2 students from Ethiopian Falash Mura community to begin studies in Israel
The Falash Mura are descendants of the Ethiopian Jewish community but do not have the right to citizenship under the Law of Return, since their ancestors converted – under duress – to Christianity.
By JEREMY SHARON
Two students from the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia will be arriving in Israel on Wednesday to begin studying at the Jerusalem College of Technology – Lev Academic Center, after waiting, so far in vain, to immigrate to Israel for the last 20 years.Nigatu “Shahar” Yeshandel Yewhala, 22, and Mengistu “Itai” Endeshaw Kerew, 21, are among the more than 7,500 members of the Falash Mura community still living in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and the City of Gondar who have yet been given permission to immigrate to the Jewish state.The Falash Mura are descendants of the Ethiopian Jewish community but do not have the right to citizenship under the Law of Return, since their ancestors converted – under duress – to Christianity.They are granted citizenship under the Law of Entry on the consideration of the Interior Minister on the basis of family reunification principles, and undergo Jewish conversion once in Israel.According to experts on the Falash Mura community, the remaining members of the community are patrilineal descendants of Jews and were not included in the ruling of former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who ruled that those of matrilineal descent should be brought to Israel.The government resolved in 2015, however, to bring all remaining members of the community to Israel on family reunification principles, but implementation had been delayed for several reasons, including political opposition, and there are no plans at the moment to bring the remaining members of the community to Israel.Rabbi Zvi Ron, an educator at several yeshivas and women’s seminaries, and his wife Sharon, played a key role in bringing Mengistu and Nigatu to Israel.AdvertisementRon met the students when he was in Ethiopia for two weeks over Passover this year as an emissary from the Jewish Agency.The two were enrolled in university courses in Ethiopia, but these qualifications would have had little utility in Israel, so Ron began an effort to help them gain acceptance to the Lev Academic Center’s international program.“Instead of waiting however many years it takes from them to finally be allowed to immigrate, and then for them to come here and discover their degrees are worthless, I thought why not have them come here on student visas, study here, and therefore when one day when their aliyah is approved they will have a degree, know Hebrew and have largely undergone the absorption process already,” said Ron.Members of the Falash Mura community in general cannot come to Israel for the purposes of study, and even if they are in theory allowed to, experience severe difficulties in accessing student visas and other necessities for such programs.Most also lack the resources to make such programs realistic, including finding money to obtain a passport and buy air fare to Israel, and even obtaining internet access to make the necessary arrangements in Ethiopia.“It seemed ridiculous to me to hear from a kid that he has been waiting for 20 years to go to Israel and that his great-grandmother was granted the right to live here a long time while he remains in Ethiopia,” said Ron.Due to various aspects of the criteria used to determine who would be allowed to emigrate to Israel, many families have been split with some members allowed to come to the Jewish state while others have been left behind.“The hope is that these two boys will be in university here for three years, and that somehow the  law will be implemented during that time, and when the boys graduate they will graduate in the presence of their grandparents, parents and siblings in Israel,” said Ron.“That, at least, is the plan.”Rabbi Haim Retting, dean of the Binot Yeshiva in Ra’anana and an activist for bringing the remaining Falash Mura community to Israel, said he objected to the fact that members of the community were prevented from coming to Israel on programs that tourists and students with absolutely no connection to Judaism are able to.Retting recently helped a young man from the community in Ethiopia obtain a student visa to study at his yeshiva, saying that anyone interested in drawing close to Judaism should be allowed to do so.“Someone who wants to learn here shouldn’t be prevented from doing so, someone who wants to convert shouldn’t be prevented from doing so,” he said. “I think it is a basic right that anyone with Jewish roots and wants to reconnect again to Judaism should be able to do so.”