Staff-Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky
Reproduction photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Staff-Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky, who was killed in clashes with terrorists in Gaza Friday, died before he could complete his conversion to Judaism, but on Sunday he was given a Jewish burial in Rishon Letzion's cemetery.
The Golani soldier's brother Eric said the Kadish prayer at the funeral, at which a military cantor was also present.
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The decision to bury the soldier as a Jew is good news for a number of organizations that petitioned the High Court of Justice Sunday morning against the Rabbinate and four city rabbis, in light of the tough stance the petitioners say they take against those who want to convert as well as their refusal to recognize state-sponsored conversions for matrimonial needs.
Sviatkovsky, who immigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan with his family in 1994, was on his way to completing a controversial IDF conversion process called the Nativ Course. He planned on completing the process immediately upon returning from his service in Gaza.
Rabbi Chaim Iram, who runs a conversion preparatory course at the IDF's Institute for Jewish Studies, told Ynet that Sviatkovsky was anxious to complete his conversion and join the Jewish people.
"He was really at the end of his studies, at the end of the final step, which he put off in order to serve a term in Gaza," Rabbi Iram said, adding that the soldier was very happy in the course.
"He really wanted it and he was a very positive guy. He stood out and was loved, and if he had managed to complete the process he would be Jewish today, but he wanted to fulfill his obligations first so it didn't happen."
Ilan Sviatkovsky laid to rest Sunday (Photo: Avi Mualem)
Rabbi Shaul Farber, head of ITIM, a nonprofit that helps potential converts navigate rabbinic bureaucracy, is one of the petitioners to the High Court. He told Ynet that Sviatkovsky deserved a Jewish burial according to the halacha.
"There are religious authorities that believe that once the conversion process begins the status begins to change, and in light of this he can be buried as a Jew. The halacha recognizes that there are people who care and want to be part of the Jewish people," he said.
General (Res) Elazar Stern, the former head of the IDF's Human Resources Directorate who founded the Nativ program, stressed Sviatkovsky's contribution to the state.
"When you observe closely you can see that immigrants from the former Soviet Union fulfill the most important and dangerous roles in the IDF," he said. "Their education stands out here and they deserve proper respect for this."
Stern added that volunteering for combat service is a move worthy of due credit and mentioned that Sviatkovsky had fought under Major Eliraz Peretz, a religious Zionist.
"This is what is absurd in this state: A soldier who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Eliraz needs to worry about elitism and certain haredi rabbis who receive a paycheck from the state but may not have recognized the state-sponsored conversion when it came through."