Sintayehu (right) with two other finalists from his community.
(photo credit: THE STRUGGLE FOR ETHIOPIAN ALIYAH)
Sintayehu Shifaraw, the first ever Ethiopian contestant in the International Bible Contest, will be granted permission to immigrate to Israel after waiting all his life to join his brother and father in the country.
His mother, sister and brother, however, will be left behind in Addis Ababa, where they are still waiting for approval to immigrate, according to the Struggle for Ethiopian Aliya.
Shifaraw, 18, is a counselor in the local Bnei Akiva chapter in Addis Ababa. He is a member of the Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors in the 19th and 20th centuries converted to Christianity under compulsion and pressure from missionaries.
Shifaraw’s father, Rata Shifaraw, immigrated to Israel with his second wife and seven of his children in 2001. But Sintayehu and two of his siblings, whose mother is Rata’s first wife, were not approved by the Interior Ministry
Interior Minister Arye Deri is set to meet with Shifaraw on Monday, when he is due to grant him approval to immigrate.
“I would like to congratulate the interior minister, Rabbi Arye Deri, on his decision to let Sintayehu remain in Israel as a new immigrant... despite the [previous] refusal he received, to immigrate to Israel and reunite with his father and brother. I hope that this is an opening for the rest of the Ethiopian Jews who for years have been longing to join their families in Israel,” said MK Avraham Neguise, who is a key figure in the struggle for immigration of the Falash Mura.
The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliya, however, criticized the ministry for its “continuing policy of dealing with isolated cases in order to temporarily calm the situation and actually to divert us from the real problem – the [lack of an] implementation of Government Decision No. 716, which calls for the approval of the immigration of 8,000 Jews who are waiting.”
“Sintayehu faces a difficult dilemma: whether to remain in the Holy Land with his father or to return to Ethiopia to his mother and the rest of the waiting people, who see him as their representative,” the group said. Shifaraw is planning to present Deri with a letter, referring to the rest of his community waiting to be accepted for aliya.
“I am nothing without my community,” said Shifaraw, who sees himself as the emissary of all the 8,000 Ethiopians awaiting aliya.
While the government decided in 2015 to bring the remaining members of the community who are eligible for aliya, that plan is currently in limbo after the first 1,300 were brought from an estimated 9,000 applicants. The government upheld it commitment to bring the first group to Israel by the end of 2017. But it has yet to approve a budget for any further immigration.
Because their ancestors converted to another religion, the Falash Mura are not covered by the Law of Return, which grants the right to immigrate and gain citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent.
The Falash Mura are brought to Israel under the Law of Entry and are required to convert to Judaism once in Israel.