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Plight of Falashas Debated

Is emigration to Israel the only solution for the Falashas, the poverty-stricken black Jews of Ethiopia, or should they be regarded as a branch of diaspora Jewry entitled to help from the rest of world Jewry in order to better their lives where they live? That question was debated here last night following a slide lecture on the Falashas by David Kessler before the Society for Jewish Study.

Kessler disagreed with several speakers who maintained that emigration to Israel was the only solution because there was no hope for the Falashas to achieve better living standards. He thought they should be aided to improve their position in Ethiopia. Kessler noted in his lecture that there are presently between 25-30,000 Falashas in Ethiopia compared to about a half million a century ago. He said they were always considered Jews and that he was pleased that Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren had recently dispelled doubts about their Jewish credentials.

“The Falashas are treated with contempt both by the Moslems and the Christians,” Kessler said. “Christian missionaries are going all out to secure their conversion. The Emperor (Haile Selassie) is well disposed toward them but considers that world Jewry should give them more help. He is opposed to mass emigration of the Falashas. They are now trying to establish themselves in the plains where it is easier to eke out a living but this entails pioneering work in the bush,” he said. Kessler pointed out that Israel aided the Falashas at various times but to a lesser extent today. He said various Jewish organizations here were also trying to organize material aid for the Falashas.

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