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April 05, 1985 - Image 76

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-04-05

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

76

Friday, April 5, 1985

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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NEWS

Beta Yisrael: Mixed
Blessing For Israel

BY MURRAY ZUCKOFF

PASSOVER
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Special to The Jewish News

"BECAUSE WE CARE"

MEMORIAL
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Beta Yisrael children who made aliyah last year are taking tennis
lessons at the Israel Tennis Center in Ashkelon.

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'

Jerusalem — Israelis, like
Goethe's Faust, have two hearts
beating in their attitude towards
the Ethiopian Jewish immig-
rants. Most Israelis are enamored
of the newcomers, almost to a
point of treating them as an exotic
specie from a distant planet. But
others, especially the ultra-
Orthodox, view them with disdain
and with suspicion regarding
their authentic Jewishness.
The Ethiopian Jews — or Beta
Yisrael (the House of Israel) as
they call themselves — are a re-
markable people. They are eager
to adjust to their new lives in Is-
rael and show an amazing
capacity to learn Hebrew and to
acquire new skills in a short
period of time. They also have an
unquenchable thirst for anything
Jewish and for studying the To-
rah.
On Purim eve, for example, a
group of Ethiopian Jews who had
recently arrived at the Kfar Saba
absorption center near Tel Aviv
watched intently as a group of Is-
raeli primary school pupils per-
formed a Purim play in Hebrew
and explained the meaning of the
holiday. The Ethiopians, who had
not yet learned Hebrew, were
given a running translation in
Amharic, their native language,
by an Ethiopian who had made
aliyah earlier.
Premier Shimon Peres, ad-
dressing a meeting of the United
Jewish Appeal Ambassadors'
Mission, pointed out that Puritn
"is not on the agenda of the Ethio-
pian Jews. They are committed to
the Torah, to the book of Moses,
but whatever happened in Jewish
life since then was unknown to
them because they were isolated,
cut off from the life of the Jewish
people in the Diaspora. They
know about Pesach because they
participated in the exodus from
Egypt. But they weren't present
at the wedding of Esther and
Ahasuarus."
Time and again, Israeli officials
involved in the absorption of the
Beta Yisrael pointed out that de-

Murray Zuckoff is editor of the
Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

spite their isolation and living
under conditions of the most cruel
religious oppression, assassina-
tion and discrimination in
Ethiopia, they had retained their
Jewishness and are passionately
committed to it. "They are Jewish
and remain Jewish," Peres as-
serted.
The absorption process is intri-
cate and complex. The Ethiopian
Jews have come to a country that
is entering the 21st Century from
a country that is, at best, still in
the 19th Century.
To ease the transition and to
avoid frustration, disappoint-
ments and social asphyxiation,
the newcomers have been
encouraged to retain their tradi-
tion and culture. "Retaining their
tradition and culture makes it
easier and less tension-provoking
for them to settle into their new
society," said Chaim Arnon, head
of the Jewish Agency's aliyah and
absorption department.
It is also necessary, said Arnon
and Harry Rosen, secretary gen-
eral of the Jewish Agency and the
UJA in Israel, that they be given
opportunities and encouraged to
express their social and cultural,
as well as their familial patterns,
their pride and their indepen-
dence, as well as their feeling of
self-sufficiency. This is part of the
dialectical process of their absorp-
tion and integration.
But there are challenges — and
difficulties — to the absorption
and integration of the Beta Yis-
rael. Unlike immigrants from the
West who do not know Hebrew
but at least have marketable job
skills and knowledge of the prac-
tical every-day world, the Ethio-
pians have neither.
In addition, the language bar-
rier is at times insurmountable.
There are very few people in Is-
rael who can speak Amharic and
ulpans in Hebrew are fraught
with difficulties. Volunteer trans-
lators have to be found among
either the few Israelis who can
speak both languages or among
Ethiopian Jews who made aliyah
some time ago.
The absorption of Ethiopian
Jews also poses other unique

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