St. Louis (Nov. 15)
The worsening plight of 25,000 Ethiopian Jews — Falashas — was the focus of serious concern at the 50th anniversary General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF). The five-day gathering which drew more than 2,500 delegates from 200 Jewish Federations in the U.S. and Canada, ended today.
A resolution adopted Friday welcomed “the expanded programs of the government of Israel and Jewish Agency” to effect the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel and their integration and absorption into Israeli society. “But the numbers reaching Israel only emphasize how difficult and desperate the situation is,” the resolution stated. Ethiopian Jews are in “danger of physical and spiritual disintegration” and there is an “urgent need for all agencies concerned to make greater efforts to ameliorate their plight,” the CJF resolution said.
It noted that over 1,000 Falashas have reached Israel since 1979 and “have adjusted to that country in a remarkably constructive and speedy manner.” However, “We continue to call for a level of action that is commensurate with the danger and the urgency of need. The situation is desperate and calls for rescue efforts of the highest priority,” the resolution said.
At an earlier session, Daniel Shapiro, chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council’s (NACRAC) Committee on Ethiopian Jews, told participants at a forum on “Ethiopian Jews–A Community in Peril” that Israel was doing all it could to assist. “It is a difficult and sensitive issue” but “I am convinced that Prime Minister (Menachem) Begin is making a strong effort to save them,” Shapiro said.
A representative of Begin’s government told the forum that the Prime Minister himself oversees the Falasha operation. He read a telegram from Begin which urged “discretion” on the issue which could “literally endanger the lives of people.” Begin’s message gave assurances that in Israel “There is no indifference. We leave no stone unturned in our absolute devotion to this life-saving cause and the effort is not barren.”
A guest at the forum was an Ethiopian Jew living in Israel. Identified only as Abraham, apparently to protect his family in Ethiopia, he described the conditions under which Falashas live. He also gave an account of their absorption process in Israel where many must be taught the basic rudiments of modern day life in addition to learning Hebrew and training for job skills.
DESCRIBES ETHIOPIA AS ‘FULL OF TERROR’
Barry Weise, a member of the Community Relations Council of the Los Angeles Federation, described his recent visit to Ethiopia which he called a “beautiful and enchanting land” where the atmosphere is “reminiscent of Nazi Germany … full of terror.”
Weise told how, after many difficulties, particularly with the dictatorial governor of the more accessible Gandar province who refused to allow him to meet with Black Jews there, he finally reached a remote Falasha village. He brought them the first news of the outside world that they had since 1974, Weise said. “They were joyous. They took out their Bible … we told them the Jewish world had not forgotten them,” he said.
“We spoke with individuals who had been tortured. One of the Hebrew teachers had been tied up by the hands, beaten, tortured, accused of being a spy and a Zionist agent. His wounds were left untreated, but miraculously he survived,” Weise reported.
DEEPLY COMMITTED TO RESCUE WORK
A memorandum circulated among the CJF Assembly delegates by Shapiro reported that “Rescue efforts are meeting with a certain degree of success despite the many difficulties which have become even more grave in the last three to five months. This deterioration is the result of tensions initiated by hostile countries and elements surrounding Ethiopia. Arrivals (in Israel) were interrupted between June and August 1981,” the memo said.
It emphasized that “The Jewish Agency and Israel are deeply committed to the rescue of Ethiopian Jews. This effort involves great risk. Therefore, discretion from the Jewish community is absolutely necessary. We find that public discussion and accusations in the press or other public forums about this sensitive issue, to be potentially very harmful.”
COMMUNITY ACTION URGED
Meanwhile, the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, an organization based in Costa Mesa, California, circulated a “Guide to Community Action for Ethiopian Jews.” It urged that every Jew become informed about the plight of the Falashas. The methods it proposed were “information,” “pressure” and “financial support.” One suggestion was the organization of Falasha programs at synagogues and Jewish organization meetings with film strips and other informational devices and the wearing of “Save Ethiopian Jewry” pins and use of “Save Ethiopian Jewry” stamps on letters. It also proposed that community religious and lay leaders be urged by their constituents to use their influence on world Jewish leadership and on Israeli officials to encourage making the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry one of the “highest Jewish priorities.”