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Officials Express Cautious Optimism That Ethiopian Emigration Will Rise

Israeli officials and groups working on behalf of Ethiopian Jews are now cautiously optimistic that Jewish emigration from Ethiopia will return to the relatively high levels seen at the beginning of the year.

“We are beginning to see a breakthrough on the very sad and dramatic story of Ethiopian Jews,” Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, told delegates attending the Council of Jewish Federations General Assembly here last week.

He pledged Israel would use “every device available” to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Dinitz reported that two planeloads carrying approximately 100 Jews each arrived in Israel this month, and that the total could reach 500 by the end of November.

That is a big increase from October, when only 58 arrived.

Emigration has been slow since late June, when the flow of Ethiopian Jews, which had averaged 500 a month for most of the year, was suddenly cut to a trickle by the mercurial Ethiopian government.

Nobody knows how many Jews are left in Ethiopia. But at least 20,000 have made their way from their homes in the northern province of Gondar to the capital city of Addis Ababa, hoping to receive permission to join family members already in Israel.

They live in makeshift housing amid crime, unsanitary conditions and rampant disease. Many have died after contracting such common, treatable illnesses as tuberculosis, pneumonia and measles.

MEDICAL CLINIC IN ADDIS ABABA

In an effort to address this situation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an international relief agency supported by the United Jewish Appeal, set up a medical clinic in Addis Ababa in August, staffed by doctors and nurses from the United States, Israel and Ethiopia.

Soon after, JDC doctors trained 65 Ethiopians to make twice-weekly visits to the homes of some 4,500 Ethiopian Jewish families, to watch for signs of disease and to ensure that those already being treated are taking their medication properly.

On Monday, the clinic will begin immunizing some 22,000 adults and children against tuberculosis, which has become the major killer.

Already, the improved medical care has reduced the mortality rate from 40 deaths in July to 17 in October.

“The goal of JDC is to make it very difficult for an Ethiopian Jew to die,” Dr. Ted Meyers, JDC’s medical consultant in Ethiopia, explained during a forum on Ethiopian Jewry held at the five-day CJF gathering, which ended here Sunday.

Also addressing the forum was Arnon Mantver, director general of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department. He spoke chiefly about the challenges of absorbing Ethiopians who eventually make it to Israel.

Unlike most of the thousands of Soviet Jews arriving in Israel, who must find their own apartments with money provided by the government and the Jewish Agency, the Ethiopian Jews are first sent to absorption centers. There, all of their needs are taken care of while they learn Hebrew and look for employment.

Until a few years ago, all immigrants took this absorption route, but when the massive Soviet aliyah began, the Jewish Agency and government absorption Ministry opted for a less expensive alternative: direct absorption.

However, Mantver said that direct absorption has not worked for most Ethiopian Jews, who have a more difficult time adjusting to Israeli culture having come from a society that is primitive by comparison.

He said the Jewish Agency has decided that 27 of the 30 existing absorption centers in Israel will be used almost exclusively for Ethiopian Jews.

“The policy is to give them first priority in absorption centers,” he said.

While the normal stay at an absorption center is six months, many Ethiopian immigrants have needed to stay much longer.

Of the 3,316 Ethiopian immigrants who were in absorption centers in September, about a third have been there less than six months, a quarter have been there six months to a year, another quarter have been there one to two years, and nearly a sixth have been there more than two years, Mantver reported.

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