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June 05, 1992 - Image 47

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-06-05

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One year after
,Operation Solomon,
Ethiopian Jews
must find work
, and housing.



Israel Correspondent

agalim — The Ethi-
opian men didn't
like what they were
Nearly 100 of them sat
around the "town square" —
a sandbox where trees were
to have been planted — in
their mobile home park on
the edge of Magalim, a little
rural to in the northern
Negev. It was a powerfully
hot and dry desert morning,
Sunday, May 17. The men,
all of whom had been air-
lifted to Israel on Operation
Solomon a year ago, were be-
ing told that their year of
"freedom" — free housing,
free Hebrew classes, free
health care and child care,
plus sizable stipends and no
pressing need to find work
— was about to come to an
end. "You're going to have
to save your money," Yossi
Mograbi, head of the mobile

Are the roughly 14,000 Ethiopians from Operation Solomon ready to make a go of it when aid runs out?

n Their Own

home park for the Jewish
Agency told the men. "In
June or July you're going to
have to pay for electricity,
gas, water, you're going to
have to eat, drink, travel,
put your kids in school.
You're going to have to look
for jobs. Yes, I know it's dif-
ficult, I know there's
A group of Ethiopian wo-
men in headdresses and long
robes walked by. The rest
were at home, their children
in nurseries or school. Nine
hundred and thirty Ethiopi-
an immigrants from Opera-
tion Solomon live in the
park's 140 identical, gray
mobile homes, or
"caravans," which are lined
up in rows alongside empty
roads and sandlots. Mr.
Mograbi went on talking to
the men:
"You're going to have to
find apartments to buy —
we can't bring them to you
— or you'll waste your mon-
ey paying rent here. If you

stay in your homes or walk
around doing nothing, you'll
get bored and there will be
problems. Help the gardener
out, clean up the street. It
looks terrible. This is your
home, your self-respect.
"And please don't come to
us with every problem. We
used to have 20 assistants,
plus two social workers, an
activities coordinator, three
house mothers and an em-
ployment counselor. Now
there are five of us altogeth-
er for nearly a thousand of
you. So if there's a problem
between neighbors, or be-
tween husband and wife, we
can't solve it anymore.
Learn to accept the answer
`no' like you accept the an-
swer 'yes.' "
Many of the immigrants
complained that they
weren't ready for this, not
all at once. Speaking
through an Amharic inter-
preter, Mr. Mograbi, who,
from all accounts, gets along
well with the Ethiopians,

told them: "For over six
months I've tried to prepare
you for this day, and now
this day has arrived."
A year after Operation So-
lomon (May 24-25, 1991), the
14,000 Ethiopians in the air-
lift, and the roughly 3,000
who have followed, are not
ready to make it in Israel on
their own. Mr. Mograbi, who
insists that he is "quite op-
timistic" about the Ethiopi-
ans' future, estimates that
"maybe 10 percent" of them
know enough Hebrew to
function in Israeli society,
after having taken a 10-
month, 5-hour-a-day Hebrew
Ulpan. A sizable minority
are unable to read or write
Amharic, their native lan-
Micha Feldman, one of the
heroes of Operation Solo-
mon and now head of the
Jewish Agency's Ethiopian
immigrants department,
says he was "amazed, in a
positive way" to learn that
2,056 of the immigrants now

have jobs — mainly as
farmworkers, cleaners and
factory hands — or are in
job-training courses. (Most
of the immigrants were
farmers in northern Ethio-
pia's Gondar province,
where the Jews were concen-
Yet at Magalim, one of 15
caravan parks where Ethio-
pians have been living (ei-
ther separately, or in-
tegrated with Russian im- _
migrants and young Israe-
lis), one man has found a job
as a mechanic, and 10 young
women have just begun
picking flowers.
That's it.
Mr. Mograbi is negotia-
ting with a rug factory and
agricultural combine to give
them jobs, but, as he told
the men at the meeting,
"I'm not promising any-
thing." Those who don't get
jobs will be eligible for free
job-training courses.
If history is a teacher,
most of them won't find
work. The flow of Ethiopian
Jews to Israel began in the
late 1970s, and over 25,000
had arrived before Opera-
tion Solomon. Among these
veteran immigrants, esti-
mates of the unemployment
rate range from 40 to 80 per-
cent. The job market
awaiting the newest im-
migrants is tight, with gen-
eral unemployment at an all-
time high of nearly 12 per-
Israel and world Jewry are
giving the Ethiopians a tre-
mendous amount of aid. Be-



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