First-ever Ethiopian Jewry chair established in Ono Academic College

Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom, the head of the international center, will serve as the first chairperson for the institution.

Members of the Ethiopian community celebrate the Sigd festival in Jerusalem, 7 November, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Members of the Ethiopian community celebrate the Sigd festival in Jerusalem, 7 November, 2018
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The International Center for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry at Ono Academic College launched a Chair for Research of Ethiopian Jewry on Sunday, the first such academic position in the country and likely the world.
Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom, the head of the international center, will serve as the first chairperson for the institution.
Present at the launch was Ethiopian Ambassador Tsegay Berha Hadera, who delivered comments at the event.
“This is a very important event for Ethiopian Jews and for those who are committed to discovering the marvelous history and culture of Ethiopian Jews and Israelis,” Hadera said.
“This is one of the highest gifts given to Ethiopian Jews, because their history is part and parcel of Ethiopian history.”
The ambassador praised the “long-lasting commitment” of Ono Academic College to Ethiopian Jews, saying that it has helped empower Ethiopian Israelis, pointing to graduate and MK Pnina Tamano-Shata as “a shining example” of the results of the institution.
There are currently some 144,000 Israelis of Ethiopian heritage. The Beta Israel made aliyah to Israel in the 1980s and early 1990s in operations Moses and Solomon under the terms of the Law of Return.
The Falash Mura – descendants of Jews who converted under duress from Judaism to Christianity in the late 19th century – came later, starting in 1993 through the Law of Entry as exercised by the Interior Ministry. More recently, they have been able to come because of family reunification principles, since Israel’s Law of Return excludes those who converted away from Judaism from automatic immigration rights. They are required to undergo a conversion process once they arrive in Israel.
Separately, a new program called “Moriah” was launched on Sunday in the Ethiopian city of Gondar, one of the two main community centers for the Falash Mura, which will train teachers to teach Jewish studies in both Gondar and Addis Ababa, the other main Falash Mura community in the capital.
The program will last seven weeks with 33 students enrolled in the course. Graduates of the course will serve as teachers and prayer service leaders for the approximately 8,200 members of the Falash Mura community waiting to come to Israel.
Those providing the teacher training course, who are working on a volunteer basis, were flown in from Israel and are teaching Jewish law, Jewish thought and Hebrew.
There are approximately 8,200 members of the Falash Mura community in the Ethiopian cities of Addis Ababa and Gondar who are seeking to immigrate to Israel on the basis of family reunification and of being “descendants of Jews.”
IN 2015, the Israeli government passed a unanimous resolution to bring all the remaining Jews of Ethiopia to Israel. But the resolution has been stalled and only partially implemented.
In October, the cabinet approved a decision made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring 1,000 of the remaining 8,200 members of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia to Israel.
Those approved to immigrate are the parents of children who came to Israel under previous government decisions.
Significant opposition to further the immigration of the Falash Mura has developed among the conservative wing of the national-religious community, as well as among elements of the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jewish community. They claim that further immigration will lead to a continuous cycle of family reunification claims from Ethiopians who are not Jewish and not connected to the Falash Mura community.
Last week, delegates of the 45th annual World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) congress voted for the first time to ratify the entry of the student union from the remaining Jewish community of Ethiopia.
At a gala dinner held last week for the WUJS conference, Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog responded to the entry of Ethiopian students into WUJS, saying that the Jewish Agency was fighting to bring those remaining to Israel.
”We are the biggest fighters leading this battle to bring them. We pressed on the government with the recent decision to bring another thousand. But we have to continue fighting to bring all of them to Israel immediately.”
Dan Smith, WUJS board member from the USA, shared that: “We are very excited to welcome the Ethiopian Jewish Leadership Team as a full member of WUJS. This will open the door to WUJS activism on behalf of its new member union, to ensure the remaining 8,000 Jews of Ethiopia are able to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible.”
Abere Endeshaw, the leader of the Young Jewish Leadership Team in Ethiopia, said that becoming part of WUJS would provide Jewish students in Ethiopia “the opportunity to engage with the aspirations of young Jewish people worldwide and to impact global issues which contribute to the life of the Jewish people.”
Endeshaw added that as a new member of the union, the team’s initial action will be to create awareness “for fellow Jewish students worldwide on the history of Ethiopian Jewry and the community currently in danger, as well as to invite all member unions to join our struggle to be permitted to immigrate to Israel.”