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Question: I converted to Judaism some 35 years ago. During the hurricane I lost all paperwork. My rabbi has passed and no one knows where his copies are. What am I to do, for I wish to make aliyah to Israel?
Answer: Mazel tov on deciding to make aliyah! That’s very exciting, and though it might be a challenge to get around the significant hurdle of lost conversion papers, I do have some ideas for you.
The first thing I would do is approach Nefesh B’Nefesh about making aliyah. They will get you started on the paperwork, and help you navigate the specifics of your case. I got in touch with Doreet Freedman, the Director of the Pre-Aliyah department at Nefesh B’Nefesh, who told me that issues like yours are usually presented to the Israeli Ministry of the Interior before the aliyah application is approved.
The Ministry of the Interior generally requires a conversion certificate (all denominations are acceptable), a letter from your rabbi explaining the syllabus you studied prior to conversion, as well as confirming that you were active in your Jewish community post-conversion, and a letter from you that explains why you converted, and why you want to make aliyah.
Depending on how you converted, you may actually be able to get a copy of your conversion certificate. If your conversion was with an Orthodox rabbi, then a conversion certificate would likely have been filed with the Rabbinical Council of America. Rabbi Michael Zylberman is the Administrator of the Regional Courts for Conversion, and he told me that the RCA has files going back to the early sixties, but they’re not comprehensive. So if you converted in the mid-seventies, it’s possible that the RCA would have a copy of your conversion certificate, but not certain.
According to Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg, if you converted with a Conservative rabbi, the Rabbinical Assembly may have a certificate on file, but their records from that time are not very well organized, so it’s unlikely that they would be able to locate it. The Rabbinical Assembly is working on putting together a new system that would make it easier to locate records like yours.
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