Last-ditch deal saves army conversion program from closing
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Last-ditch deal saves army conversion program from closing

After Nativ track was set to close and leave 2,500 soldiers converting to Judaism in limbo, PM and education minister agree on NIS 20 million funding through end of year

A soldier in the Nativ conversion program visiting a kindergarten in the settlement of Efrat to learn about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on November 7, 2013. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)
A soldier in the Nativ conversion program visiting a kindergarten in the settlement of Efrat to learn about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on November 7, 2013. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)

The Israel Defense Forces’ popular Jewish conversion course was saved from closing down after a last-ditch solution was reached by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett to fund it Thursday night.

Nativ, the only state-recognized conversion system in the country not controlled by the Chief Rabbinate, was set to close its doors on Friday over a budget shortfall of some NIS 20 million ($5.6 million), leaving some 2,500 students undergoing conversion, many of them soldiers, in limbo.

According to the agreement reported by Hebrew-language media, the program will receive NIS 5 million ($1.4 million) each from the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministries of finance, Diaspora affairs and defense.

The NIS 20 million in total will be enough to fund Nativ until the end of 2018.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Hundreds of soldiers, most of them non-Jewish immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, enter the army’s conversion system each year.

Thousands have successfully finished the program and converted to Judaism through the IDF’s rabbinic court.

In a letter sent to the PMO on Wednesday, the army-run conversion program warned of the looming shutdown, dispersal of the 2,500 students, and layoffs of some 180 teachers.

A similar budget dispute between Nativ and the PMO and Finance Ministry threatened to derail the program in 2015, and it was similarly later resolved.

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern — a founder of the program during his military career — had earlier called on the government to step in to bail out “one of the most important projects for the IDF as a people’s army.”

Stern said that “as one of the cornerstones of conversion in Israel, the Nativ course has frequently proven itself more [effective] than the state conversion system.”

The first Nativ course opened in 2001.

Marissa Newman and Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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