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.”

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Ethiopian Aliyah: Mission (Almost) Accomplished | The Jewish Week

The Ethiopian Aliyah: Mission (Almost) Accomplished
Wed, 08/21/2013
On Aug. 28, Israel will welcome the last official group of Ethiopians immigrating to Israel, a low-key conclusion to a complicated, at times triumphant and at times tragic, aliyah process that is still playing itself out three decades after it began.
In all, about 100,000 men, women and children have been brought to Israel from Ethiopia, across thousands of miles and many decades, if not centuries, in terms of social and religious history.
The very concept of a tiny state rescuing so many people from lives of poverty and, at times, persecution to dwell as Jews in freedom is a living embodiment of the Zionist ideal. We remember the excitement of the dramatic missions, taking great pride in Israel’s sense of responsibility to the Beta Yisrael, those who claimed an ancient Jewish heritage. Operation Moses, a clandestine mission, brought 8,000 people to Israel over a seven-week period starting in 1984. It was followed in the spring of 1991 by Operation Solomon, the rapid rescue of more than 14,000 people in 36 hours. (A world record was set for the most people on a civilian flight when 1,122 were on board one of the El Al flights.)
But the high of those missions was countered by the many difficulties the new immigrants faced. Their Judaism was questioned, and they underwent conversion. Though the Zionist objective was color-blind — a predominantly white society bringing black Africans to resettle among them — the newcomers contended with plenty of racism and the challenges of transitioning from life in a pre-modern society.
There are higher rates of poverty, alcoholism and suicide among the Ethiopian population than among other Jewish groups in Israel, and relatively few go on to university. In addition, there has been extensive controversy over the status of a second group that sought redemption, the Falash Mura, those whose 19th- and 20th-century ancestors converted to Christianity under pressure and who themselves sought to return to Judaism.
Some were skeptical of these people, saying they were not sincere but simply looking for a ticket to a new life outside of Ethiopia. Others said they were separated from their brethren through no fault of their own.
Too often forgotten in this complex chapter of modern Jewish history is the sincerity and suffering of those members of the Beta Yisrael who made their way from Ethiopia to Israel via the Sudan, walking through deserts with little food or provisions. Thousands died along the way, but the survivors pressed on. There remains a quiet dignity among the elders whose faith in the ancient tradition helped them and their followers endure countless hardships.
Even now, with the last official group of Falash Mura coming to Israel, the saga doesn’t end. From the outset there have been advocacy groups who have criticized Israel for moving too slowly in bringing people out of Ethiopia or questioning the Jewishness of the would-be emigrants. Charges of racism were leveled at the government at times. Today there are still hundreds of families in Ethiopia seeking to be reunited with family in Israel, and the Jewish school in Gondar is made up primarily of youngsters who have known only a Jewish education. Will the local school and synagogue still function once the Jewish Agency officials have gone?
Thanks to the efforts of the advocacy groups, the Israeli Ministry of Interior has set up an appeals committee to go through the lists of approved applicants from 2003 and 2010 in a case-by-case process to determine the legitimacy of these claims.
As with so many aspects of the Ethiopian aliyah saga, the remaining issues are poignant, complex and bitterly disputed. But while it is still too early to step back and assess the full impact of this difficult aliyah, with all of its high-profile drama and quiet suffering, it remains a vivid proof of Israel’s ongoing commitment to fulfill the Zionist mission of the ingathering of the exiles, however imperfect it may be.