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American Jews Must Help Ethiopians Complete the Journey
Worldwide Jewry is about to witness the end of an era — the last official Ethiopian immigrants to the State of Israel.
The Jewish Agency for Israel announced in June that the final planeloads would travel from Addis Ababa to Ben-Gurion Airport at the end of this month, closing the door on three decades of drama, intrigue, inspiration and, at times, controversy surrounding the aliyah of tens of thousands of African Jews.
Throughout the drama, American Jewry has been an important financial partner in enabling and supporting the Ethiopian aliyah. Our responsibility is not yet finished.
The story of the Ethiopian exodus represents a tremendous source of pride and inspiration for Jews everywhere. The arrival of black Jews from a primitive land changed the face of Israel and presented significant economic and social challenges as the country grappled with how best to integrate the families who came with nothing but their longing to return to Zion.
While the Ethiopians permitted to immigrate in recent years have departed openly on commercial flights, earlier arrivals were cloaked in secrecy. They were forced to make a dangerous trek to the Sudan for secret flights, as was the case with Operation Moses in 1984-1985. Or, as happened with Operation Solomon in 1991, they were guided onto hastily arranged Israeli government-sponsored flights with the airplane seats torn out, trying to maximize the numbers rescued from a nation wracked by war.
Some Ethiopian immigrants in recent years have been more controversial. Some questioned whether these Falash Mura, the descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forced to convert, were genuine about their return to Judaism or just seeking a way out of Ethiopia. But advocates and family members wanting reunification prevailed. And those who have spent time with them as they await their flights see committed Jews ready to take on the challenge of a new life.
There are many success stories among the Ethiopians in Israel — doctors, scientists, Knesset members, military officers. But many still struggle at the bottom of the economic ladder, with significant social and family problems.
Now the Jewish Federations of North America has launched a special campaign, “Completing the Journey,” to partner with the Israeli government and nonprofits to help absorb the last of the Ethiopian immigrants and work to successfully integrate the community into Israeli society.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has committed to raising a modest $170,000 of a $6 million national campaign. The drama of the Ethiopian return to the fold may be ending but the efforts to help them succeed have not.