The Ohr Torah Stone Ulpan L’Giyyur – the only Spanish-speaking conversion institute in Israel – has proven itself a critically important addition to Israeli society.
Initiated by Ohr Torah Stone at the behest of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, the ulpan aims to strengthen Jewish identity in Israel while concurrently coming to the aid of families in need from Latin America and Spain. Students hail from a wide range of countries including Spain, Chile, Brazil Venezuela, Colombia and Peru. Each student has his or her own distinctive background, and each has a compelling story behind the desire to join the Jewish nation. Many of the students have come to the program after discovering a hidden element of Judaism in their backgrounds: one woman remembers being given an Old Testament on her 12th birthday; another recalls his grandmother putting bread and salt on the dinner table each Friday night. One unfortunate program participant was raised her entire life as a practicing Jew, only to discover shortly before her marriage that her biological mother was a non-Jew and that her adoptive family had never arranged for her formal conversion.
Students are educated in an environment that is warm, caring and committed to making it easier for them to begin their new lives as Jews. First of all, rather than limiting the 14 classroom hours a week to the basic study of Jewish thought, law and practice, a great deal of time is also devoted to delving into Jewish culture and understanding Israeli society. This includes, for example, the examination of Hebrew literature, Jewish history and Hebrew song, as well as familiarization with national customs and traditions. In addition, the program places high priority on assisting participants outside of the classroom as well. The institute’s faculty is intimately acquainted with each student, assisting them even with the practical matters involved in any immigration such as finding employment, housing and appropriate education for their children. This principle of personal association is so valued that each student is provided with a warm, adoptive family in Efrat, with whom they spend Shabbatot and holidays during the course of study.
In most cases, the students forge lifelong friendships with these families that last long after their conversion, celebrating life-cycle events and smachot together. Just last week, the adoptive family of a program graduate hosted his wedding, and it is not unusual for Efrat residents to make bar mitzvas, britot or sheva brachot for program alumni and their children, whom they have come to regard as part of the family.
Although other conversion programs end their involvement once they’ve brought their students to the Rabbinical Court, the OTS ulpan is unique in maintaining contact with former students, helping them build new, Jewish lives and successfully acclimate into Israeli society. The faculty continues to assist them with practical matters, as well as remaining available to answer whatever religious questions arise.