Ethiopian women 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy Ruppin Academic Center)
The challenge facing thousands of Ethiopians waiting for permission to make
aliya is no longer about fighting for the right to immigrate but rather about
better preparing them for a new life in modern Israel, the recently appointed
Jewish Agency head of delegation in Ethiopia told The Jerusalem Post on
“It is essential for them to be prepared by learning Hebrew,
studying Judaism and better understanding Israeli life and culture,” Asher
Seyum, the first Ethiopian-born head of the delegation, told the Post in a
“In every personal meeting I have with those about
to immigrate – and I intend on meeting every family – I plan to tell them that
their challenge is only just beginning,” he said.
“They are so busy
thinking about making aliya that they do not realize the real problems can arise
after they move to Israel, and that their goal is not just physically moving
from Ethiopia to Israel but figuring out how to better blend into their new
Indeed, according to a report published last month by the
Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, Ethiopian immigrants make up a
disproportionate share of those seeking help from social services.
the 110,000-strong community, more than 60 percent have active files with social
workers and, even among the second generation of immigrants, the chances of them
having met a social worker is twice the national average.
Seyum, who for
the past two years headed the agency’s immigrant absorption operations in
Jerusalem and the South and was previously the director of its absorption
centers first in Safed and then in Ashdod, might be in a better position than
most to help this new batch of immigrants – recently approved by the cabinet to
make aliya at a rate of 200 people a month – to enjoy a smoother transition into
“It must come from them,” he said, adding that until
recently the approach toward Ethiopian immigrants was always extremely
“paternalistic,” with everything being handed to them very easily.
believe that the new immigrants need to take the responsibility on themselves
when they arrive,” said Seyum, who made aliya at age 13 in 1984 and returned to
work in Ethiopia just over a week ago. He is based in Gondar, where the majority
of the Falash Mura – Ethiopians of Jewish descent – are waiting for approval
from the Israeli government to immigrate.
“We have already renamed the
compound a community center and I plan to improve the education system already
operating here so the children are better prepared,” he said.
month I will give a presentation about an aspect of life in Israel.”
response to the question of whether this – as pundits contend – is really the
final chapter in mass emigration from Ethiopia to Israel, Seyum is equally as
“The government made a decision to continue checking the
eligibility of a certain group for aliya,” he said. “I am here to carry out the
directives of the government. There is one group in Addis Ababa that claims they
also have a right to make aliya, I can’t comment on that, my mission is to get
those who have been approved ready and prepared for moving to Israel.”
November, the cabinet unanimously approved the continued immigration of 7,846
Falash Mura who have been waiting in what many describe as inhumane conditions,
some for more than a decade, for the government to allow them to come to
Descendents of Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forcibly
converted to Christianity more than a century ago, the Falash Mura were
originally approved for aliya under a 2003 cabinet decision and their Jewish
heritage was recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.
The community was then
entitled to immigrate under specific criteria in the Law of Entry. In 2008,
however, the Interior Ministry announced that it had finished its work in the
region and its Gondar-based staff was recalled.
Community members in
Israel, representatives of North American Jewry and key Israeli legislators,
however, protested that there were still roughly 9,000 people who fit the
criteria for aliya. It has taken a further three years of debate and discussion
for the cabinet to re-commit to winding up this particular chapter in
“The Interior Ministry representatives are now
working very hard to check all those who might fit the original criteria for
aliya,” said Seyum, who will be based in Ethiopia with his family for the next
three years. “I believe that we will end this, and then those who feel they have
grounds to make aliya in the future will be able to apply directly via the