Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Controversy splits city Ethiopian church - Winnipeg Free Press

Dissidents allege missing funds, bad governance, intimidation

Dissidents in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church on Mountain Avenue are upset that four members were banned from Sunday services in the church after they made allegations about problems in its operation. FROM LEFT: S. Abebe, M. Abebe, Berhanu Balcha, Lemma Mekonnen and E. Dissa.
Dissidents in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church on Mountain Avenue are upset that four members were banned from Sunday services in the church after they made allegations about problems in its operation. FROM LEFT: S. Abebe, M. Abebe, Berhanu Balcha, Lemma Mekonnen and E. Dissa. Photo Store
A North End Ethiopian church has been riven by allegations of missing funds, bad governance and intimidation, and now the internal strife may end up in court.
Four dissident members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church on Mountain Avenue have received letters from the church's lawyer banning them from Sunday services. In response, the dissidents, many of whom founded the local church 20 years ago, have made a formal complaint to the Canada Revenue Agency asking the CRA to investigate what they say is a board hand-picked by the priest, Aba Fikreselasie Tsegaw Terefe, who has rewritten the bylaws to give himself more power.
The dissidents, part of a group of 20, have also demanded an accounting of thousands of dollars in donations they say ended up in the priest's personal bank account.
"This is Canada. You can't do things like they did back home," said Lemma Mekonnen, who was among seven of the dissidents who sat down with the Free Press recently. "You have to be accountable. We say, 'No, what you're doing is not right.' We just don't have the stomach to keep quiet."
In a statement issued through Winnipeg lawyer Alfred Thiessen, the church's board of directors disputed all those allegations: "These false statements have all been addressed internally to the full and complete satisfaction of its membership and the congregation's support for Aba Fikreselasie Tsegaw Terefe remains steadfast."
'This is Canada. You can't do things like they did back home... You have to be accountable. We say, "No, what you're doing is not right." We just don't have the stomach to keep quiet.'
-- Lemma Mekonnen
The trouble began about a year ago when questions arose about more than $300,000 raised to build a new cathedral and multicultural centre. Progress on planning the cathedral appeared to be stalled, and some church members asked for a full accounting of the fundraising.
In its statement to the Free Press, the church's board did not respond to specific questions about the cathedral donations.
Among some congregants, the issue dredged up old questions about the fate of a $65,000 donation the church authorized to monasteries and religious schools back in Ethiopia. In 2006, a cheque was cut to the priest and deposited in his account with the expectation he would personally deliver the cash while on a pilgrimage to Ethiopia. The dissidents, some of whom are physicians, accountants and civil servants, say the fate of the money is murky, and they have repeatedly demanded an accounting of where exactly it was donated.
The CRA also asked for an explanation in 2008. In a letter to the CRA, church board members acknowledged the cash had been deposited into the priest's account with the full approval of the board. It's not clear whether that answer satisfied the CRA.
In recent years, the dissidents allege, the church's board has been largely hand-picked by the priest. Proper elections haven't been held for years, and it's been impossible for parishioners to get board minutes and financial statements, they say.
In April, the church's board drafted new bylaws the dissidents say give the priest almost complete power over the board, instead of vice versa.
The dissidents say proper governance is especially important given the church's central place in the lives of new immigrants, their cultural reverence for the priest and the tradition of the tithe, in which members give a significant portion of their incomes to the church.
"The priest controls almost everything," said dissident Berhanu Balcha. "The congregants should elect the board members so they are accountable to the congregation... Instead, they are spending the money we gave them to pay for lawyers to expel us from the church."
The new bylaws do allow the board to deny church services to people "deemed a dangerous agent that destabilizes the church's existence."
That's what happened in October, when four dissident church members received a letter from Thiessen saying the church had revoked their membership. The letter also threatened legal action should the four try to attend Sunday services or contact the priest.
"... You, in concert with three other individuals, have for a number of months now been conspiring to cause dissension among the church's membership and have to that end openly challenged the legitimacy of the church's bylaw and the authority of Aba Fikreselasie Tsegaw Terefe," wrote the lawyer in October.
In an interview, Thiessen also said the congregation voted to support the termination letters during a meeting last month. The new church bylaws were also approved by an overwhelming majority of parishioners earlier this year.
In response, the dissidents made a formal complaint to the Canada Revenue Agency in October asking for an investigation into the bylaw changes, the fate of the $65,000, and the lack of audited financial statements. Since many church members claim donations at income tax time, Mekonnen says taxpayers have a stake in how the church is run.
Staff at the CRA said they cannot confirm whether an investigation has been launched. But they said charities that alter bylaws or governance structure are normally expected to alert the CRA.
This fall, the internal strife prompted some raucous church meetings complete with security guards. The strife has spilled onto the Internet and into local Ethiopian hangouts. Flyers denouncing the dissidents have been dropped at coffee shops and stores frequented by the city's Ethiopian expats.
The dissident members can't appeal to church officials. After Ethiopia's military junta fell in 1991, the faith suffered a schism and it's not clear who has authority over the Winnipeg church.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2013 A6

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Swiss lawmaker dropped over Israel remark - Israel News, Ynetnews

Swiss lawmaker dropped over Israel remark

Denis Menoud, deputy from Switzerland's populist Geneva Citizens' Movement excluded from regional party for writing on his Facebook page following Iran's nuclear deal that 'key thing is that Israel is on path to being incinerated'
Published: 11.29.13, 19:47 / Israel News
A local deputy from Switzerland's populist Geneva Citizens' Movement (MCG) was excluded from the regional party on Friday for appearing to support the destruction of Israel.

Denis Menoud wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday that following Iran's historic nuclear deal with the West, "the key thing is that Israel is on the path to being incinerated."

Related stories:

His words caused an immediate outcry, with the Swiss Jewish rights group CICAD demanding the party "make a stand regarding this type of despicable remark."

Menoud, who later deleted the post from the page, told the Swissnewspaper Tribune de Geneve his remarks had been taken out of context.

"The point was the agreement with Iran...Israel is the loser, strategically and politically, from this plan. Anything else is a toxic and abusive interpretation," he said.

The MCG is increasingly prolific in the Geneva canton, having won 20 of the 100 seats in the regional parliament in September on a platform of border security.

Menoud refused to resign at his party's request, but party president Roger Gelay said Friday the lawmaker was "no longer considered a member."

Menoud is renowned for his verbal gaffes, including previous off-color remarks about homosexuals and naturalized immigrants.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Architect of Ethiopian airlift warns of emigre ‘underclass’ | NJJN

Micha Feldmann with four Jewish orphans in the Ethiopian city of Gondar, four years before they were able to make aliya in August 2011.

 Photo courtesy SELAH+ enlarge image
Micha Feldmann with four Jewish orphans in the Ethiopian city of Gondar, four years before they were able to make aliya in August 2011.
Photo courtesy SELAH
+ more images
Speaking at Temple Beth Shalom, Micha Feldmann described Ethiopian Jews’ ongoing struggle to adapt to Israeli society.

 Photo by Benjamin Yavelberg
Westfield Smiles!

Speaking in Livingston, an architect of the mass migration of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel described the mission he helped initiate 29 years before, almost to the day.
On Nov. 21, 1984, Israeli diplomat Micha Feldmann greeted a planeload of 283 Jews at Ben-Gurion Airport, the first of more than 8,000 Ethiopian Jews who would travel from Sudan to Israel in the following three months.
Later, as Israeli consul to Ethiopia and head of the Jewish Agency for Israel mission there, Feldmann would help lead Operation Solomon, a 1991 endeavor that brought more than 14,000 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel over the course of 36 hours.
In his talk at Temple Beth Shalom, Feldmann, author of On Wings of Eagles: The Secret Operation of the Ethiopian Exodus, related his role in the rescue, but also described the challenges faced by Israel’s 130,000 Ethiopians today.
“These are black people coming into a white society,” said Feldmann, who serves as director of the Ethiopian division of SELAH, the Israel Crisis Management Center. “They need that we embrace them. We tell them ‘welcome,’ but they do not feel that they are welcome.”
Feldman described how Ethiopian Jews still struggle with absorption on a daily basis, with only half of the eligible members of the population currently enrolled in Israeli schools. While a large percentage of Ethiopian youth join the army, many attempt to drop out in order to find ways to support their families. Parents consistently struggle to adapt to working in Israel’s advanced economy, he said.
Feldmann also said that while many Israelis accept Ethiopians as members of their society, they do not actively accept them as equals. He said he encourages his fellow citizens to help the Ethiopians reach their potential.
“We can’t allow ourselves to have a black underclass in Israel,” he said.
Feldmann described the careful and secretive negotiations, begun in the mid-1980s, to facilitate the mass aliya of the African country’s isolated Jewish population, then clustered largely in Gondar.
After five years of waiting and planning, the Ethiopian government agreed to allow for the transport of all of the Jews from the town in exchange for $36 million and on the condition that the airlift would involve only unmarked planes. In May 1991, thousands of people were flown out of Addis Ababa on jam-packed 747s.
Operation Solomon, though the biggest, was not the only extraction process that Feldmann ran. He helped transport Ethiopian children to Israeli boarding schools, and maintained detailed records in order to reconnect parents with their children. Reuniting extended families became a priority of the absorption effort, he said.
“You would imagine when we’d meet they would bring up issues like housing, health, education, employment — none of those,” he said. “The only issue that they would speak about, was ‘Where are our families?’ They described their situation as if someone had taken a knife and cut their families into two.”
Earlier that evening, Feldmann thanked leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ in Whippany for their support of the Ethiopian aliya and absorption. Feldmann, who was born in Germany and lived there again after World War II, recalled how the full impact of the Ethiopian aliya struck him on a visit to Dachau.
“If Israel had been founded only 10 years earlier, there wouldn’t have been an Auschwitz, and I would have had my grandparents,” he said. “Thank God I was able to be part of making history.”
Feldmann’s talk was sponsored by the federation’s Legow Family Israel Program Center.
At Temple Beth Shalom, congregant Stuart Wainberg said he recently spent time in Ethiopia with Feldmann as a member of a Greater MetroWest mission. “Micha is one of the world’s greatest witnesses to the story,” Wainberg said. “He followed his heart on a dangerous and emotional roller-coaster that climaxed with Operation Solomon.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Ethiopian Jews | JPost | Israel News

Rabbi Yosef succeeded in revealing what had been forgotten for years: the historic truth of Beta Israel’s Jewishness.

Hundreds of thousands turn out for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's funeral in Jerusalem, October 7, 2013.
Hundreds of thousands turn out for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's funeral in Jerusalem, October 7, 2013. Photo: Koby Gideon/GPO
In one of my lectures about the halachic (pertaining to Jewish law) status of Jews in Israel, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent expressed his concern about the future of the entire Ethiopian community in Israel. He raised his hand and asked, “Who will protect us if something happens to Rabbi Ovadia?” When I asked him what he meant, he explained that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was the one responsible for him being able to move to Israel, since “Rabbi Ovadia was the only one who made the halachic ruling that we are Ethiopian Jews. As long as he lives, he will protect us. I am fearful that after he dies, they’ll send us back to Ethiopia, since there won’t be anyone else to protect us,” the boy said with palpable fear in his voice.

Throughout the years, Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian rabbis affiliated with the Shas party have proclaimed in the days preceding Knesset and municipal elections that Ethiopian immigrants in Israel are in debt to Rabbi Yosef for recognizing their halachic status as Jews, and that they must therefore vote for Shas. I’ve heard people say, “Rabbi Ovadia Yosef brought you here... because of him we are here... you owe it to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.”

Indeed, many members of the Ethiopian community, as well as many Israelis in general, believe that Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel not because of their historical right as Jews, but as a result of Rabbi Yosef’s ruling that they were in fact Jews.

Everyone agrees that Rabbi Yosef’s 1973 ruling, which recognized Ethiopian Jews’ religious status, was the most important factor in making their aliya possible. His ruling brought about a complete turnaround in attitudes of the government and the Jewish Agency. There is no end to our appreciation of him for making this historic ruling, which was just one among many others.

At that time, the State of Israel and the rabbinic world were quite ambivalent about how to deal with the situation.

Some rabbis disagreed with the ruling; they based their decisions on research indicating that we had non- Jewish origins. The Israeli government’s attitude toward Ethiopian Jews was hesitant at best.

As one Jewish Agency representative remarked at the time, “To the detriment of the Falasha community, the powers that be are hesitant to accept their legitimacy. The hearts of the poor and innocent Falasha vacillated between hope and despair.

Their lives and their children’s lives, and their feelings of loyalty, became victims of a cruel game.”

This was the background to Rabbi Yosef’s appearance on the scene, and his landmark ruling that “the Falashas are Jews whom we must rescue before they become assimilated.

We must quickly bring them to Israel. As the book of Jeremiah says, ‘The sons will return home.’” Where did Rabbi Yosef find the strength to say this? In one of the Beit Hillel conferences, Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz, the president of Bar-Ilan University, asked: what is the most important part of a two-story house? His answer was the stairs that connect the two floors. In my opinion, this was the secret of Rabbi Yosef’s greatness. He had two traits that made him one of the greatest geniuses of our generation: while on the one hand he was incredibly courageous, and on the other he was a great Talmudic scholar, he had the fantastic ability to bring the two together, and also to connect with the people. There are plenty of Talmudic scholars who lack courage and plenty of courageous people who are not scholarly. Rabbi Yosef was a combination of the two.

A number of years ago a yeshiva student asked me, “Did you have bibles back in Ethiopia? Did you pray? Do you have the same Torah as we do?” This question reminded me of an incident that took place in the 1950s, when a renowned Ashkenazi haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi asked Rabbi Yosef, who was of Iraqi (ancient Babylon) origin, “Do you have the same Talmud as we do?” To which Rabbi Ovadia replied, “And which Talmud does the esteemed rabbi have? The Babylonian Talmud! That means you have our Talmud!” There’s no doubt that Rabbi Yosef’s ruling was unprecedented and historic, however, he only did what was expected of a courageous Talmudic scholar. Just as a physicist is required to uncover truths in nature, so too is the halachic scholar expected to reveal truths in the Torah. And just as a physician weaves certain materials together in an effort to cure people’s ailments, so too does a halachic scholar.

Because of his genius and greatness, Rabbi Yosef succeeded in revealing what had been forgotten for thousands of years: the historic truth of Beta Israel’s Jewishness. In this respect, Rabbi Ovadia is an outstanding example of what a halachic genius with a little bit of courage can do to find solutions within halacha.

And to the student I referred to at the beginning of this article, I would reply: You are our brother. Have no fear. You are an integral part of the Jewish people.

The author is the rabbi of Kedoshei Yisrael Community in Kiryat Gat, member of Tzohar and a Jewish philosophy doctoral student at Bar Ilan University, Translated by Hannah Hochner.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thousands of Ethiopian Jews gather in Jerusalem to celebrate return to Israel on Sig’d holiday | JPost | Israel News

Biblical holiday held annually 50 days after Yom Kippur to pray for repentance, and deliverance to Jerusalem.
Ethiopians celebrate Sig'd in Jerusalem, 2013.
Ethiopians celebrate Sig'd in Jerusalem, 2013. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis from across the nation gathered in the capital Thursday to celebrate Sigd, a holiday marked 50 days after Yom Kippur by repenting for sins and praying for a return to Zion, the coming of the Messiah and a Third Temple.

Officially designated a national holiday in Israel in 2009, it is said that Sigd was observed for 2,500 years by Jews in Ethiopia. Since their mass exodus from the country, mostly in the 1980s and early 1990s, Ethiopian Israelis now gather annually in Jerusalem to mark the day.

Thursday’s ceremony, held at the Sherover Promenade in the southeastern part of the city, was attended by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, Minister of Education Shai Piron, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, and numerous MKs, rabbis and priests.

“Today is important because this holiday began in Ethiopia a long time ago,” said Tamir Sanbatao, 32, of Petah Tikva, who immigrated with eight family members during Operation Moses in 1984.

Sanbatao, now the father of three, noted that in Ethiopia the holiday was observed in a fashion far different from Thursday’s festivities, which included dozens of food vendors, singing and dancing.

“In Ethiopia we fasted the entire day and climbed a local mountain to pray for forgiveness and deliverance to Jerusalem. Now that we’re here we pray the Messiah will come and that a third Temple will be built,” he said.

“Even though we’re celebrating today,: he explained, “we’re still waiting and praying for this day to come.”

Thirty-eight-year-old Mevrat Lior Perdu, arrived with his family during Operation Moses and is a teacher living in Azor, near Tel Aviv.

“This holiday is very special because in the Kaballah it says that there are 49 gates to go to heaven after Yom Kippur, and if someone didn’t get forgiveness he has a second chance on the 50th day, which is today,” Perdu said.

While he is pleased to live in Israel, he added that his “journey” will not end until the Messiah comes and the Third Temple is built.

“We are still on our journey here because we will not reach the last stop until that time,” he said. “We will never quit until then.”

Meanwhile, actor and producer Shai Fredo – who founded the Sigdiada Festival in Tel Aviv two years ago to celebrate Ethiopian culture with other Israelis as a prelude to Sigd – described the holiday as “beautiful.”

“It’s a beautiful day for us because in Ethiopia we’ve celebrated it for 2,500 years,” Fredo said. “Finally, after thousands of years, we are here and we can pray and celebrate to say thank you to God for taking us here.”

He added that he hoped one day the holiday would be embraced by the entire nation.

“This holiday is for everyone, not just the Ethiopian people,” he said. “The reason I started the Sigdiada Festival was to show other Jews the beauty and diversity of our culture.”

Pnina Rada of Tel Aviv, who came during Operation Moses at the age of seven, echoed Fredo’s sentiments.

“I’m deeply, deeply happy that we are keeping this holiday because it’s the reason we’re here,” she said. “The adventure now is to make this a holiday for all of Israeli society.”

Asked if she believed whether the Ethiopian immigrant community had been truly integrated into society, Rada said much work still needed to be done.

“I don’t think we’re in a place of 100 percent integration because we are still not getting good jobs or being adequately represented in businesses,” she said, attributing this to general ignorance about Ethiopian people and culture.

“People think they know everything about Ethiopians, but they don’t and we want them to know the diversity of our culture,” Rada added.

“We don’t want people to think of us as ‘uneducated Ethiopians.’” While she conceded that complete integration remained a problem, she was optimistic that one day Ethiopians would be viewed as an integral part of Israeli society.

“I hope there will be a time when Israeli society sees Ethiopian people as an important part of it, and I think we are on our way,” she said.

The Ethiopian mass exodus to Israel began during the Marxist-Leninist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, who murdered thousands of African Jews, separated families, displaced survivors, orphaned children and forbade all from practicing Judaism. This oppression – compounded by unparalleled famine, the highest infant mortality rate in the world and the constant threat of war – resulted in an untenable existence for the country’s tens of thousands of Jews.

Under the auspices of the Israeli government, covert rescue missions known as Operations Moses and Joshua, and 1991’s massive Operation Solomon, saved more than 21,000 Ethiopian- Jewish lives.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Joy and pain as last Ethiopians make aliyah | The Jewish Chronicle

Children in Gondar, dressed in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, take Hebrew classes in the hope that one day they will be allowed to make aliyah
Children in Gondar, dressed in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, take Hebrew classes in the hope that one day they will be allowed to make aliyah
A small group of toddlers are singing a Hebrew nursery rhyme in a room filled with Israeli posters. Their teacher asks them in Hebrew to point at their tummies, then their noses and their ears.
It could be any kindergarten class in Israel, but this Africa and these children are part of the last group of Ethiopian immigrants to be brought to Israel.
The class is organised by the Jewish Agency, which is in charge of the logistics of Ethiopian emigration to Israel. So while the children are learning Hebrew at the community centre in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar, their parents are sitting in nearby classrooms, listening to lectures about life in Israel and learning some basic Hebrew themselves.
The children’s teacher, Gitacho Tekaba, is finding it hard to match the enthusiasm of his pupils. He was born in Gondar 24 years ago and has been teaching at the kindergarten for three years now. Like the children’s parents, he also put in a request to emigrate but has been turned down by the Israeli Interior Ministry. He does not know if he will ever be allowed to go to Israel, and the departure of the last group this week means that the Jewish Agency facilities are closing down so he is also losing his job.
“I have lived here between despair and hope, not doing anything with my life,” Mr Tekaba says bitterly. About 1,900 other members of the Falashmura community in Gondar have been turned down, many of them, like Mr Tekaba, now face an uncertain future.
Worke Germai has also worked at the community centre, teaching Jewish customs, and is now contemplating her future. She disputes the ministry’s decision. “If I had no connection to the Jewish people, why did they allow my mother to go to Israel?” she asks. “Even if I cannot emigrate soon, I will cling to my Jewishness,” she promises. “I believe in God who will one day take me to Eretz Yisrael.”
Nearly all of those who have been turned down have relatives in Israel. In recent weeks, those in Israel have been trying frantically to get their loved ones on the list as the end of the emigration operation approached.
Many of them have spoken to Asher Siyum, the chief representative of the Jewish Agency in Ethiopia, responsible for all aspects of emigration to Israel. “Everyone calls me or reaches me on Facebook, asking ‘what about my sister and mother?’,” says Mr Siyum, who emigrated himself from Ethiopia in 1985 at the age of 12. “For them I represent the state of Israel — but it’s the Interior Ministry that decides.”
Mr Siyum’s job is to take care of those authorised for aliyah, but also spends a lot of his time dealing with those who have been turned down and with the anger of their families in Israel. “It’s very important that we don’t create any illusions,” he says. “We helped all those who were supposed eventually to reach Israel and now our mission is over.”
A compound in Gondar
A compound in Gondar
After Operation Solomon in May 1991, the Israeli government assumed that with the Beita Yisrael community all in Israel, emigration from Ethiopia was over. But an entire second community remained behind — the Falashmura, descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity from the end of the 19th century. They were claiming that their forefathers had been forced to convert, that they had lived in distinct communities all these years and that now they were returning to Judaism.
The Beita Yisrael was split between those who saw them as renegades now trying to profit from their long-forgotten roots; others with relatives among the Falashmura called for them to be allowed to emigrate. Committees were created and policy formulated and reformulated.
Ten years ago, the government accepted the ruling by former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar that the Falashmura could be considered Jewish — although they would be required to undergo conversion to Judaism upon their arrival in Israel — and anyone who could prove to “descended from Jews on their mother’s side” would be allowed to emigrate. But this criterion still means that extended families are split.
“Everyone says they have family in Israel, so why can’t they come?” says Mr Siyum. “I explain that Beita Israel stuck to its roots and made it to Israel. Now we are giving a chance to the descendants of those who converted to Christianity but they would not normally be eligible for citizenship [according to the Law of Return], so they are getting preferential treatment.”
On Wednesday afternoon, two chartered jets landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, bringing with them 450 new immigrants to Israel. They were greeted by government ministers and leaders of Jewish organisations in an event that was titled “the end of the journey”.
As far as the Israeli government is concerned, this is indeed the end of a three-decade long saga in which over 90,000 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel, first in a series of clandestine flights from Sudan, then in the 1991 Operation Solomon airlift and, over the past 21 years, in organised groups flying from Addis Ababa with the co-operation of the Ethiopian government.
The government sought to end the aliyah operations from Ethiopia several times, claiming that all the Jews were already in Israel. Eventually, however, they were forced to re-open the process.
The pressure from Ethiopian-Israelis whose family members were left behind, from Jewish-American leaders, rabbis and politicians sympathetic to their cause, was always too great.
In July 2008, the government once again announced that it had brought all the members of the Falashmura community who were eligible for Israeli citizenship and that it was closing down operations. A public campaign ensued to re-examine the cases of 8,500 Falashmura who remained behind and, in November 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved Operation Wings of a Dove to bring what is now supposed to be the last group to Israel.
Over the past two and a half years, 7,000 more arrived, including those who landed on Wednesday, and a new campaign is already under way. Behind the campaign are members of a younger generation of Israeli-Ethiopians, some of them born in Israel. Unlike their parents who were usually passive, allowing others to take on their battles, this generation insists on fighting for itself against what they see as the discriminatory policy of the government. The campaign is mainly on Facebook, where they post photographs and stories of their relatives back in Ethiopia.
“The main struggle now is of the younger people,” says Amsalo Lagas, an 18-year old fighting to secure the emigration of his grandmother, Yevzalam Aileo. “We are fed up with all this bureaucracy and the assumption that our brothers are not Jews,” he says.
“Who decides who is a Jew?” asks his cousin, Chen Asmamo, angrily. “Who said you are Jewish? I can say that you are not. Who can even prove such a thing? Why can foreign workers from Sudan and Eritrea live here but Jews, part of our people, are forbidden?”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

450 Ethiopian immigrants arrive on 'Dove's Wings' last flight

450 Ethiopian immigrants arrive on 'Dove's Wings' last flight

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky: We are closing a 3,000-year-old circle • Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver: I want a promise that the Israeli government will do everything it can to absorb the immigrants in the best way possible.
Yori Yalon
An Ethiopian immigrant at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday
 Photo credit: Yossi Zeliger

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jewish Agency want to End Ethiopian Aliyah for good by bringing the so called the last 400

A final flight of 400 Ethiopian immigrants is set to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, as the Jewish Agency ends its decade-long campaign of bringing Jewish Ethiopians to Israel.
Natan Sharansky, Head Chairman of the Jewish Agency, and Israeli Minster of Immigrant Absorption, Sofa Landver, will attend a farewell ceremony at the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa before the group ofimmigrants set out for their new home.
Ethiopian Jewish Baby Holds Israeli flag
 Ethiopian Jewish Baby Holds Israeli flag
In the past, Israel has conducted three major operations of Ethiopian immigration; the first being Operation Moses in 1984 which evacuated 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from Sudan. In 1992, the second wave of Ethiopian immigrants came on Operation Solomon. Finally, Operation Dove’s Wings began last October, chartering 91 flights from Ethiopia and bringing a total of 7,000 Ethiopian Jews.
In 2010 the Jewish state welcomed thousands of "Falash Mura," Jews whose ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity. Many American and Israeli organizations advocating for Ethiopians pressured Israel to take in the immigrants who hadbeen waiting to come to Israel to reunite with their family members.
The Jewish Agency set up a Jewish school in Gondar to be a transit point for these Ethiopian immigrants, offering educational activities and welfare services for those eligible for living in Israel. The school now belongs to the municipality, after the final group of Falash Mura is set to arrive in Israel today.
“Jews lived in Gondar for 2,500 years. However, their longing to return home never weakened,” agency chairman Natan Sharansky said.
“Today we bring to an end a journey that spans thousands of years – the conclusion of Operation Wings of a Dove.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ethiopian-Israelis to protest end of aliya tomorrow | JPost | Israel News

Members of the community will hold aloft images of their loved ones who will remain in Gondar.

Ethiopian Israelis demonstrate outside PMO in J'le
Ethiopian Israelis demonstrate outside PMO in J'le Photo: Marc Israel Sellem

Ethiopian-Israelis are planning a protest outside of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office at the same time that a plane representing the official end of Ethiopian aliya is scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday.

At the protest, which is being organized by activist Avraham Neguise as well as through Facebook, members of the Ethiopian community will hold aloft images of their loved ones who will remain in Gondar following the closure of the Jewish Agency’s facilities there.

According to activist Yitzhak Sokoloff, who recently came back from a visit at the Gondar refugee center, protests by some of the members of the Falash Mura community being left behind have resulted in some of the facilities in the camp being kept open for at least another month following Wednesday’s final flight.

An agency official confirmed that the synagogue in Gondar will remain open at least until the upcoming holidays are passed and that those remaining will have access to Torah scrolls for at least that period of time.

The Falash Mura are the descendants of members of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community who converted to Christianity. Many currently live in Israel, where they have undergone conversion.

However, according to Neguise, who spoke with The Jerusalem Report last year, “of the 459 individuals in Addis Ababa with firstdegree relatives in Israel, 177 have either parents or grandparents in Israel, 53 have children here, and 124 have brothers and sisters.”

While the remaining Falash Mura are not Jewish according to traditional religious definitions, among them, many activists say, are individuals who would qualify as Jewish under the law of return, which stipulates that one only need have a grandparent who is Jewish to qualify.

However, it may not be that simple, as too much time has passed and insufficient documentation exists to prove a Jewish genealogy to the satisfaction of the Interior Ministry.

The ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office – not the agency – are responsible for making the decision as to who can come and who stays.

Neither the ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office would comment on the matter.

Uri Perednik, another activist who has spent significant time in Ethiopia and who is one of the organizers of the protest, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he hopes to reach a thousand protesters.

Those who will be protesting, he says, are young Ethiopians who grew up and served in the IDF, are accepted as Jews and “are told that their brothers back in Ethiopia aren’t Jewish.”

Without getting into the issue of whether the Falash Mura should have been brought in the first place – he considers it justified – Perednik said: “They have proven themselves in Israel as complete Jews.”

The debate is “irrelevant now,” he said. “It’s about finishing it right, finishing it without destroying the lives of people.”

“Something is very wrong when a whole family has been brought to Israel and one of the family is staying behind. It’s terrible for the families in Israel.”

Only those who have sold their belongings, have first-degree relatives in Israel and have returned to the practice of Judaism should come, he asserted, saying his stance is not an open-ended invitation to any villager who wants to improve his economic lot to immigrate.

Ageru Asmamaw, an Ethiopian immigrant who recently returned from teaching Judaism to aliya hopefuls in Gondar, concurs.

Calling the decision to finish at this point what the agency is calling operation Wings of a Dove “erroneous,” Asmamaw said that Israel cannot “leave families split and say we finished. I say to you that the aliya is not finished.

There are still families, parents and children who are split, half a family here and half there.”

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ethiopian aliya to be stoped | JPost | Israel News

Final flight of 400 Falash Mura is scheduled to land in the holy land later this month capping an aliya of tens of thousands.

The final group of Ethiopian olim prepare for Israel.
The final group of Ethiopian olim prepare for Israel. Photo: courtesy The jewish agency

The Jewish Agency is preparing to bring the last of Ethiopia’s Jews to Israel later this month with a flight of 400 Falash Mura, bringing an end to a saga that has spanned decades and seen tens of thousands of men, women and children coming to the Jewish state.
In preparation for the final flight, scheduled for August 28, the agency handed over the keys of the Jewish school in Gondar, a transit point run by the agency, to the city’s mayor. The school and all its facilities, which the agency says provided education for 2,500 Jewish students in preparation for life in Israel, were given to the municipality “free of charge.”
“Jews lived in Gondar for 2,500 years. However, their longing to return home never weakened,” agency chairman Natan Sharansky said at a ceremony marking the turnover.
“Today we bring to an end a journey that spans thousands of years – the conclusion of Operation Wings of a Dove.”
Wings of a Dove was launched three years ago to bring to Israel the remaining Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity.
“To this day, the Jewish Agency has brought some 7,000 immigrants from Ethiopia, the vast majority Falash Mura,” it said in a statement. “The Jewish Agency’s community center in Gondar – with the assistance of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and Jewish Federations of North America – operated educational activities and provided welfare services to eligible immigrants. Upon their arrival in Israel, these new immigrants were housed in 17 absorption centers around the country, run by Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency.”