Texas Representative Expresses ‘Great Hope’ for Ethiopian Jews

A member of Congress just back from Ethiopia told Reform Jewish leaders he has "great hope" for early progress in the effort to help the remaining 15,000 to 17,000 Jews of Ethiopia immigrate to Israel.

Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Texas) delivered his remarks Tuesday while accepting the first Kovler Award for Black-Jewish Relations from the Washington-based Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The award was presented by Albert Vorspan, senior vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

"There could be good news soon," Leland said, citing his talks last week with President Mengistu Mariam of Ethiopia and other high government officials.

"I believe, too, that Ethiopia is looking more favorably on the prospect of restoring diplomatic relations with Israel, and that Ghana and Nigeria are also looking for ways to develop better relations with Israel," Leland said. "And I am optimistic about the fate of the 54 Ethiopian Jews stranded in the Sudan.

"Good things are happening in terms of African-Israeli relations," the Texas Democrat and former chairman of the Black Congressional Caucus said, "and we are partners in the work."

Leland spoke to some 500 Reform Jewish leaders from all over the country who were taking part in a "Consultation on Conscience" under the auspices of the Religious Action Center.

He was greeted by one of his constituents, Dolores Wilkenfeld of Houston, president of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods. Nearly 100 NFTS members attended the three-day meeting, which ended Wednesday.

The consultation is an annual event sponsored by the center "to motivate ethical concern and religious action on current social issues and to apply the moral and ethical insights of Judaism to these issues," according to Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the center.

In presenting the award, Vorspan cited Leland’s work on behalf of Ethiopian Jews and South African blacks: "You have helped unite the black and Jewish communities in a shared vision of universal justice, human rights, equality and freedom," he said.

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