Israel’s government agreed to expedite the arrival of the final Ethiopian immigrants waiting to come to Israel.
Israel will increase the number of immigrants from Ethiopia for the next several months after bringing in many fewer than it had promised. Some 1,000 Falash Mura, Ethiopians whose ancestors converted from Judaism to Christianity, will be brought to Israel over the next four months, about 250 per month.
After months of fits and starts, advocates for Ethiopian aliyah are hoping that a visit to the African country this week by Israel’s minister of immigrant absorption will help set in motion a process that will bring some 7,500 additional Ethiopians to Israel.
Israel's Finance Ministry is proposing substantial cuts to Ethiopian immigration next year.
Most of the more than 20,000 Ethiopian Jews left in Ethiopia today are Falash Mura, people whose families were converted to Christianity about 100 years ago, but who still identify as Jews. The Israeli government for years has been wavering on whether they are real Jews and should be brought to Israel, even though most have family there. Today there are about 85,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel, including about 20,000 who were born there.
John Fishel took his seat on the jetliner and glanced across the aisle. Seated near the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was an Ethiopian woman. Resplendent in traditional garb, she cradled an infant in her arms and looked lovingly at her toddler son seated beside her.
They've come here and to slums in the city of Gondar from their rural villages, abandoning their farms and occupations as blacksmiths, potters and weavers to live near the aid compounds and, more importantly, to be close to the Israeli officials in whose hands their fate rests.
Perhaps no single party outside the Israeli government is as vital to Ethiopian aliyah as the American Jews committed to help paying for it. So this month, when the United Jewish Communities (UJC) brought a group of 100 people from America's wealthiest Jewish communities, including Los Angeles, to the straw-and-mud huts of one of the poorest countries on earth, it was a signal to the Israeli government that American Jewry is serious about its own role in bringing Ethiopians to Israel.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles expects to join half a dozen Jewish federations across the United States this week in an emergency allocation of nearly $250,000 for endangered members of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia.
I was in a compound in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, sitting with 500 men, women and children, all praying in Hebrew during Shabbat. I was there as part of a small group of lay and professional leaders from the United States to try to understand a complex and confusing series of issues surrounding the Falash Mura, a group of more than 20,000 Ethiopians who claim Judaism as their faith and are eagerly awaiting aliyah.
The differences between the two services could not have been more striking. In Jerusalem, we were all well-dressed and appeared healthy. In Addis Ababa, the group was dressed in threadbare, hand-me-down clothes. Not surprisingly, many looked unhealthy.
On Feb. 16, Israel's previously ruling Cabinet agreed to expedite the immigration of Falash Mura to Israel from Ethiopia. The ruling affirms Israel's responsibility to these people, but it also raises significant questions. No one can say when the immigration will occur, or what aid and absorption services the Falash Mura will receive in Ethiopia or in Israel. Nor is it clear who will pay the cost of immigration and absorption, which some estimates put at $400 million over four years.