By Aharon Yosef Rubin: The US State Department has made it nearly impossible for young families with newborn babies to leave Israel.
Until now, the procedure for citizens in Israel to receive a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (the equivalent of a birth certificate) and passport entailed going to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem or the Embassy in Tel Aviv, waiting on line for several hours, paying $65.00 (in addition to the $82 for a first-time passport), and waiting 2-4 weeks for the CRBA and passport to arrive. However, on August 6, 2007, the State Department switched the procedure. Now, in order to apply for a CRBA and passport, one must make an appointment on the State Department website.
There are several issues with this change. The first is that Kn”h, there are many Americans having babies here in Israel, and soon after this system was implemented, all of the available appointments were booked. Secondly, the website states that two appointments per child are needed, one for a CRBA and one for a passport, when in fact, only one appointment is necessary. This caused the system to be completely booked faster than necessary. A third problem was created as a result of the first two problems: Many couples plan to travel to the United States for Pesach, but are expecting a baby before then. Because they do not know
exactly when the baby will be born, they make several appointments on different dates, hoping to apply for a passport at the earliest possible date.
Boruch Hashem, some yungerlite in Yerushalayim created a G’ma”ch to assist people with these problems. This G’ma”ch, known as “The Consulate Appointment G’ma”ch”, advertised locally informing people that only one appointment was needed, and requesting those with extra appointments to please donate them to people in need. The response was overwhelming. Emails started piling in by the dozens, with people donating extra appointments, people desperate for appointments, and people that just needed information about the whole procedure. The G’ma”ch worked with these people, canceling the extra appointments online, and immediately
re-booking them on behalf of those in need.
Agudath Israel of America also got involved, putting direct pressure on the State Department to ease the hardship of these young families. After a lot of heavy pressure from the Agudah, the Jerusalem Consulate opened up appointments between the months of June 2008 and January 2009 (until now, it was only possible to make appointments two to four months in advance). This did not help the pressing matter of lack of pre-Pesach appointments, but the G’ma”ch advertised that anyone expecting a child should make an appointment immediately for when the baby is due, to avoid future problems. After further pressure from the Agudah, several appointments in February, March, and April opened up, but were all reserved within a few days.
Then, this week, the latest blow was delivered by the State Department. As of this past Monday, any appointment cancelled on the website is not opened up again on the website, making it impossible to transfer an appointment from one person to another. This brought the G’ma”ch’s work to a grinding halt.
Today, the G’ma”ch met with several members of the Agudah who are here in Yerushalayim for the annual Yarchei Kallah. The Agudah hopes to meet with Richard H. Jones, the US ambassador to Israel within the next day to further push this issue. The Agudah is also urging all Jewish US Citizens to contact their Senators and Congressmen and urge them to work on this issue (to find out the number of your local Congressman, call (202) 224-3121; for your senators call (202) 224-3121). These calls are taken seriously, and can strongly influence this situation.
In addition to calling Senators and Congressmen, US Citizens in Israel are requested to “bombard” the embassy and consulate with phone calls and emails requesting that this situation be rectified (Embassy email: email@example.com, phone: 03-519-7551; Consulate email: jerusalemACS@state.gov, phone: 02-628-7137, 02-622-7219, and 02-622-7250).
Furthermore, anyone in need of advice or assistance regarding the consulate or embassy is welcome to email the G’ma”ch at firstname.lastname@example.org