NEW YORK (Nov. 14)
An urgent appeal was issued here for Israel and the United States government to step up relief and rescue efforts for the Falashas, Ethiopia’s Jewish community, whose situation was worsened due to the devastating drought that is sweeping North Africa.
More than 10,000 Falashas are believed to have fled their homes in Ethiopia, according to activists in this country on behalf of the Falashas. Thousands have remained in their country and continue to be subjected to discrimination and other forms of harassment from the Ethiopian population.
Eli Rockowitz, vice president of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, in making the plea for a concerted effort to save the Falashas, also urged world Jewish organizations to work together in this endeavor, because, Rockowitz explained, “If that is not done now, they’re finished.”
Reports from international relief groups say dozens of Ethiopians have died each day from the severe drought afflicting Ethiopia and vicinity. Many who have died in the camps are buried quickly and this has caused some dispute on the actual number of people who have died.
FALASHA REFUGEES HIDE JEWISHENESS
But the Falashas in the refugee camps, where as many as 600,000 Ethiopians have fled, face an additional precarious situation. They tend to live in isolated groups, according to Rockowitz, and they cannot let their Jewishness be known for fear of retribution. The AAEJ official asserted that Falashas fear carrying out Jewish burial services for their dead.
Rockowitz, speaking at a news conference yesterday at the Central Synagogue Community Center in Manhattan, was joined by two Ethiopian Jews who recently escaped from their homeland. They described years of brutal treatment, harassment and torture at the hands of the Marxist government in Addis Ababa.
The two men, both middle aged, did not use their real names during the meeting with members of the Jewish media. They were identified as Yuri Ben Gad and Rachamin Ben Joseph in order to protect family they left behind in Ethiopia when they fled last summer. Their rescue was aided by the AAEJ. They now live in Israel at the absorption center of Pardes Chanah.
HEBREW TEACHERS’ PLIGHT DESCRIBED
Ben Gad spoke in Amharic, the Ethiopian language that was translated into English by Ben Joseph. Both Falashas have been teachers of Hebrew and leaders in Ethiopia’s Jewish community. Both had been arrested by the government security and Ben Gad was tortured for teaching Hebrew and for “treason.”
“My life has been dedicated to teaching Ethiopian Jews their heritage,” Ben Gad said, nothing that he had been trained in Israel in the 1950s for several years, and then returned to Ethiopia.
“For this, I have been repeatedly arrested, jailed and tortured by the Ethiopian government. And now there is drought, starvation and death for our people. There is no Jewish life for Falashas in Ethiopia. We need Jewish help for Jewish victims,” he said.
The AAEJ, a non-profit organization begun in 1974, seeks to educate the American Jewish community and general public on the plight of the Falashas. They have over the years clashed with Jewish organizations and the Israeli government over the rescue of Ethiopia’s Jews. They have accused Israel of not doing enough to aid the escape of the Falashas to Israel, and have carried out their own rescue operations to help the Falashas escape Ethiopia.