
of the freedom to choose.

According to surveys, more than 90 percent of
the immigrants from the former Soviet Union
want to get married in a civil ceremony. "This
is an ongoing injustice which we did not
encounter in the places we came from," says
Hava. "I think this situation exists only in
Israel and Iran."

"Forty percent of you will not be able to marry
in your country," said the host at the opening
of the alternative wedding ceremony. "This is
neither just nor democratic." This week he will
go overseas to marry his betrothed, whom he
cannot marry in Israel.

Hava and Andre, 28, were chosen to star in the
protest act out of dozens of couples who
responded to an invitation on the Russian
language Internet site Souz. The two, who came
to Israel seven years ago, will have a kosher
wedding ceremony this week, but volunteered to
take part in the protest demonstration in the
name of the hundreds of couples who cannot
marry. The attendants were asked to sign a
petition that will be submitted to the Knesset

Andre said a friend of his, who was badly
wounded during military service in Lebanon
shortly after coming to Israel and was
hospitalized for six months, found he could not
get married and was forced to fly with his
girlfriend to Cyprus. "We fulfill all our
obligations, we serve in the army, pay income
tax, but we don't get the most basic right - to
marry in Israel," he said.

Hava said there are many other obstacles that
disrupt the life of the young people who
immigrate to Israel on the basis of the Law of
Return. "Many couples have no money to go
abroad to get married. So they don't get
married and their children are considered the
children of single mothers, who get all the
financial benefits. The state loses a lot of
money from this, if you also think of the
millions spent every year on weddings abroad.
Only the private companies that market `wedding
packages' in Europe, make a fortune.
Altogether, this is hypocrisy and make believe.
The religious people don't really prevent mixed
marriages, they merely incur financial losses
to the state and cause suffering to masses of
young people who are embittered and harbor
anger toward their state," she says.

The Zebra club event was organized by the
immigrants' group in the Forum for Free Choice
of Marriage, an umbrella organization of 30
groups, including the Association for Civil
Rights, Na'amat, Hemdat and new immigrants'
organizations. The group's slogan is "we want
to get married in our country." In Russian it
is called "Forum for civil marriage" - the real
demand of the youngsters.

On the "wedding night," the forum's
representatives dispensed advice on marriage

Young women in wedding dresses wove their way
among the dancers, covered in posters saying
"we want to do it in Israel, not in Cyprus."

Olga, a 21-year-old economics student, and
Yvgeny, 23, have bad memories of their marriage
ceremony in the City Hall of Larnaca, Cyprus.
Yvgeny, whose father is Jewish but not his
mother, was then a conscripted soldier. He
could not get married in Israel, but as a
soldier had difficulty overcoming the
prohibition on leaving the country.

The problem is huge and getting bigger with the
increase in non-Jewish immigrants. Some 320,000
immigrants from the former Soviet Union are
registered in the Interior Ministry as non-Jews
or as persons whose Jewishness is doubtful.
They will have a real problem when they want to
marry Jews. In future, the problem will be
passed on to the second generation because the
children of non-Jewish mothers will also not be
allowed to marry.

"We are demanding that Shinui keep its promise
to find a solution to those who are prohibited
from getting married," says Milena Abaz, the
head of the immigrants forum for civil
marriage. "This is what they promised us in
every election campaign, and even anchored in
their coalition agreement setting up a joint
committee with the National Religious Party and
the Likud to find alternative solutions. They
have so much political clout, and they don't
know anything with it. This big happening is
intended to bring the issue back to the daily
agenda and also to pressure Shinui."

A Shinui spokesman commented: "These days the
names of the candidates on the committee are
being submitted. According to the coalition
agreement, the committee will have nine months
to present recommendations and proposals."

<p align=center>"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...",
¡Ay, Dios!

Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja</p>
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