In an unprecedented emergency appeal, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is calling upon its congregants to donate money to help the 8,700 Ethiopians of Jewish descent, or Falash Mura, who are going hungry there now that all food programs have ended.
“The fast of Tisha b’Av [marking the destruction of the Temples] is upon us,” the organization said in an e-mail to each congregation’s Israel chairs. “For one day [Sunday], here in the U.S. and Canada, in Israel and Europe, we will be faint and weary with hunger and thirst. For one day. Then, we will eat and drink. For the Jews left behind in Ethiopia, there will be no end to Tisha b’Av this year — unless we act now.”
The appeal came Tuesday, two weeks after Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the organization’s executive vice president, visited Ethiopia and reported that food pantries recently closed, that “most people are hungry, and the schools are at risk of closing.”
It came also on the day that the Jewish Agency for Israel, which handles immigration to Israel, announced that the 65 Ethiopians who were flown to Israel that day would be the last under a quota established in 2003. The flight brought to an end the nearly 30-year Ethiopian immigration project, the agency said.
Orlee Guttman, director of operations for the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, said the end came after a small group of ministers met last week and decided to limit Ethiopian immigration.
Their action came despite support in the Knesset for a bill that would require the government to interview all 8,700 Falash Mura in Ethiopia to determine eligibility for admission to Israel. The bill must pass two more readings when the Knesset reconvenes in October for it to become law.
“Although we are thrilled for the families who arrived this week, it doesn’t detract from the anguish of the other 8,700,” Guttman said. “Tisha b’Av is a day of remembering when Jews were thrown out of the land of Israel. This Tisha b’Av, we’re remembering those whom Israel does not let in.”
Jim Lodge, vice president of Israel and overseas affairs for the United Jewish Communities, said two representatives who visited Ethiopia last month are expected to make a report on their findings soon.
“We will then discuss the changing [political] situation in Israel,” he said. “We need more discussion within the leadership of the UJC and the leaders of our federations to clarify how we should move forward.”
The UJC had been providing $68,000 a month for food programs in Ethiopia until funding ran out June 30.