Gearing up to spend their first-ever Passover in Israel, more than 60
recently-arrived Ethiopian olim gathered on Monday at the Jewish Agencyrun
Absorption Center in Mevaseret Zion for a “mock Seder,” to learn about some of
the religious and cultural traditions of the upcoming festival of
In addition to following the traditional service, the new
immigrants – some of whom had been waiting in Ethiopia for more than ten years
before being permitted to make aliya – heard speeches from Jewish Agency
chairman Natan Sharansky and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and head of the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which provides funding for many
programs in the immigrant community.
Sharansky shared his own personal
story of escape from the Soviet Union with participants, and said he could
identify with the new immigrants’ feelings upon starting their new lives in the
While Monday’s celebration – which also included
Israel’s incoming ambassador to Ethiopia, Belaynesh Zevadia – was moving, the
issue of Ethiopian aliya and the state’s ability to successfully absorb the new
immigrants is still a point of contention.
Just over a month ago, the
government finally agreed to dramatically increase the number of new immigrants
arriving in Israel on a monthly basis – from 110 to 250 people.
and supporters of this move say it will help alleviate the suffering of those
forced to wait for years in poor humanitarian conditions in Gondar, a town in
While the announcement was well-received by those
working with the Falash Mura – Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forcibly
converted to Christianity more than a century ago – advocates say the promise
has yet to be fulfilled.
On Monday, Jewish Agency spokesman Haviv Rettig
Gur explained that roughly 150 new immigrants from Ethiopia arrived in Israel
last month, with another 200 expected in April.
“While the government
approved an increase to 250 in late February, it takes a few weeks to implement
that increase,” he said. “We did not have 250 seats reserved for March on the
Ethiopian Airlines flights that facilitate the aliya.”
Rettig Gur said
that the standing agreement with the airline is currently being renegotiated in
order to increase the number in keeping with the government’s
“It is not a problem for us to bring in any number that the
government asks us to bring in,” Rettig Gur said. He confirmed to The Jerusalem
Post that a Jewish Agencyowned facility in the South is already being eyed as an
additional absorption center, to house the increased number of new olim slated
to arrive over the next few months.
However, another Jewish Agency source
said the onus was on the government to provide additional funding for absorption
programs. A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the
matter on Monday.
In November 2010, the government declared a “historic”
push to wind up the flow of group aliya from Ethiopia within three years. To
date, 6,000 Falash Mura have been officially approved for immigration – and
while half of the group has already arrived in Israel, the rest continue to
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar officially recognized the Falash
Mura as part of the Jewish people in 2002, and they were granted the right to
make aliya under a special clause in the Law of Entry. As part of this, they are
required to undergo conversion to Judaism upon arrival.
Although many of
the new immigrants had the opportunity to participate in organized Seders while
still in Ethiopia, organizations working within the community have found that
most Ethiopian new immigrants are unlikely to hold their own Seders at home, and
many participate in group events held throughout the country.