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December 14, 1984 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-12-14

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-4011111141MMIII000 ,


Friday, December 14, 1984 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

News Editor

A Detroit area
Ethiopian Jew plans to
take much-needed
food supplies to his
native Ethiopia

Seifu Lessanework: forming Ethiopian Hunger Relief


en years of famine, civil war
and starvation.
Thousands of malnutrition
cases and hundreds of deaths
each month.


An Ethiopian Jew living in the
Detroit area for the past two years is
trying to begin a fundraising drive to
aid the famine victims in his native
Ethiopia. But there are those who feel
that, despite his good intentions, his
work might detract from larger efforts
already underway.
Seifu Lessanework and five ac-
quaintances, including one other
Ethiopian, are forming Ethiopian
Hunger Relief to collect funds. The
group wants to select the relief agency
which will buy food for shipment to
Ethiopia and monitor the distribution
process both here and in Ethiopia.
"There will be no overhead," Les-
sanework told The Jewish News re-
cently. We want to make sure that
every penny that is contributed
reaches the people who need it most."
To that end, Lessanework and his
associates will solicit airlines and
travel agencies so that they can go
with the food shipment to Ethiopia.
Of the millions of starving people
in Africa affected by a. ten-year-long

drought, more than 500,000 live in
Ethiopia's Gondar Province. That area
is the home of the majority of
Ethiopia's black Jews. According to
recent estimates, some 7,000 Ethio-
pian Jews remain in Gondar and
10,000 are living in refugee camps in
neighboring Kenya and Sudan. An es-
timated 2,000 Ethiopian Jews died in
Ethiopia during the past year because
of the famine. Other areas of Ethiopia
have been hit even harder.
We are concerned that the major
relief organizations have too much
waste and mismanagement. We want
to pick the groups that are reaching
the most people," Lessanework said.
His organization will not focus on any
single group in Ethiopia.
Lessanework hopes to be one of
the volunteers who will go to Ethiopia
with his relief supplies. Because he is a
native Ethiopian, he feels his presence
will ensure fewer problems in dis-
tributing the food.
"The attention of the world is on
Ethiopia right now," Lessanework
said, "but will it be there two months
from now?" He explains that because
of the political situation within the
country, We cannot designate relief
for any particular group."
Lessanework also hopes to visit

his family while in Ethiopia. He left
his homeland 10 years ago and spoke.,
to his mother in Ethiopia by telephone
two months ago — the first time in
nine years that he has been able to talk
to her.
His mother had a major influence
on his religious life. We were reli-
gious in Ethiopia — she was adamant
about that." But Lessanework admits
that his family has not been observant
since they left Ethiopia. The family
lived in New York for five years, and
for the last two in Detroit. -
At this point he is downplaying
his Jewish heritage, although he be-
lieves he is the only Ethiopian Jew in
Detroit. "I am more free (if he returns
to Ethiopia with relief supplies) to be
identified just as an Ethiopian, rather
than as an Ethiopian Jew. I don't want
to get involved in government policies
in Ethiopia, or politics. Our concern is
He explained that the Marxist
government in Ethiopia has been
fighting several liberation move-
ments, including the Eritreans and
the Tegri. Lessanework emphasizes
that Ethiopian Hunger Relief will dis-
tribute its supplies to anyone in need
in Ethiopia.
Lessanework is employed as a res-

taurant manager by a major Detroit
area chain. His wife Felli, who is half
Jewish, recently opened the Blue Nile
, Ethiopian Restaurant on Woodward at
Alexandrine in Detroit. The Les-
saneworks have three children.
Several individuals and spokes-
men for relief agencies criticized the
effort of any individual to bring relief
to Ethiopia. "I appreciate what he is
trying to do," said Negusse Paulos of
Detroit, a native of Ethiopia, and I
understand why he is doing it. But,
keeping that in mind, it is a grandiose
project. There are many agencies
doing relief work, and for him to do
this is duplicating what is now going
Paulos has been involved with the
Eritrean Relief Association in New
York. He pointed out that there are
agencies established for the benefit of
the Tigreans as well, but that the gen-
eral relief agencies have been doing
excellent work in Ethiopia. He in-
cluded among the general agencies the
Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services,
OXFAM, World Vision and Lutheran
World Relief.
The Ethiopian government has
been criticized in the past for ignoring
relief efforts or misusing the aid.
Paulos said the government has be-
come more sensitive in recent months,
"though it still has biases."
Abraham Bayer of the National
Jewish Community Relations Advi-
sory Council returned from Ethiopia
last week and echoed Paulos' view.
The existing organizations are doing
a magnificent job," Bayer told The
Jewish News. We met with represen-
tatives of the agencies in Ethiopia, and
we are fortunate to have them there
under impossible conditions. Three-
quarters of the U.S. government aid to
Ethiopia is being funneled through
these agencies."
Bayer said the entry of Israel into
the gpneral international relief effort
is 'a significant contribution. Two
weeks ago, E1,A1 Israel Airlines air-
lifted several /tons of relief supplies to
Ethiopia, part of a 50-ton Israeli effort,
and Israelis have contributed more

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