Last week’s editorial, “Ethiopian Jews, Once Hailed, Now Cast Aside,” demonstrates the great loss Gary Rosenblatt’s retirement will be for American Jewry. Once again, he raises important issues that have not been adequately addressed elsewhere.
Rosenblatt cites two reasons why the federations have refused to assist the abandoned Beta Israel in Ethiopia. First, doubts whether the Beta Israel are sincerely practicing Jews rather than people seeking better lives in Israel. Second, that federations cannot fund additional aliyah “without the government of Israel accepting more Ethiopians into the country.”
The fact is that upon arriving in Israel virtually all of the Beta Israel go through a conversion at a time when it is irrelevant to their aliyah. It is a fact, certified by Israel’s Bureau of Central Statistics, that 75 percent of the so-called Falash Mura send their children to the religious school system, a percentage several times higher than that of Israeli children in the general population. In Ethiopia, people continue to attend synagogue after years of rejection by the State of Israel. Are people seriously claiming this has been a 20-year charade?
Federation’s claim that they “cannot” fund aliyah without Israel accepting more Jews into the country misses the point. No one is asking the Federations to fund aliyah. As the editorial noted, they are being asked to provide humanitarian relief as they do for all other distressed Jewish communities. Nowhere else in the world is such relief conditioned on aliyah. Federation leadership also claims that they do not wish to fund relief when there is no clear cutoff date. This contradicts their behavior in the Former Soviet Union where they have funded humanitarian relief for many years with no end in sight.
I am mystified why, as Howard Rieger notes, Ethiopian Jewry “does not resonate with federation leadership.” And I am further mystified why SSEJ (Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry), which provides life-saving assistance in Ethiopia, has not received any federation support.
Board member SSEJ, Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry