US Conservative Mov't to Israel: Continue Ethiopian aliya

Rabbi Epstein tells 'Post' he's "terribley disappointed" by comments made by Minister Boim regarding Falash Mura.

Ethiopians Jews 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ethiopians Jews 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Following a heated debate in the Knesset plenum last week, where former immigrant absorption minister Ze'ev Boim, now minister of construction and housing, accused US Jewry of being unwilling to take in thousands of Falash Mura waiting to immigrate to Israel, the Conservative Movement in the US has spoken out against the government's decision to wind down Ethiopian aliya. Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday he was "terribly disappointed" at comments made the previous day earlier by Boim regarding the Falash Mura, whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity under pressure more than a century ago. "If he [Boim] saw what I've seen over the last few days I really think that he would change his mind," said Epstein, who returned on Thursday morning from a four-day trip to Addis Adaba and the northern city of Gondar, where most of the Falash Mura are still waiting for Israel to check their immigration rights. "These people are clearly dedicated to Jewish learning and many of them already have relatives in Israel. They are not looking to leave Ethiopia and move to any other country, they want to make aliya." However, the government has already announced that all background checks are complete and that organized immigration from the African nation will end within months. Earlier this year, the Interior Ministry recalled its representative from the country. In Israel, members of the Ethiopian Jewish community and a growing number of politicians argue that there are still thousands of people who fit the criteria, including those who have been determined as halachicly Jewish by both of Israel's chief rabbis and who have family here. Last week, legislation calling on the government to check the immigration eligibility of at least 9,000 Falash Mura passed a preliminary vote in the Knesset. "After my visit there, I truly believe that a significant number of these people fit the criteria," said Epstein, adding that Israel needed to up hold laws already in place. "In 2003, these people were told [by Ariel Sharon's government] they would be considered for aliya, and they left their villages for Gondar in order to be checked by the Israeli government," he said. "When there are thousands of people who want to become Jewish and move here, then we should really do everything we can to help them," he said. "The ironic thing is that the Conservative, Reform and modern Orthodox rabbinate - who usually don't agree with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel - on this issue, actually do agree and it's the secular people who are against it."