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Ethiopian Aliyah to be Financed by N. American Jewry

The United Jewish Communities Federation of North America has pledged $100 million to facilitate the immigration of Ethiopian Falush Mura to Israel.
First Publish: 6/12/2005, 2:43 PM / Last Update: 6/9/2005, 5:07 PM

Falash Mura are Ethiopians of Jewish descent, who converted to Christianity during the last 100 years. It is widely believed that Falush Mura did not convert of their free will, but were forced to convert under duress.

The addition of $100 million, to be allocated towards the absorption of Falush Mura over the next five years, should help alleviate the costly burden of Ethiopian Aliyah being carried by the Israeli government.

Many of the Ethiopians who have previously immigrated to Israel have consistently remained true to their Torah culture despite the hardships faced in Ethiopia. Called Beta Yisrael, the Ethiopians who refused to convert to Christianity have already been absorbed to Israel.

While the Falush Mura, are not considered to be Jewish today, they are legally eligible for immigration to Israel. Ethiopian Jews, including Falash Mura are believed to be descendants of the tribe of Dan.

Current Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar was secretly commissioned by leading Sephardic Torah Sage, Rav Ovadia Yosef, to travel to Africa and investigate the authenticity of the Falush Mura's Jewish geneology. Then Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rav Amar reported to Rav Ovadia, who declared the Falush Mura to be authentic Zera Yisrael, or “Descendents of Israel.”

In February 2003, based on the recommendations of Rav Ovadia, the Israeli Cabinet approved a decision to legally approve the Aliyah of Falush Mura. All Falush Mura undergo a full Orthodox conversion upon their arrival to Israel, under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate.

Currently between 18,000 and 20,000 Falush Mura are believed to be in Ethiopia.

The Israeli government has placed a limitation on the number of Ethiopians who may immigrate to Israel. Until the start of this month, only 300 Ethiopians per month were permitted to enter the Jewish homeland under Israeli law. A recent government decision doubled that number to 600 per month. It remains to be seen whether the increase will be successfully implemented.

Under the new arrangement, all of Ethiopia's Falush Mura population could be absorbed within three years. Previously, it would have taken up to six or seven years to gather all of the remaining Falush Mura.

Conditions in Ethiopia are harsh, with frequent food shortages. Falush Mura generally suffer from high rates of unemployment.

Over 80,000 Ethiopians have already been absorbed since the founding of the State of Israel. In November 1984, mass immigration of Ethiopian Jewry began with Operation Moses. 8,000 or approximately one-third of the Beta Yisrael, were absorbed during that first mission. In May 24, 1991, an additional 14,000 Ethiopians were brought to Israel on 34 airplanes.

A joint government report by the Ministries of Absorption and Interior claims that each individual Falush Mura costs the government approximately $100,000. However, many claim that this figure may be exaggerated.

According to Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei (www.shavei.org)--an organization devoted to helping lost Jews immigrate to Israel, Ethiopians face many challenges upon their immigration to Israel. “In addition to learning a new language, Ethiopians must be familiarized with western society. This often takes significant financial resources. Whether it costs $100,000 per person is uncertain.”

Freund is pleased however that the North American community is ready to foot the bill for Ethiopian Aliyah.

"The government has been dragging its feet to absorb all the Falush Mura. It is a shame that it has taken this long to increase the allotment for Ethiopian Aliyah.

"Ethiopia is the only country in the world, where there is a quota on the numbers of those eligible to make Aliyah,” Freund added. If 2,000 French Jews wanted to make Aliyah one month, they would be welcomed with open arms. Only in Ethiopia do we put a limit on Aliyah to Israel.”

Freund is hopeful that similar funding will be made available for the Indian Jews of Bnei Menashe, and that Aliyah will increase from all areas of the globe.

"While I am pleased that North American Jewry is willing to fund the immigration of Falush Mura, Israel does not only belong to Jews the Jews of Asia, Africa, and Europe. I hope that American Jewry will also consider immigrating to Israel in greater numbers in the near future.