A Haven at Last

Published February 04, 2005, issue of February 04, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Israel did the right thing this week in deciding to double the pace of immigration from Ethiopia, where an estimated 20,000 members of the so-called Falash Mura community have been waiting for years to join their relatives in the Jewish state. Jerusalem’s foot-dragging on the issue has been a blot on Israel’s humanitarian and Zionist mission.

The Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews who were converted to Christianity three generations ago but retained their identity as a distinct community. Since the dramatic airlift that brought most of Ethiopia’s ancient Jewish community to Israel in 1991, the Falash Mura have been clamoring to join their kin. Most claim that their families were forced to adopt Christianity a century ago and that they now wish to return to their ancentral faith. Israeli immigration authorities have viewed them with suspicion, fearing they were seeking to exploit Israel’s generosity merely to improve their economic lot.

To many of us, Jerusalem’s reserve has smacked uncomfortably of racism. Israel was founded as a haven for any Jews facing persecution. Its Law of Return promises an open door to all Jews and their families, down to and including grandchildren. At least one-fourth of the million-odd refugees taken in from the former Soviet Union in the last two decades are not Jewish by rabbinic standards. Many are practicing Christians. They were welcomed nonetheless as part of the Jewish family, as they should be. Our Ethiopian cousins deserve no less a welcome.

This week’s Israeli Cabinet decision effectively puts some teeth into a decision taken two years ago, under pressure from American Jewish activists, to accept the Falash Mura’s claim in principle and begin processing their applications on a case-by-case basis. The processing, creeping along at 300 a month, will double by the fall, after a series of procedural changes. Israel’s Treasury will now ensure funding for the newcomers’ absorption. In addition, the Jewish Agency, the international charity overseeing Israeli immigration, reportedly will take over control of the Ethiopian transit camps where the applicants now live, smoothing the process.

The new policy is a welcome one. Given the record, however, the Ethiopian community’s advocates would do well to stay vigilant and make sure the authorities do what they say they will.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.