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Two Jewish humanitarian groups provide food, medicine in Ethiopia

NEW YORK, Feb. 8 (JTA) — As the Kwara Jews wait in Ethiopia for permission from the government of Israel to make aliyah, two Jewish humanitarian aid groups have been helping them and others with food and medicine. The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, a grass-roots organization based in New York, has, since November, been supplying $5,000 a month worth of tef, a grain needed to make bread, to the Kwara Jews and Falash Mura living just outside the northern city of Gondar. Israel has recognized the Jews from Kwara as fully Jewish. An estimated 15,000 Falash Mura consider themselves Jewish and also want to immigrate to Israel. But they have not been recognized as Jews by the Israeli government. No one knows precisely how many remain in Lower Kwara, which is located on the Sudanese border, but estimates range from about 1,000 to 1,500. An estimated 750 to 1,000 have made their way to Gondar. In Gondar the Kwara Jews and Falash Mura live together, and according to Barbara Ribakove Gordon, executive director of the North American Conference, “they don’t want any distinction made” between them. For its part, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a relief organization that works all over the world and is also based in New York, sent a native Ethiopian doctor to visit Lower Kwara in late November. While there he inoculated children under the age of 6 and women of childbearing age against diphtheria, measles and tuberculosis, said Will Recant, director of special projects for the JDC. The doctor will return to Kwara roughly every other month until the rainy season, which makes access too difficult, begins in the spring, Recant said. In addition, the JDC funded a private clinic in Gondar to provide inoculations and medical screenings in January to Falash Mura and Kwara Jews, Recant said. About 2,200 people — of whom 750 are originally from Kwara — showed up for the medical screening, said Recant. Some have estimated the number of Falash Mura and Kwara Jews living there to be as high as 5,000. In both places the JDC arranged for food to be provided to anyone suffering from malnutrition, said Recant, but found that few people were. “We found that the community living in Kwara, and in Gondar, is living in relatively good condition,” Recant said, with little difference between their standard of living and that of others around them. Ribakove Gordon of NACOEJ, which has often clashed with the JDC on the correct approach to dealing with the Falash Mura and Jews remaining in Ethiopia, differed in her assessment of conditions there. There is “a lot of malnutrition” in the community near Gondar, she said. “Living conditions in Gondar are appalling. They are living in abysmal poverty, even for Ethiopians. “We found families of 14 people in tiny hovels with only one cot, which was occupied by the member of the family too sick to stand up,” she said of recent visits by representatives of her group. “There is a terrible lack of adequate food, sanitation and water.”