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Entwine group sees JDC's work in Ethiopia firsthand.
Special to the Jewish News
n October, I had the opportunity
to travel to Ethiopia with the
American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee's young professionals
group Entwine. JDC or "the Joint" is the
world's leading Jewish humanitarian
Entwine includes young Jewish
leaders, influencers and advocates who
seek to make a meaningful impact on
global Jewish needs and international
We participated in service work
through JDC's international development
programs by giving children medicine,
providing informal education and by
helping to build a school in Ambover,
a Jewish village outside Gondar. We
also met with Ethiopians in various
locations, and with leaders such as the
Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia and a
hospitable doctor who has run a clinic
for more than 20 years.
JDC has spent the last 100 years
confronting poverty and crisis around
the world to save the world's poorest
Jews, revitalize Jewish life, empower
Israel's future, develop tomorrow's
Jewish leaders and rescue victims of
The Joint has been working in
Ethiopia since 1983, and is most
famously known for Operation Moses,
Operation Solomon and the medical aid
provided to those making aliyah to Israel.
Operation Moses (1984) and Solomon (1991)
were large-scale organized immigrations
from Ethiopia to Israel that transported 8,000
and 14,000 Jew respectively.
It is theorized that the Jews in Ethiopia
are descendants of the Queen of Sheba and
King Solomon. Their son, Menelik, returned to
Ethiopia and settled there.
On Aug. 28, 2013, the Israeli government
conducted the last organized immigration
from Ethiopia to Israel, bringing 450 Falash
Mura from Gondar through Addis Ababa
to Tel Aviv. (Falash Mura, as called by their
neighbors, is a colloquial, albeit pejorative,
term from Ge'ez describing Ethiopian Jews
who converted to Christianity in the 19th
and 20th centuries due to persecution
and economic strife but who maintained a
distinct communal identity.)
While the Falash Mura waited to be flown
to Israel in August (and every time before),
they received medical care from a JDC clinic
in Gondar and Addis Ababa. Now, at the
request of the Israeli government, this clinic
has been closed.
Top left: Kelli Saperstein, patient Sophia
and Dr. Rick Hodes
Above: Kelli Saperstein with Anouk,
whose life was saved by Dr. Rick Hodes
Bottom left: Ethiopian children in
Ambover welcome the Entwine group.
While in Gondar, I spoke with Belaynesh
Zevadia, the Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia.
Zevadia is an Ethiopian Jew who grew up
in Ambover, the Jewish village outside of
Gondar, and immigrated to Israel through
Operation Moses, the first clandestine
evacuation of Jews out of Ethiopia facilitated
by JDC, Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli
Defense Forces and the U.S. government.
She believes many Jewish people still
remain in Ethiopia. This is a very difficult and
highly debated subject.
Of JDC's annual budget of $350 million,
approximately 10 percent is committed
to international development programs in
various countries. These programs provide
the most vulnerable with immediate relief
and also long-term development assistance.
It is important to note that these programs
are focused on non-Jewish communities. So,
while the medical clinic in Gondar may be
closed, JDC remains hard at work with many
other life-saving programs.
Dr. Rick's Clinic
One of these programs is with Dr. Rick
Hodes, JDC's medical director for Ethiopia.
Dr. Rick, as he is known, has lived and
worked in Ethiopia for more than 20
years. He oversaw the health of Ethiopians
immigrating to Israel during Operations
Moses and Solomon. Now he focuses on
heart disease, spine disease and cancer. He
has clinic hours in three locations in Addis
Ababa, and his clinics are open to the poor
of any religion or ethnicity.
Many of his patients travel days to
see him, so while they are in Addis
Ababa in treatment, waiting for surgery
or recovering from surgery, Rick opens
his home to them. He constantly has
houseguests and often is not really sure
how many people are staying with him.
He invited our Entwine group to his
home for Shabbat. We were there with 30
other people, many of whom he considers
his "kids" and other people like us who
were visiting the area.
While there, I had the pleasure of
meeting Sophia and her mother. Sophia
is 9 and traveled with her mother for two
days to get to Rick. She has tuberculosis
of the spine that has left her with a
severe S-shaped spine that protrudes as a
humpback. Sophia is going through testing
to see if she is a candidate for spinal
surgery in Ghana. Sophia and her mother
are Muslim and are staying with Rick while
they are in Addis Ababa.
I also had the pleasure of meeting
Anouk, who is an AIDS orphan and has
perinatal HIV. Anouk is 17 and Christian.
He found Rick a few years ago and, when
he first came to the clinic, he was very sick
with HIV. Now he is doing great and is in
school. He lives with Rick and credits him
with saving his life.
It was truly amazing to experience
Shabbat at Rick's house with so many
people of different religions and
languages. Rick and his kids were so
welcoming and eager to show us their
Friday night traditions. It was beautiful to
see everyone, regardless of religion or age,
participate in the songs and rituals.
JDC is also committed to the Ambover village
outside of Gondar. Ambover is formerly a
Jewish village, complete with a synagogue
and Jewish cemetery. Today, it is a Christian
village. Our group spent several days there
building a school, giving the children anti-
parasite medicine and facilitating informal
educational programs. We were welcomed
with open arms.
As soon as we pulled up with our Jeep
caravan, the children ran out of school
into a big group and started clapping and
yelling "welcome" in unison. The elders of
the community were happy to see us and
Saving Lives on page 38
January 16 • 2014