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July 10, 1987 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-07-10

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An Ethiopian family, after several months at an absorption center, is welcomed to their new permanent home in Netanya. The Absorption Ministry aims to have all Ethiopian families in permanent housing by next April.

• Absorption policies that shunted the
immigrants into marginal jobs, poor
housing and new towns with limited
• A melting-pot ideology that pressured
the newcomers to abandon the religious
and cultural traditions that set them apart
from the secular, westernized veterans, and
which prevented their rapid integration in-
to the mainstream.
While all immigrants to Israel -- then as
well as now — face problems of overcom-
ing culture shock, dealing with the
bureaucracy, struggling to get decent jobs
and housing, and defining their own place
in Israel's varied social matrix, it is wide-
ly agreed today that the Middle Eastern
immigrants of the 1950s could have been
treated better. Then, however, there was
little experience to learn from, so much to
do for so many people in so short a time —
and so little money to do it with.
These extenuating circumstances no
longer held in the 1980s, thus making it
easier in principle for the authorities to live
up to their vow not to repeat "the mistakes
of the '50s."

Too Little Preparation
Until early 1980, when organized im-
migration from Ethiopia began, there were

only a few hundred Ethiopians in Israel.
From then until the beginning of the
dramatic rescue mission known as. Opera-
tion Moses, in November 1984, some 7,500
Ethiopians came to Israel. Another 6,500
came during the few months of Operation
Moses, which ended abruptly in February
1985. There are now about 15,000 Ethio-
pians in Israel, comprising about 3,000
families and 2,000 singles.
The Aliya (Immigration) and Absorption
Department of the Jewish Agency, which
has handled immigration since before the
establishment of the state, was charged in
1980 with caring for the newcomers dur-
ing their first few years in Israel, teaching
them Hebrew and helping them become ac-
climated to a modern society light years
away from the life they had left behind. The
Youth Aliya Department of the Jewish
. Agency became heavily involved at a later
stage in providing care and education in
boarding schools, so that today most of the
Ethiopian teenagers are in schools oper-
ated or supported by Youth Aliya.
The Jewish Agency is a public body that
provides some $420 million a year in ser-
vices for rural settlement, education, social
welfare programs and immigration and ab-
sorption — from money raised by the
United Jewish Appeal in the U.S. and its

equivalent, Keren Hayesod, in other coun-
tries. The special UJA campaign for
Operation Moses raised $65 million, but
Agency expenditures for the Ethiopians
between November 1984 and July 1986
came to $110 million.
A series of major problems for the Ethio-
pians in the initial stage of their absorp-
tion can be traced to the decision of the
Agency Aliya Department in 1980 to con-
centrate all Ethiopian immigrants in ab-
sorption centers. — special facilities where
families and singles were housed in small
apartments and where they were supposed
to learn basic Hebrew and the daily
routines of Israeli life. These challenges,
massive in any case for the Ethiopians,
were compounded by the poor physical
condition of those who survived the
ravages of the journey and by their
anguish at losing family members along
the way or having left them to an uncer-
tain fate in Ethiopia.
While earlier immigrants from other
countries had also stayed at Agency ab-
sorption centers until they found regular
housing, nothing like the "controlled en-
vironment" created for the Ethiopians had
ever been devised for any group of new-
comers. The problems described here of the
absorption centers designated only for



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