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July 10, 1987 - Image 27

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

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to question or argue with a figure of
authority. But when the vague assurances
that were perceived as promises were not
kept, the previously docile and disciplined
Ethiopian could suddenly and inexplicably
become rebellious. These misunderstand-
ings, and the immigrants' resentment of
paternalistic attitudes, could eventually
grow into a generalized hostility towards
the Sochnut (i.e., the Jewish Agency).
Similar problems of poor staff training
also arose in the schools that took in Ethio-
pian children below the age of 14. Since the
Education Ministry did little to prepare its
teachers for dealing with a population that
had little or no exposure to the western
concept of formal education, here, too,
ethnocentric attitudes took control. "They
don't send their children to school dressed
properly or with their books in order,"
teachers would_ say with that same touch
of impatience and disdain for the "primi-
tives" who "don't even know how to hold
a pencil."
The Youth Aliya Department, however,
took systematic steps early on to prepare
the schools under its supervision for deal-
ing with the Ethiopians and to create
special learning materials for pupils who
had to grapple for the first time with basic
reading and mathematical concepts.
A study by two anthropologists of an

A Bar Mitzvah ceremony at Boys Town Jerusalem, where 10 Ethiopian boys were welcomed to the fold. A concern has been whether to preserve Ethio-
pian religious customs or abandon them and teach only normative Judaism.

pians, and brought it to the attention of
the Aliya Department several months
before the onset of Operation Moses. The
department rejected their findings, thus
losing an opportunity to learn from the ex-
perience of the first four years of Ethiopian
immigration, before the crush of problems
of Operation Moses made it impractical to
do so. As a result, many of the same
mistakes were made again. (See Box)


Ethiopian mothers care for their children in a specially-created ward for the newcomers in the Hadassah-Hebrew University
Medical Center in Jerusalem

absorption center in Beersheba concluded
that despite the Aliya Department's inten-
tions to the contrary, the environment of
the center made the immigrants overly
dependent on the authorities and ham-
pered their ability to function on their own
once they left. Moreover, the immigrant's
movement from one stage of absorption to
another was based not on his individual
progress, but rather on a pace that was

Convenient for the bureaucracy.
The authors, Alex Weingrod and Michael
Ashkenazi, both of Ben-Gurion Universi-
ty in Beersheba, said that their findings
were reinforced by subsequent observa-
tions and conversations with absorption
In early 1984, they completed the study,
which included a recommendation to re-
structure the absorption centers for Ethio-

Housing Problem: Who's Responsible?
Beyond the initial phase of adjusting to
life in Israel, which took much longer than
expected, the Ethiopians had to face the
challenges of receiving the housing, jobs
and education that would enable them to
use their potential to the fullest and even-
tually to become part of the mainstream.
This was indeed a tall order for a group
with their background; it also required
maximal foresight and coordination on the
part of the authorities.
The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption
is charged with making sure that im-
migrants receive the benefits and oppor-
tunities that they are entitled to from
various government and public agencies.
But it was not until 1985 — several years
after the Ethiopians had begun to come to
Israel — that the ministry developed a
master plan for their absorption.
In the area of housing, the plan recom-
mended that the immigrants not be con-
centrated in large numbers in single apart-
ment blocks, nor settled in outlying areas
with a weak economic base, limited educa-



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