Falash Mura advocates press UJC to continue funding Ethiopian aliya

Supporter says US Jewish community must do its part to make sure living conditions in Gondar are tolerable.

falash mura 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
falash mura 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Advocates for continuing the immigration to Israel of Ethiopia's Falash Mura community have utilized the United Jewish Communities General Assembly taking place in Jerusalem to press the group's executives to resume sponsoring aid programs for thousands of Ethiopians still waiting to make aliya. The Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity more than a century ago. Avraham Neguise, executive director of South Wing to Zion and a vocal supporter of their continuing aliya, told The Jerusalem Post that a meeting had been held Sunday between Ethiopian MKs Shlomo Molla (Kadima) and Rabbi Mazor Bayene (Shas) and UJC Board of Governors Chairman Joseph Kanfer, UJC Vice Chairman Toni Young and the organization's chief executive officer, Howard Rieger. The UJC is the chief fundraising arm of American Jewry and until last June provided the financial basis of numerous health and food aid programs in the northern Ethiopian town of Gondar, where most of Falash Mura are currently waiting, hoping to make it to Israel. Neguise said while the Israeli government continued to deliberate whether those people should be allowed to make aliya, the US Jewish community needed to do its part to make sure their living conditions in Gondar were tolerable. According to Neguise, during the meeting Bayene highlighted that if it had not been for the assistance of the US Jewish community, he would not be in Israel today. He urged the UJC to continue its funding and also pointed out that Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is a strong believer in the Falash Mura community's Jewish roots. Over the past year, the government has started to wind down aliya from the East African country despite claims from community members here that there are still at least 8,700 more people in Ethiopia who could be eligible under a 2003 decision made by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. In June, the UJC announced that in keeping with the direction of the Israeli government to end aliya from Ethiopia, it too would halt its $68,000 a month contribution to aid projects in Ethiopia run by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry. However, since then the government has reversed its decision to completely end aliya, and in September even agreed to return its Interior Ministry official to Gondar and to continue checking those who might be eligible for immigration. The UJC on Monday refused to comment on what was discussed at Sunday's meeting or whether it would reverse its own decision. Haviv Rettig contributed to this report.