THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Friday, July 26, 1985
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KEN JACOBS, R.Ph.
Protesting against requirements that they undergo immersion in order
to confirm their status as bona fide Jews, Ethiopian immigrants
demonstrate in Jersualem.
sponsored world organization op-
erated for a short time in Ethiopia
with Mengistu government sanc-
tion during the late 1970s.
To provide educational and
health services to Ethiopian Jews,
ORT facilities had to serve the
entire surrounding population as
well. But the Ethiopian Jews ob-
jected strenuously, maintaining
that they had traditionally kept
themselves and their children
separated from their non-Jewish
neighbors, often at great sacrifice,
in order to protect their Judaism.
They resented any suggestion, or
requirement, that they now mix
with non-Jews in order to receive
service from a Jewish-sponsored
establishment. Many had even
resisted sending their children to
free, non-religious (although cer-
tainly politicized) schools estab-
lished by the Mengistu govern-
ment after the 1974 revolution.
The parents feared that the chil-
dren, who would have to travel to
school outside immediate Jewish
villages, or Jewish sections of vil-
lages, might be tempted to com-
promist their Jewish identity or
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NE GIFT WRAP
ORT was subsequently ban-
ished by the Ethiopian govern-
ment on the pretext that it was
too Zionistic. Ironically, some
Ethiopian Jewish village leaders
thought the organization insuf-
ficiently Jewish as well as insuf-
More practical considerations
are involved in recent protests
by Ethiopians in Israel than
their sense of humiliated rejec-
tion in their spiritual homeland,
significant as that is, The sr ,
duous exodus froth Ethiopia
claimed the lives of many Jews,
first during the trek hundreds of
miles across mountains and
deserts to neighboring lands
receiving refugees, More died in
the festering camps where the
Jews huddled, fearfully awaiting
rescue for months or even years,
Many of the first wave of Ethio-
ade their way to
Moses had lived in the Tigray
province, which has suffered
terribly from both the sub.
Saharan drought and the COW
stunt warfare being wag
several contending factions in
civil wars against the Mengistu
When I paid my first visit to
an , Israeli absorption facility
last year, I learned that the first
act routinely performed by resi-
dent Ethiopians as a new wave
of refugees arrived was sit shim
Who died?" they would ask
their brethren as they arrival.
"Who was lost on the way? Who
was left behind?"
Then they would mourn for
several days. Except for critical
health services, Israeli personnel
at absorption centers would
leave the immigrants to their
grief, making no further de-
mands on them. ,
Now safe in Israel, many
widowed Ethiopians wish to
remarry and reestablish their
families. Only Orthodox rabbis
are empowered to perform
Jewish marriages in Israel.
There are no civil marriages.
Only one Ethiopian kes (priest)
has thusfar qualified as a rabbi.
Since an Ethiopian's religious
status is in doubt unless he sub-
mits to ritualinunersion — and
many now, refuse the ceremony
on principle — these people may
not be legally married in Israel.
The status of any children they
might have will also be in doubt,
Prime Minister Shimon Peres
managed to defuse last week's
angry march on Ben Gurion
port by aeveral hundred angry
Ethiopians, First, he agreed to
discuss grievances; then he pro-
muted to intercede personally
with the Ashkenazic and Se.
phardic chief rabbis.
The Ethiopians had marched
from their homes in the north to
Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport,
"This was the airport they
brought us into," a spokesmen
said, ()there declared that they
preferred "to die" or to return to
thiopia rather than submit to
a ritual which questions the
very Jewish identity they have
cherished for almost 2,000
Officials in Israel have Pi*,
how seriously to treat threats 0+
starvation and buicide , °WI
don't know these people,w7„
enough yet," one °Now ."
Israel told the Jawisn Taos.