LOS ANGELES (May. 25)
“The American Jewish community is becoming increasingly interested in the Ethiopian Jews,” noted Dr. Graenum Berger, president of the Association for Ethiopian Jews. “The reaction to requests for helping them is overwhelmingly favorable,” he declared. Speaking at the opening of the Los Angeles office of the Association, Berger indicated that the branch, planned in cooperation with the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation-Council (CRC-JFC) was the first to be established under the aegis of a Federation.
“The JFC is to be commended for its forward-looking action in sponsoring this office. It will do much to educate a wide segment of the Jewish community to the plight of this distinctive but diminishing segment of world Jewry and to initiate actions to help them,” he told the large group of interested individuals who attended the opening.
Joining Berger were Dr. Howard Lenhoff, Association vice-president, western region; Malka Ben Joseph, Consul for Press and Information, Israeli Consulate; Abraham Bayer, senior community consultant, National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council; and Murray Wood, CRC director.
Describing the life of the Ethiopian Jews, often referred to as Falashas, Berger indicated that 28,000 scattered in 490 villages, were sorely in need of aid. “Although there is no official abuse of this group, no Ethiopian Jew can get a secondary education,” he said. “Most are tenant farmers. Many are also craftsmen working with iron, ceramics, and weaving.” Continuing, Berger asserted: “We must reconstruct their lives medically, educationally, and occupationally in their own habitat.” Such efforts have been taking place since the 60’s, he pointed out.
For some years, help has been channeled to Ethiopian Jews through the Joint Distribution Committee, he noted. In 1976, JDC allocated $100,000 to the Falashas, mainly for educational purposes.
In his address, Berger also noted that immigration to Israel was of prime importance. “Since the advent of Israel, they (the Falashas) have clamored to emigrate. They believe that only in Israel do they have the possibility of surviving as a distinct group. There have been no legal barriers to their leaving but they are very impoverished.” Some 400 had already emigrated to Israel, he told the group, and their integration had been both swift and successful.