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Plight of Jews in Ethiopia Continues, Conference is Told

Since “Operation Moses,” the secret airlift which-brought some 10,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel between November, 1984, and January, 1985, there has appeared to be a public perception that the plight of Ethiopian Jewry has been solved.

But the some 100 persons attending a National Conference on Ethiopian Jewry at the Capitol Hill Hyatt here were told Sunday that there are still some 7,000-10,000 Jews in Ethiopia, most of them the elderly, women and children.

They suffer from the problems that all Ethiopians do, hunger and drought, but also persecution as Jews, speakers said at the conference which is sponsored by the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ).

“Instead of holding a final meeting as I had hoped we could do in 1986 where we might have celebrated what has been accomplished, we must, instead, find expeditious means of bringing about another massive rescue operation,” said Graenum Berger, founder of AAEJ and its former president.

“Regrettably, 18 months after the dramatic rescues in Sudan, Ethiopian Jews are no longer on the agenda of American Jewish organizations,” Berger said. “The impression has been created that they have all been saved,” he said. “We know this is not true.” Berger said that since Operation Moses AAEJ has brought 285 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

RECALLS LIFE IN ETHIOPIA

Rachamim Ben Yosef, an Ethiopian Jew who emigrated to Israel in 1984 with AAEJ help, described his life in Ethiopia, his imprisonment and his own escape from Ethiopia to join his wife and children in Israel. “It’s remarkable how similar the story is to that of Soviet Jews,” a listener observed.

Ben Yosef, now a radio reporter in Israel, said his mother, brother and sister are still in Ethiopia and he expressed the strong desire of Ethiopians in Israel to be reunited with their families still in Ethiopia.

About 80 percent of Ethiopian Jews in Israel have relatives in Ethiopia, AAEJ president Nathan Shapiro told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He said the suicide by several Ethiopian Jews in Israel can be explained by their guilt that they have been saved while their families are still suffering.

OPTIMISTIC ABOUT A BREAKTHROUGH

As bleak as the situation is for Jews in Ethiopia, Shapiro is optimistic that a way can be found to bring them to Israel, perhaps through some type of deal between the United States and Ethiopia.

He pointed to Jewish history and noted that when Jews were taken to Babylonia after the destruction of the First Temple they never thought they would return. “It should be easier now,” he said. “They had to walk and we have planes.” But, he stressed, “it can’t happen unless people care.”

Berger urged the audience to “reawaken the flagging interest of the Jewish world, America, overseas and Israel to the relief of their (Ethiopian Jew) serious and continuous plight.” He also urged working with members of Congress, something the participants were doing Monday by visiting Congressional offices.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D. NY) told the audience Sunday that Jews must work to help the plight of all Ethiopians. But at the same time they have a “specific obligation” to save the Jewish community which is “on the verge of annihilation.” He added: “Those of us who 40 years ago said ‘never again,’ must spread the word that again is just over the horizon.” Ackerman presented an award from members of the Congressional Caucus for Ethiopian Jewry to Henry Rosenberg, a New York lawyer who has helped bring hundreds of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

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