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Falasha Describes Religious Persecution in Ethiopia

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An Ethiopian Jew who recently escaped from his home land said today that religious persecution and restrictions on the Falashas were the primary reasons he and his wife fled his village of Ambobar, the single largest Jewish community in Ethiopia, located in the Gondar region.

Ethiopia, “is no place for Jewish people to live,” the Falasha, introduced as “Menachem,” a pseudonym used to protect members of his family in Ethiopia, said in an interview in the offices of the North American Jewish Students’ Network. His wife, introduced as “Jaffa,” sat next to him, although she did not participate in the interview.

Menachem and his wife are in the United States from Israel, where they now live after escaping from Ethiopia four months ago, to speak to Jewish groups and at college campuses, including groups of Jewish students and Black student associations at Harvard, Brown, Columbia and Yale universities. They were scheduled to return to Israel this evening.

According to Menachem, who is 30 years old, the families of those who have escaped from Ethiopia are subjected to retribution and thus he would not go into detail of his flight, although he said it was an eight-day journey by foot.

He said the Falashas celebrated the Jewish holidays on an individual basis and did not participate in observing the holidays as a group. The fear of persecution is pervasive, he indicated. “If you follow the religion seriously, you will be put in jail,” he said. He was reluctant to detail government repression of the Falashas for fear that this could in some way lead to his identification, and the possibility of retribution to family members in Ambobar.

Menachem, who has been in an ulpan in an absorption center in Jerusalem for four months, said he could not provide at this time an accurate assessment of the way the Israeli government has helped him and his wife adapt to their new homeland.

But he spoke warmly of having the opportunity to live in Israel, a place he and his people in Ethiopia say they want to go because it is written in the Bible, he said.

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