I read with great interest Jane Alpert’s moving article on her experience visiting the Jewish community remaining in Ethiopia (“Family Journeys, Opinion, July 29).
I cannot improve upon her succinct description of the Jews remaining there as “poor, uneducated and longing for a chance to return to the land of their ancestors.” I can only wish her heartwarming and very Jewish reaction were shared by some of the ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, in particular Treasury Minister Yuval Steinitz, who has also witnessed firsthand the appalling conditions under which the Jewish children live.
The Treasury Ministry for some years has refused to give the requisite mortgages necessary for olim to leave the absorption centers to make way for new olim. Consequently, it is currently estimated that as of December 2011, there will be no room for new olim, and unless new absorption centers are opened all aliyah will stop.
A committee headed by Steinitz’s director general, Chaim Shani, has decided to increase the period of time people will remain in Ethiopia to a maximum of four years from the current three years and to reduce the rate of aliyah from six per day (not a typo) to three per day.
Shani’s claim that proper absorption can only take place at the rate of 110 per month flies in the face of a decade of aliyah experience in which the state absorbed everyone at the rate of 300 per month.
Israel’s financial capacity today is far greater than it was in the 1950s when the country made aliyah a priority. What has been reduced, greatly reduced, is its commitment to Zionist ideals. The American Jewish community, through the Jewish Federations of North America, which has been asked to finance the community’s stay in Gondar but has not been consulted about the new, slower aliyah policy, should tell Netanyahu and Steinitz that it finds the new policy intolerable, indeed embarrassing. Aliyah should remain the first priority of the State of Israel, in fact, not only in rhetoric.
I can only wish that Jane Alpert were serving as Treasury secretary today in lieu of Steinitz.