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(photo credit: Courtesy of Dr. Arthur Eidelman)
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is preparing to reopen a health clinic in the northern Ethiopian province of Gondar, to provide those waiting to be approved for aliya with preliminary and, in some cases, life-saving health care, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
A spokeswoman for the JDC confirmed to the Post on Sunday that it had already started to assemble and provide training to the staff that would run the clinic, which had been closed in July.
"We are still waiting for permission from the Ethiopian government to reopen the clinic," the JDC spokeswoman said, adding that the project was also waiting for funding to be approved, including funds from the Israeli government promised by Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
The clinic, which had been providing services to some 8,700 Falash Mura (Ethiopians of Jewish descent whose ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity centuries ago) for the past several years, was closed following an earlier decision by the Israeli government to start winding down aliya from the east African nation.
However, the decision to end the aliya of the Falash Mura community was met with an outcry from community members here, representatives of the North American Jewry and several key Israeli legislators, who claimed that there are still thousands more people who fit the criteria for aliya. Many already have family members living here.
Consequently, the government reversed the decision earlier this year and agreed to check an initial 3,000 people for aliya.
Closure of the JDC clinic was also met with criticism from individuals and humanitarian organizations working in Gondar, who claimed that community members, who are already learning Hebrew and various Jewish practices, had no alternative medical care.
In an interview with the Post in September, Dr. Arthur I. Eidelman, former head of pediatrics at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, said, "the people there are potentially suffering from malnutrition and other problems that if treated by a primary healthcare physician could be avoided.
"It does not make any sense," added Eidelman, who visited Ethiopia in September. "These people have already been recognized as Jews by a rabbinic authority and the Israeli government has agreed to consider them for aliya but there are no medical services to protect them from basic health problems."