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March 02, 1984 - Image 21

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-03-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Falasha Conditions 'Improve'

By KEVIN FREEMAN
NEW YORK (JTA) • —
The president of the North
American Conference on
Ethiopian Jewry (NACEJ)
said here that there has
been some improvement in
the situation of Ethiopian
Jews living in the Gondar
province since her last visit
to the region in 1981.
However, Barbara
Ribakove cautioned in an
interview with the Jewish
Telegraphic Agency that
while some conditions have
improved, she was not
suggesting that the situa-
tion of Ethiopian Jewry had
reached what she described
as an "acceptable" situa-
tion.
She explained that in the
villages she visited for eight
days last month,
synagogues were now open
after having been closed by
the government in 1981.
Falasha children are-
attending government op-
erated schools and the vil-
lages are open to American
tourists.
But 'in other areas of
the Gondar province,
hard hit by famine as a
result of the severe
drought in North Africa
and because of border
skirmishes with Somalia
and civil strife, the plight
of the Falashas has not
improved.
In the case of Ethiopian
Jewry, Ribakove explained,
"you always have spotty
conditions, better in some
way in one area and differ-
ent or worse in other areas."
She said the recent institu-
tion of conscription of teen-
age youths has deeply af-
fected the Ethiopian Jewish
community.
Ribakove led a delegation
of nine activists involved in
the cause of Ethiopian
Jewry, organized by the
NACEJ, on the visit last
month to Falasha villages
located around the city of
Gondar. It is in the villages
of Ambober and Wollecka —
where for the first time re-
peated visits were allowed
— that the condition of the
Falashas have improved,
according to Ribakove.
She was the only member
of the delegation who had
previously visited Ethiopia.
Other members of the dele-
gation included a represen-
tative of the American
Association for Ethiopian
Jewry, which along with the
NACEJ constitute the two
largest volunteer organiza-
tions working for the
Falashas in the U.S., and
also a member of the San
Francisco office of the
Jewish Community Rela-
tions Council.

Volunteer organiza-
tions in the U.S. have at
times clashed with the
more established Jewish
organizations on what is
the best means of aiding
the Falashas and on
whether the Israeli gov-
ernment has been provid-
ing its full resources
toward rescuing the
Falashas. Ribakove
noted the diversity of the
group which partici-
pated in the latest trip

and called for continued
unity in the ,Falasha re-
scue efforts.
Many aspects of the Is-
raeli effort in the rescue op-
eration remain shrouded in
secrecy, although reports
clearly indicate that
Falashas have been able to
escape Ethiopia and reach
Israel. Precise numbers of
how many Falashas have
reached Israel over a given
period of time are unavail-
able and those which are
published are in dispute.
The Ethiopian Jewish
community has been esti-
mated at about 20,000.
Emigration is illegal,
banned by the Marxist gov-
ernment in Addis Ababa.
Nevertheless, Ribakove
asserted that Israel is doing
an excellent job in rescuing
Falashas. "The difference
between now and a few
years ago is spectacular,"
she said. Asked whether she
viewed postively efforts
undertaken by independent
groups parallel to those
taken by the Israelis in re-
scuing Falashas, she stated:
"There are certain areas
of the rescue that I think .. .
are absolutely best left to
the professionals and no
amateur group Should be
involved in them. But that
doesn't mean that there is
no role in volunteer organ-
izations to play in assisting
this community."
Last December, an
Ethiopian Jew who emi-
grated to Israel more
than 25 years ago and
who is now intimately in-
volved with helping olim
from Ethiopia in his
capacity as an employee
of the Jewish Agency in
Israel, contended that
"outside intervention" by
"non-professional"
groups in rescue opera-
tions should be aban-
doned because they
"endanger the Falashas."
Ribakove did not directly
dispute this contention, but
maintained that the role
played by the NACEJ was
"absolutely vital." She
stressed that among the
major tasks of the NACEJ is.
raising American Jewish
consciousness to the plight
of the Falashas.

repercussions on the local
community.
She said the repeated
visits allowed for "real
relationships" to be es-
tablished. "We came
back to a village for a
fourth time and it was no
longer just Ethiopian
Jews but Rifka and her
family ...," Ribakove
said.
The delegation, according
to Ribakove, did not see any
Hebrew books, but- ac-
knowledged that "if any-
body is teaching Hebrew,
nobody admitted it to us."
She noted that upon enter-
ing a classroom, one young
Falasha used the cover from
a Hebrew book to wrap the
outside of an ordinary
school book, apparently the
Hebrew cover being one
that was saved when He-
brew books were reportedly
burned by the authorities.
"I did not see a book burn-
ing," Ribakove said. "I was
told about it second hand.
But certainly there are He-
brew books around and if
they are, they are very well
hidden."
The delegation was
transported to certain areas
by guides provided by the
National Tourist Organiza-
tion, and at times with a
soldier accompaniment. She
said certain areas were off
limits to visitors because of
the military situation.
The NACEJ, a non-profit
organization, was founded
in the summer of 1982 to
work both independently
and wherever possible in
concert with other con-
cerned agencies.

Friday, March 2, 1984 21

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Three significant actions
can be taken by the Ameri-
can Jewry to help their
brethren in Ethiopia,
Ribakove said. These are:
sending messages to mem-
bers of Congress asking for
more U.S. aid for the
drought-stricken areas of
North Africa; visiting the
Falasha; and providing aid
through philanthropic
organizations to Ethiopian
Jews already in Israel.
Ribakove asserted that
visits to the Falasha vil-
lages by American tourists
have no adverse affects on
the Falashas after the
tourists leave. Some per-
sons involved in the cause of
Ethiopian Jewry have
suggested that visits by
Americans endanger the
safety of the Falashas. But
Ribakove maintained that
the repeated visits to vil-
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