JERUSALEM (Jun. 16)
The Ferris Mora, descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity, appear far from their goal of coming to Israel following the return here of a government-appointed fact-finding team.
Rabbi Moshe Waldman, representing the Chief Rabbinate, and Yisrael Kimchi, of the Interior Ministry, said they visited scores of villages in their month-long visit to Ethiopia and conducted “a very thorough inquiry.”
Their conclusion, they said, was that the Ferris Mora had largely converted to Christianity 100 years ago, and today lead a totally un-Jewish life.
The Ferris Mora are estimated to number at least 25,000 and perhaps even 75,000. Accurate counts are hampered by the lack of population registries in Ethiopia, as well as by the fact that much of the population in the country’s Gondar province is at least partially descended from the Jewish kingdom that ruled the area centuries back.
An immediate protest to the report came Tuesday, as dozens of Ethiopian immigrants demonstrated outside the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem in support of the early immigration of the Ferris Mora.
“We want our mothers,” “We want our fathers,” the placards read. Several of the demonstrators told reporters that their families were split by the government’s policy not to facilitate the immigration of the group.
A few of them had made it to Israel despite the government’s policy — and they were now campaigning on behalf of all the rest still living in Ethiopia.
The campaign has been joined by Gush Emunim leader Hanan Porat, a Knesset member from the National Religious Party, and Yehuda Etzion, one of the leaders of the Jewish terrorist underground that plotted attacks against Arab mayors on the West Bank and the destruction of the Dome of the Rock.
But representatives of the 55,000 Ethiopian Jews now living in Israel are divided about supporting the Ferris Mora. Some of the Ethiopian Jews angrily charge the Ferris Mora with hindering Ethiopian Jews fleeing Ethiopia in 1984.
Reporting on his mission’s findings, Waldman told the Ma’ariv daily: “We have reached the definite conclusion that the people concerned are today living as Christians in every respect, and no amount of lobbying in Israel can change that fact. Certainly there is the possibility of bringing them back to Judaism. But it is not going to be easy.”
That task should be undertaken in Ethiopia, the fact-finders urged, and only then should those who have been brought back to the Jewish fold be aided in making aliyah.
They recommended that the Israeli authorities begin the task with the group of some 3,000 Ferris Mora presently assembled in Addis Ababa and pressing to be taken to Israel.
The full report of the fact-finding mission has been submitted to the Cabinet Secretary and to the two chief rabbis of Israel.
The Ethiopian government “is very much against the Ferris Mora leaving,” a Jewish Agency official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“It sees them as part and parcel of Ethiopian society. The problem of a growing proportion of Moslems in the country creates a tremendous negative position on the part of the government and Ethiopian church,” said the official.
The Jewish Agency official indicated, however, that family reunification might be dealt with separately from facilitating aliyah for all of the Ferris Mora.
“We will have to find a way to solve it,” he said, referring to the divided families.
“There are different ways of entry to Israel. “There’s the Law of Return (under which all Jews have the right to immigrate), but also there is entry for people who are non-Jews,” he said.
(Staff writer Larry Yudelson in New York contributed to this report.)