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Reporters Get Look at Israeli Facilities Aimed at Easing Absorption of Ethiopian Jews

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Ethiopian Jews, who have managed to immigrate to Israel, are receiving special treatment to help overcome the wide cultural gap and other difficulties in the way of their integration into Israeli society, a recent press tour of the Jewish Agency’s absorption center for Falashas in Ashkelon revealed.

Relatively little is known about how the Falashas reach Israel. For practical and political reasons it is not a widely publicized subject. But the Chief Rabbinate has recognized the Falashas as Jews despite their long separation from the mainstream of Jewish life.

The Falashas face problems unknown to other immigrants because of their cultural dissimilarities, their color and the hardships they endured getting out of Ethiopia and travelling to Israel. For these reasons, special counselors are assigned to them at the absorption center. They are permitted to remain at the center for 10-12 months. Other immigrants rarely spend more than five months at absorption centers.

The Falashas receive free board and lodging and a stipend equivalent to $115-$170, depending on their marital status. They are given intensive courses in Hebrew during their stay at the absorption center.

DULZIN DENIES DISCRIMINATION

Leon Dulzin, chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executives, told the visiting journalists that rumors that Falashas suffered discrimination in Israel were unfounded. “You can see for yourselves that the Falashas who arrive in Israel receive the same treatment as every other oleh” (new immigrant), he said.

Yehuda Dominitz, director general of the Jewish Agency’s immigration and absorption department, added that “Any journalist can visit any absorption center in the country and meet with any immigrant he chooses to verify this fact.”

The journalists on tour saw Falasha children at play. Pictures of them inscribed with their new Hebrew names decorated the walls of their play room. One reporter asked a Falasha if the assistance he receives for his family of five is adequate. The man replied that it was not. He admitted however that he has enough money to invest in the stock market because housing, health insurance and utilities are provided free by the absorption center.

Matityahu Drobless, head of the WZO settlement department, said his department is planning a communal settlement for about 100 Falasha families near Kiryat Gat which can provide them with jobs. He said it would be modeled on the settlements which successfully absorbed Jews from Yemen and from Cochin, India who immigrated to Israel years ago.

Although the number of Falashas reaching Israel is said to be increasing, about 20,000 still remain in Ethiopia. Relations between Israel and the Ethiopian government seem to be improving. Evidence of that is seen in the recent visits by groups of Knesset members and Israeli tourists to Jewish communities in Ethiopia.

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