On Ethiopian Jewry


As the only Ethiopian member of Knesset and as chairman of the Knesset’s Committee on Immigration, Absorption and the Diaspora, I am appalled by the letter written by the spokesman for Israel’s counsel general in New York, Shimon Mercer-Wood (Letters, Aug. 11). The letter attacks one of the strongest advocates for Ethiopian Jewry, Rabbi Jerome Epstein, who wrote movingly about the plight of the Jewish community remaining in Ethiopia.

Rabbi Epstein, the former CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, is currently President of NACOEJ, the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry. According to Mercer-Wood, Rabbi Epstein stated that the people remaining in Ethiopia were eligible to make aliyah under the Law of Return. According to Mercer-Wood’s “alternative facts,” this was an attempt to deceive the public for NACOEJ fundraising purposes.

Mr. Mercer is wrong. Rabbi Epstein never even mentions The Law of Return in his article. Rabbi Epstein, an expert on Ethiopian Jewry, is well aware that the eligibility of the community rests upon the Law of Entry as invoked by a November 2015 government decision and has publicly urged its rapid implementation. To accuse Rabbi Epstein and NACOEJ of deception is false and intolerable.

NACOEJ is greatly respected by the Knesset and in the Ethiopian Jewish community. Several months ago, in a Knesset ceremony attended by many government officials and dignitaries, its executive director, Barbara Ribakove, and past president Joseph Feit were honored for their outstanding service to the Ethiopian Jewish community. Their work with NACOEJ was similarly recognized by an award from the Jewish Agency several years ago. Rather than attacking NACOEJ, Mr. Mercer-Wood should have praised its efforts to provide humanitarian relief to malnourished children in Ethiopia.

I wish to assure Rabbi Epstein and NACOEJ that they continue to be held in the highest regard by the Knesset and a very grateful Ethiopian Jewish community.

Knesset member,