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January 05, 2012 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-01-05

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metro >> on the cover

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January 5 • 2012

from page


tion into Israeli society have presented
major challenges. As a result, Israel is
delaying the admission of the nearly
4,000 Ethiopian Jews already approved
for entry. Only 110 will make aliyah
(immigrate to Israel) each month. The
process is expected to take until March
2015 to complete, a year longer than
"We went to Ethiopia to understand
the roots of Ethiopian Israelis and the
tremendous challenges Israel faces in
their successful absorption and actu-
alization:' said Vicki Agron, a Miami-
based consultant who helped plan
the trip, along with Julie Zuckerman
Tepperman of Windsor, Federation's
director of leadership development.
"The potential is unlimited;' Agron
added. "We met with those who have
transformed their lives from a primi-
tive culture into a complex and sophis-
ticated society where American Jews,
through the Federation system, have
helped them succeed beyond their
wildest dreams:'
The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)
is coordinating the movement of
Jewish families from Ethiopia to
Israel. The American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee (JDC) helps
tend to their medical needs and pro-
vides other humanitarian aid.
"For years, the Detroit Jewish com-
munity has played a critical role in the
long-term integration of Ethiopian-
Israelis:' said Gideon Herscher of the
JDC. "This recent trip only further
highlights the importance of their
investment and its profound impact
on Israel:'
The Metro Detroit group's final stop
in Ethiopia was Addis Ababa, where
participants helped distribute new,
modern clothing to each family before
they boarded the flight to Israel. None
of the Ethiopian Jews had ever been on
an airplane before.
"We went to a gifting ceremony
where everyone was given a new out-
fit:' Kaufman said. "We handed out
clothes, gave kids coloring books. On
the plane, we helped people put on
seatbelts. It was very moving:'

Whole New World
Following a four-hour flight back to
Israel, the plane touched down at Ben
Gurion airport. The doors swung open,
and the Ethiopian Jews arrived to a
whole new world.
"We walked off the stairs onto the
tarmac:' Kaufman said. "We were
out on the runway when they started
coming off the plane. Everybody was
sort of kissing the ground. It was very
emotional for them. Israel was this
concept they'd been talking about for
decades, and now they were here.

"Emotionally, it was as powerful a
moment as I had in the whole experi-
ence. There weren't many dry eyes on
the runway"
Once in Israel, the Falash Mura
live in absorption centers for 18-24
months. They receive food, clothing
and medical care, learn Hebrew and
get job training. They also learn to
adjust to the dramatic cultural differ-
ences of Israeli society. The remark-
able journey gave the group a first-
hand look at what it means to be part
of the global Jewish community.
Jane Sherman, who has traveled to
Ethopia before, called this the most
exciting and moving trip she's ever
"I've been on planes with immi-
grants before, but I've never had such
an emotional experience before she
said. "Being with the Ethiopian Jews
from the start of the journey, watch-
ing them begin to learn Hebrew, and
watching how the future leaders react-
ed to all of this. It's the last immigra-
tion from a country of distress. They
needed to see what we do with our
overseas dollars:'
Sherman says other highlights
included spending time with Micha
Feldman, who organized Operation
Solomon, and Liat Demoza, an
Ethiopian Israeli social worker with
JAFI. The group went with her back
to the spot where her parents started
their trek through the mountains
decades ago on her family's difficult
journey to make aliyah.
"We learned of the many different
paths to aliyah, with truly miraculous
and tragic stories:' said Farber Roth.
"We met some of the real heroes, the
Ethiopians whom literally, on faith
alone, decided to walk out of their vil-
lages though the Sudan in the 1980s
on the basis of the long-sought dream
of returning to Jerusalem after centu-
The story of the Ethiopian Jews is
still unfolding and is not yet a success
story, as Lowell Salesin of Bloomfield
Hills, another participant, was quick to
point out.
"There are many who question the
use of such significant resources to
fund programs to assist Ethiopian
Jews and continue to bring them to
Israel;' Salesin said. "This mission
taught our group how critical it is to
make sure this story becomes a suc-
cess story and that Ethiopian Jews do
not become an underclass in Israel.
"Each Jew, from whatever part
of the world, even the most remote
(and believe me, Gondar is remote),
deserves the same opportunity to
move to Israel and to create a Jewish
life for their family:' Li

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