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July 10, 1987 - Image 28

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

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

THE ETHIOPIAN ABSORPTION

tional opportunities and an excess of social
problems. Most of these so-called develop-
ment towns still suffered from the "mis-
takes of the '50s," and it was thought to
be unfair both to them and to the Ethio-
pians if the latter were settled there in
large numbers.
lb achieve this goal, however, the Ab-
sorption Ministry had to reverse the policy
of the Housing Ministry to put the Ethio-
pians into whatever cheap public housing
was available, which usually meant in the
weakest of the development towns. "Dur-
ing the first few years," one former
ministry official said, "the Ethiopians were
just dumped there like the destitute im-
migrants of the '50s, and little was done
to prepare local government, schools or
welfare agencies for their arrival."
Since then, the ministry has managed to
disperse the immigrants in a more bal-
anced fashion, but some are still in areas
where they will probably not have the best
opportunities. In addition, more has been
done to prepare local communities for their
arrival.
A major problem arose in relation to the
3,000 Ethiopians initially placed in vacant
public housing blocks that were turned in-
to ad hoc absorption centers. The ministry
master plan and the social workers of the
Agency Aliya Department warned against
making these temporary quarters into per-
manent housing, which would create
"black ghettos" in neighborhoods that

already had more than their share of social
problems. Moreover, the immigrants them-
selves insisted on being integrated with
veteran Israelis and were promised that
they would not be left in these apartments.
But late in 1985, due to a shortage of
apartments, the heads of the Aliya Depart-
ment and the Absorption Ministry decid-
ed to ignore the advice of their own staff
and turn these temporary dwellings into
permanent housing. In April 1986, these
15 centers were turned over to the ministry
by the Jewish Agency, which also ripped
out all public conveniences such as
playgrounds and public telephones.
Many of the immigrants, however, re-
fused to sign leases for these apartments,
which left these buildings teeming with
large families in a state of limbo: the Agen-
cy had pulled out, the ministry had made
no provision for maintenance, and the im-
migrants refused to accept responsibility
once the authorities had broken their
earlier promise. So the buildings rapidly
deteriorated, along with the morale of the
residents. Cries of protest went up from
local government, which pointed to the
problems entailed in overloading the
schools in these neighborhoods with large
numbers of Ethiopian children.
Meanwhile, the authorities have since
modified their decision, and have restored
some limited maintenance and welfare ser-
vices to these buildings. But they have said
that it may still take "a year or two" to

Thirty Suicides Reported

Thirty Ethiopian Jews who arrived in
Israel on the secret "Operation Moses"
airlift are reported to have committed
suicide as a result of depression over the
fate of family members left behind.
Some 15,000 Ethiopians reached Israel,
while at least 15,000 were left behind when
the airlift was abruptly halted by the Marx-
ist Ethiopian regime in February 1985.
This week, Ethiopian immigrants dem-
onstrated outside the office of Prime
Minister Yitzhak Shamir to draw attention
to the plight of their families in Ethiopia
and to press the government to increase its
efforts to help them to emigrate to Israel.
The anxiety of the Ethiopian immigrants
for the welfare of their families has been
heightened by reports that the Ethiopian
regime is now implementing its plans to
break up villages and disperse their
members throughout the country.
It was recently reported that the policy is
currently being implemented in the Gondar
region, where most Ethiopian Jews Live.
One of the organizers of the demonstra-
tion, Baruch Tegenya, revealed that 37
Ethiopian Jews had been arrested and tor-
tured by the Ethiopian authorities four
months ago on suspicion of "Zionist ac-

28

FRIDAY, JULY 10, 1987

tivities" after they had been caught
distributing relief funds to Jewish families.
"There are no Ethiopian Jews in Israel
who do not have family left in Ethiopia,"
he said. "There are. 1,500 Ethiopian chil-
dren here without parents. It is very hard
for them. Already, 30 of our people have
committed suicide."
The demonstrators called on the govern-
ment to mount an international Soviet
Jewry-style campaign
on behalf of Ethio-
_
Pian Jewry.
Immigration and Absorption Minister
Ya'acov Tsur, who met with the demon-
strators, said that Israel had made
representation to all international
humanitarian organizations over the issue.
The Israeli government, he said, had also
approached all Western nations which have
influence in Addis Ababa to intercede on
behalf of the Ethiopian Jews.
So far, these efforts had not been suc-
cessful and, judging by past experience, he
warned it might take a long time achieve
positive results.
In the meantime, the minister urged
Israelis to show understanding for the pain
being experienced by Ethiopian Jewry.

Helen Davis

move the residents of these centers to per-
manent apartments or to "thin out" the
concentration of immigrants there by mov-
ing veteran families in.
This unfortunate episode was exacer-
bated by the conflicts between the Aliya
Department and the Absorption Ministry
over which of them should be responsible
for initial absorption in the future —
conflicts which were also fueled by the
political party rivalries between the heads
of these agencies.
As for the housing situation in general,
2,100 families have moved into permanent
quarters in 55 different towns and cities.
About 650 families are now in temporary
quarters that the ministry wants to
become permanent; and another 1,400 fam-
ilies now in hostels or absorption centers
are still awaiting housing solutions. The
ministry's goal is to solve all outstanding
housing problems by next April.

Education: A Mixed Record
In the area of education, a decision was
made early on that the Ethiopian children
should be placed in schools supervised by
the state religious system, which for the
most part are modern Orthodox. This was
done expressly to avoid the painful ex-
perience of the 1950s when immigrant
children from traditional religious families
were placed, sometimes against their
parents' will, in secular schools. With the
Ethiopians, this decision had the added ad-
vantage of providing public confirmation
of their Jewishness. But it added to the
burdens placed on the state religious
schools, which have a greater share of
pupils from culturally deprived families.
The Ethiopian pupils, who today number
4,500, were at first placed in special classes
until they learned enough of the "three
R's" to join regular classes. The immigrant
pupils are spread out among 100 schools
in about 40 cities and towns. A report by
the State Comptroller cited the Education
Ministry's failure to prepare the teachers
and other school_staff for dealing with the
special problems posed by these children
and their families, most of whom had no
previous exposure to modern schools.
The ministry also failed to prepare ap-
propriate learning materials for these
special classes. The ministry was eventual-
ly able to draw on the experience of the
Agency Youth Aliya Department and the
materials it had developed for teaching
Ethiopian youngsters.
Youth Aliya's experience with Ethiopian
pupils dates back to the 1950s, when the
first handful of Ethiopian immigrants were
educated in the department's schools. To-
day there are about 2,500 Ethiopians stu-
dying in some 40 Youth Aliya-supported
boarding schools.
In the early 1980s, the heads of the
department were advised by some experts
that is was not worth investing a great
effort and expense in educating the Ethio-

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