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August 24, 1990 - Image 42

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-08-24

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

BACKGROUND I

THE ZIONIST ORGANIZATION
OF AMERICA
Metropolitan Detroit District

Who Is A Jew' A Sticky
Issue For Ethiopians

THE MOST EAGERLY AWAITED MUSICAL
EVENT OF THE FALL SEASON

PLAN NOW TO ATTEND:

Sunday, November 4, 1990, 7:30 p.m.
Masonic Temple Auditorium

FOR RESERVATIONS PHONE 569-1515

or write to the

ZIONIST ORGANIZATION OF AMERICA
Zionist Cultural Center

18451 W. 10 Mile Road, Southfield, MI 48075
Rabbi M. Robert Syme, President Metro Detroit District
Sidney Silverman, National President, ZOA

O

•41

'NM

Jewish Community Centers

Youth Games

General Membership

Promotion

Save Up To $125






Pools
Tracks
Courts
Reduced Rates on
Classes & Programming

August 1 - September 15
down, balance in 90 days
must not have been a member in past year

1 /2

For more information contact membership
661-1000, ext. 265

Pg

Imp

42

FRIDAY, AUGUST 24, 1990

A
MasterCard
V

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
(JPFS) — The Jewish Agen-
cy is cooperating with the E-
thiopian government in a
program to rehabilitate
Christian Ethiopians of Jew-
ish descent, according to
Israeli diplomatic sources
here.
The program, which
"peace activist" Abie
Nathan is said to have
offered to help fund, will in-
volve the resettlement of up
to 2,000 Christians of Jewish
origin in areas near their
original villages.
Several thousand mem-
bers of formerly Jewish
families are now in Addis
Ababa, where they arrived
in the hope of being allowed
to go to Israel. Having sold
their property and livestock
in order to make the journey
from their villages in the
north, they are now stranded
in Addis Ababa, after having
learned that they do not
qualify for Israeli citizenship
under the Law of Return.
The question of their sta-
tus is one of the stickiest
problems that Israeli offi-
cials here have faced during
the last few months.
Israelis, Ethiopians, and
American volunteers have
been working desperately
since May in an effort to pro-
cess and sustain the 15,000
Jews who have poured into
Addis seeking to rejoin their
families in Israel.
Israeli. and Jewish Agency
officials have been refusing
to include Christianized
Jews in some of their assis-
tance programs (medical
treatment is one exception),
which are meant for families
waiting for their requests to
emigrate to be processed by
the Ethiopian government.
Israeli officials fear that if
monetary grants are extend-
ed to the Christians of Jew-
ish origin already staying in
the capital, thousands more
would arrive from their
villages. According to some
estimates, at least 50,000 E-
thiopian Christians can le-
gitimately claim recent Jew-
ish descent.
In a 1960s decision, the
Israel High Court ruled that
Jews who had chosen to
practice a different religion
were not eligible for Israeli
citizenship under the Law of
Return. Beyond this legal
restriction, Israeli govern-
ment officials suspect that
the Ethiopian government
would be unhappy if the
Israeli presence here at-
tracted another major influx

of Ethiopian villagers to
Addis.
While the Ethiopian
government has agreed to
permit Ethiopian Jews to re-
join their families in Israel,
they were not pleased when
the trickle of Jews arriving
here significantly increased
last May.
Most Ethiopian Jews feel
strongly that the Israel
government should allow
the Christians of Jewish
descent to immigrate. "They
are our blood," an Ethiopian
Jewish elder said. "They are
part of us."
For Ethiopian Jews, fami-
ly is of central importance,

"We are tough
during the day, but
we cry at night."
Micha Feldman

and their sense of familial
ties extends back several
generations. Many of the
Christianized Ethiopian
Jews were converted to
Christianity only 20 or 30
years ago.
Ethiopian Jews also point
out that their Christian
relatives converted under
conditions of extreme
duress. Jews were not allow-
ed to own land in Ethiopia
until the socialist revolution
in 1974. For some villagers,
conversion was the price
they had to pay for economic
survival, which for the im-
poverished Jews often meant
physical survival as well.
In small villages in the
more remote areas of nor-
thern Ethiopia, Jews may
have converted out of a need
to form mutual defense pacts
with their Christian
neighbors. Isolated Jewish
communities were constant-
ly vulnerable to physical at-
tacks in Ethiopia as
elsewhere.
Ethiopian Jews claim that
they maintained close rela-
tions with their Christian
relatives even after they had
converted. "It is true that we
did not marry their chil-
dren," they said repeatedly,
"but they did not marry
[mainstream] Ethiopian
Christians either. They
married only among them-
selves, because they wanted
to preserve their Jewish
identity and blood."
The Christian Jews gave
up most Jewish practices —
they cooked on Shabbat and
ate non-kosher meat. "But
when a Jew had to flee from

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