The GA And Ethiopian Jewry: Look Who Hasn’t Been Invited To Dinner
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The GA And Ethiopian Jewry: Look Who Hasn’t Been Invited To Dinner

The Jewish Federations allocate funds to assist Jews worldwide, so why is one particular community being ignored?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with religious leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community. Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with religious leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community. Getty Images

The General Assembly of the Jewish Federations is a marvelous event. Thousands of Jews from all of the world congregate to focus on fostering Jewish peoplehood.

But for Ethiopian Jewry, the General Assembly is yet another disappointment. Unlike meetings in the past, among the many scheduled sessions, not even one is devoted to the appalling situation of the Jews left behind in Addis Ababa and Gondar.

The need for such a meeting could not be more acute. Nine thousand people are internally displaced refugees awaiting their turn to make aliyah as promised by a 2015 Israeli government resolution. Peer reviewed studies show that more than 50% of community children age 5 and younger are significantly chronically malnourished, a condition which often leads to irreversible mental and physical damage.

Nevertheless, neither JDC nor JAFI — organizations whose funding comes principally from the Jewish Federations — has been willing to provide any assistance to these children or any other member of the community.

Isn’t this at least worthy of discussion and debate?

Apparently not. Federation leaders have said that they cannot aid this impoverished Jewish community until Israel decides they are eligible for aliyah.

Now we have seen that such a government decision already exists, though its implementation is scandalously slow.

But let us assume this decision did not exist or that that Israel decides it will never reunite these people with their families in Israel. Is there any other place in the world where American Jewish humanitarian assistance is conditioned on aliyah? Is this true in the former Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe or any place else in the world other than Africa? Is there any place else in the world where the American Jewish community allows Interior Ministry bureaucrats to determine who is a Jew in the Diaspora?

If JDC and JAFI are unwilling to aid the Jewish community in Ethiopia – a religiously observant community where prayer services are held three times daily, children attend Jewish after school programs and whose members observes the sabbath and the laws of kashrut – serious consideration should be given to funding other organizations that are willing to assume the burden but lack the financial backing of the Federation system.

Organizations outside of the Federation system, SSEJ and NACOEJ have tried to fill the gap – hoping that JDC or JAFI under Isaac Herzog’s promising new leadership will fulfill their historic role — but their resources are limited.

These issues are not even being discussed even though the Federation system is supposed to be the central address for allocating funds contributed by American Jewry for assisting Jews worldwide. In the case of the Ethiopian Jewish communities suffering in Ethiopia, it is shirking its responsibility. Can the Federations credibly argue for a voice in determining who is a Jew in Israel when its officials grant the Israeli government veto power in determining who is eligible for Jewish assistance in Ethiopia?

These issues are not being properly addressed at the General assembly – indeed they are not being discussed at all. I urge the wonderful people participating in the General Assembly to go home and urge their individual Federations to take a leadership role on this issue.

It’s time the Jewish Federations, collectively and individually, resume their historic role of aiding all members of the Jewish community without taking instructions from Israeli politicians.

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