Earlier this month, the government approved a decision allowing 2,000 members of the remaining Jewish community in Ethiopia to immigrate to Israel.
Every Jewish immigrant from Ethiopia who finally realizes his or her dream to enter the Promised Land and reunite with loved ones represents the end of a long struggle for that individual. And during these most difficult times this is especially true. But this decision leaves behind thousands more members of the community who were promised on countless occasions by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they would be granted permission to immigrate by the end of 2020. Their future still remains in question.
It also means that their families in Israel from whom they are separated are faced with an inhumane quandary: Will their child/sibling/parent be included in the “coveted list” of 2,000 immigrants or will yet another year go by of unbearable longing? This harrowing question that many of the families are facing this holiday season – “who will enter and who will be left behind,” from the ‘Unetaneh Tokef’ poem recited on the High Holy Days – is a question that no Israeli or Jew should ever be forced to ask.
One such individual is 22-year-old Gelagay Alemayehu. Alemayehu immigrated to Israel in 2012 with nine of his siblings and his parents, while two of his siblings were left behind. Like many other Ethiopian Jews, the two siblings were promised that in a short time they too would make aliyah. More than eight years have passed and the Alemayehu family is still waiting for that promise to be realized.
Alemayehu served in an elite reconnaissance unit in the IDF. He reported to reserve duty this month and will return again next month. He is a decorated soldier and received citations of excellence during his service. His sister in Ethiopia recently underwent surgery and she remains quite ill, due to the lack of treatment options available in Ethiopia.
After Alemayehu heard of the recent decision, he entered into panic and asked in an interview in Army Radio, “Will my sister who is frail and ill be included in the list of 2,000? And if not, what will her fate be?” How can any government official possibly decide whose child/sibling/parent will be approved entry into the Land of Israel and whose loved one will be left behind?
In 2015, the government under the leadership of Netanyahu passed a unanimous resolution to bring the remainder of Ethiopian Jewry in Addis Ababa and Gondar to Israel by the end of 2020. Rather than carrying out its resolution, the government placed quotas on the number of immigrants from Ethiopia.
In February, less than a month before the election, Netanyahu promised that 400 immigrants would arrive from Ethiopia in just a few weeks. Some 268 individuals arrived, and then the immigration once again was halted. The recent decision to allow just 2,000 immigrants to arrive continues the same policy of the government, to ignore its previous resolutions and to permit only limited numbers of immigrants from Ethiopia into Israel, continuing the unjust family separation.
There is so much that needs to be healed in Israel after a challenging year. From the economy to the health system to the social rifts. The coronavirus and its repercussions should not be an excuse to further delay the immigration of the remaining Jews of Ethiopia. This is an issue that must be resolved before it is too late, and citizens such as the Alemayehu family have no one left to long for.
Living in Israel for the past 10 years, the writer is involved with various initiatives to strengthen connections between Jewish communities abroad and Israel. She has been an activist in the struggle to bring the remainder of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel since returning from volunteering in Gondar. She can be reached at email@example.com