`Redeem Ethiopian Captives'
'Just Masquerading As Jews'
Jerome M. Epstein
because the food kitchens that had sus-
Danny Adeno Abebe
tained them have been shut down. They
have no more money. Schools are over-
crowded and could be closed at any time,
and the community's 700 young children,
he world is filled with irony;
who are eager to learn and happy to
he 125,000 Ethiopians who
some of it tragic. A good example receive free lunches, may be not be able to
live in Israel immigrated here
is the case of the Ethiopians
get a Jewish education.
in dribs and drabs. When
languishing in Gondar waiting to make
Why have these Jews put themselves in
Ethiopians first started coming to Israel
aliyah to Israel.
such a condition? For one reason: their
in the 1970s, some members of Israel's
In 1989, when I visited Ethiopia for
long-held dream of living as full Jews in
political elite referred to us as "temporary
the first time, the North American Jewish
the State of Israel.
community was contributing funds that
Based on a promise of the Israeli gov-
Things began to change only during
provided food and health care, and edu-
ernment in 2003 to review the cases of
the waves of aliyah in the 1980s, under
cated the children of the Ethiopian Jews
thousands of petitioners remaining in
Menachem Begin's Likud government.
held hostage by their birth land. North
Ethiopia, the 8,700 Jews in Gondar left
The biggest of these waves was Operation
American Jews gave generously and advo- their village homes and relocated to the
Moses, a dramatic operation that cost
cated passionately for their release.
Jews were being held against their will
Now they have been abandoned by an
Thousands wandered in the dark of
by villainous Ethiopia; Israel greeted its
unfulfilled commitment. Both they and
night in deserts and forests to fulfill the
long-lost children with open arms.
the promise have been forgotten.
dream their forefathers harbored for
I just returned from my second trip to
As North American Jews, we face a
2,000 years in the Horn of Africa. One-
Ethiopia. As I visited Gondar and Addis
challenge. Israel may not listen to the
third of those who embarked on the jour-
Ababa, it was obvious that the Jews still
cries of 8,700 Ethiopian Jews, but it can-
ney never succeeded in reaching the land
waiting there no longer were held hostage not ignore the cries of millions of Jews
by Ethiopian authorities. Now their aliyah throughout the world.
By 1991, when Operation
is impeded by governmental decisions in
We must not be silent.
Solomon brought the "rem-
Israel. These Jews no longer were wanted
We must lovingly and
nant of Ethiopian Jewry"
by the country they dreamed of — the
to Israel in an astounding
country they called their homeland.
that Israel keep its
36-hour airlift that saw
Now that Ethiopia is willing to let them promise and consider
This month, 65
thousands of new immi-
emigrate, Israel has placed stumbling
the eligibility of each
grants, our cause had elicited
blocks in their path.
of the Ethiopian Jews
arrived in Israel, the
unprecedented support in
The Interior Ministry worries that
waiting to make aliyah,
last of more than
Israel and around the world.
Ethiopian Jews will be a burden unfairly
using the criteria it has
17,000 to come since
With that, our diaspora
placed on Israel's shoulders and that
the Israeli govern-
ended. There were no more
because of cultural differences, their lack
Some might be reject-
ment decided in 2003
Jews in Ethiopia. All who
of occupational training and the low level
ed. Most, however, will
to allow in a limited
kept their faith in the Land
of their Ethiopian education, their pres-
qualify, make Israel their
number of additional
of Israel and in the Jewish
ence will negatively impact Israeli society. home and enrich Israel
Ethiopians known as
faith were able to come to
Others attribute the ministry's reluc-
with their presence.
tance to welcome the Ethiopian com-
As Jews, we rightly
Those in Ethiopia today
munity to concerns about the validity
and proudly cherish the
Should Israel still
who claim to be part of the
of their claim to Jewish identity. It is an
mitzvot of our Torah
welcome Falash Mura?
community are a collection
empty excuse. Although Conservative,
about pidyon shvuyim
of people looking for hand-
Reform and Orthodox Jews disagree
— redeeming captives.
outs trying to pass them-
about much, there is general consensus
Throughout our history
selves off as Jews forced to
among us — and even among the Israeli
we have performed this mitzvah. Acting
forsake their Jewish faith.
Chief Rabbinate — that most Ethiopians
as God's messengers, we have saved
There is no greater lie than theirs.
who claim Judaism as their religion have
imperiled lives. We cannot choose which
Advocates claim they are the descen-
a right to do so.
captives to save and ignore the rest. Our
dents of Jews who forcibly converted to
We have a responsibility to acknowl-
Ethiopian brothers and sisters are begging
Christianity. This is nonsense.
edge them as Jews. About 8,700 Jews are
to be redeemed. We dare not plug our ears
For years, the Ethiopian Christians who
waiting in Gondar. They have left their
to their cries.
were our neighbors in good times and in
small towns, and with them the only
We must lobby effectively and con-
bad never asked for our souls or forced
world they knew, to be able to take the
tinuously, but that is not enough. Jews
us to kiss a cross or attend church. They
next step and go on to Israel. Most now
are living in deplorable conditions. We
had a God-fearing approach to the Jewish
live in cramped, one-room rental apart-
must help the institutions that support
religion and unending respect for us as
ments. They have no indoor plumbing.
Ethiopian Jews while they wait to make
Jews. We even shared the same leaders,
Larger families who must share limited
aliyah. They do not have enough money.
the Kessim, who served as our shepherds
space in cramped conditions sleep in
We can help fund them. We can make a
during our long diaspora.
It's true that in the early years of the
The people in Gondar are hungry
Redeem on page A35
Falash Mura aliyah, in the 1990s, there
August 21 • 2008
were families petitioning to come to
Israel whose ancestors had converted to
Christianity generations ago and whom
we knew well. Though many of us felt
ambivalent about these distant cousins
whose grandparents had abandoned
Judaism, we knew who they were and, in
many cases, welcomed them to Israel.
But those who are petitioning to come
today are different. They have no ties to
Judaism or to the Jewish community.
They are Christians who want to better
their economic situations and, therefore,
are embracing the trappings of Judaism.
What do they have in common with us
The answer lies not with them, but
with hypocritical American Jews who see
the Judaism for which many of my fellow
countrymen gave their lives as little more
than a way to score more fundraising suc-
This is why some American Jewish
organizations are coercing the State of
Israel to bring out-and-out Christians
masquerading as Jews.
There is no greater tragedy than bring-
ing people to Israel whose connection to
Judaism is merely incidental at best, and
at worst are non-Jews taking advantage of
the ignorance of American Jews to better
Above all, this is a tragedy for the
Ethiopian Jewish community.
The entire essence of our existence,
and our dignity as black Jews in Israel,
is encapsulated in one thing: our
Jewishness. We have no common denomi-
nator with Israeli society; we have no
logical connection to native Israelis other
than this. This connection is our umbili
cal cord from earlier times. It is our pride
at preserving the fragments of our Jewish
faith in the African diaspora.
Bringing masses of Christian
Ethiopians to Israel impugns our
Israelis now confuse us with those who
pray at the Ethiopian Orthodox church
in Jerusalem's Old City. If Christians
masquerading as Jews continue to come
to Israel, the real Ethiopian Jews will find
themselves the subject of Israeli derision.
If the State of Israel insists on bringing
these people, they should be brought as
migrant workers, not as Jews forced to
forsake their religion in Africa.
Calling these Falash Mura Jews insults
the real Jews who marched through the
deserts of Sudan out of blind faith and
were willing to sacrifice their lives for
Masquerading on page A35