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Got Your Papers?

Dovid Sussman

The Jewish People may be a single nation, but that doesn’t help us avoid dealing with bureaucratic issues that range from irritating to downright daunting when we move across borders. Here are some tips on how to make that process more user-friendly.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Great Britain

If you place a phone call to Josh Zaitschek, the education and programs director at a large shul in West Hampstead,England, you might be surprised by his accent. Born and bred inWestchester County,New York, Josh speaks with standard American inflections, despite having spent the past six years in theUnited Kingdom. By now, Josh is no newcomer toGreat Britain; in fact, he is a British citizen. But the road to British citizenship was a long one, paved with abundant paperwork, plenty of expensive fees, and an occasional amusing mishap.

The couple initially lived inIsraelafter their marriage, on Moshav Mattisyahu, and then decided to move toEnglandfor work-related reasons. This involved wading through plenty of bureaucratic red tape.

“We had gotten married inGreat Britain, so I already had a visa for the marriage,” recalls Josh, whose wife is English. “But I needed another visa in order to work, and I had to be inIsraelin order to get it.”

After he spent a few years in theUK, he was entitled to get another permit to remain there indefinitely. Eventually, though, Josh applied for citizenship, which required passing a test on British history.

“I probably know a lot more aboutEnglandand theUnited Kingdomthan a lot of other people do,” he laughs. “I had to know a tremendous amount about the British parliament and judicial system.” Josh was already curious to learn about the country’s workings, so he actually found the material rather stimulating.

The process culminated with a swearing-in ceremony, held in the British equivalent of a city hall. “I was probably the only new citizen there who spoke English as his first language,” Josh relates. “We took pictures under a portrait of the Queen. It was a proud moment for me.”

As members of the Jewish nation, we are used to looking at our fellow Jews as part of our extended family, regardless of where they come from. No matter where we live, we have far more in common with a Jew from another country than with the non-Jew next door. But in the eyes of secular governments, there is a different reality; sharp lines of national demarcation distinguish an American Jew from a Canadian one, and a British Jew from both of them. And while a Jew feels at home in any Jewish community, no matter where it is, secular law might prevent him from living there, or even visiting there — at least without having gone through a tremendous amount of paperwork.


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