Save Ethiopian Jewry, again

70% of Ethiopians have no salary income and the average Ethiopian salary is below the poverty line.

ethiopian 88 (photo credit: )
ethiopian 88
(photo credit: )
Last year, 10 Israeli women were murdered by their husbands or partners. We are less than halfway through this year, and already eight women have become victims of similar murders. As shocking as these figures are, one community has been particular hard hit by this plague of murders, often accompanied by the suicide of the murderer: new immigrants from Ethiopia. Out of these 18 murders, seven of the women victims were Ethiopian-Israelis. While care must be taken in extrapolating these figures to the overall situation of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, it would also be irresponsible to ignore this horrible statistic, particularly in the context of this community's known problems and needs. According to the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (, 70 percent of Ethiopians have no salary income and the average Ethiopian salary is below the poverty line. About 40% of Ethiopian students in grades 1-9 are below the class level for reading. Ethiopians drop out of school between the ages of 14 and 17 at a rate twice the national average. Only 28% of Ethiopian students pass the matriculation exams, which is about half the national average. Juvenile delinquency is about double the average, and the number of Ethiopian youth arrested increased by 255% between 1996-1999. While there are, of course, many Ethiopian Jewish success stories, this catalog of failure is an indictment of the ability of our society to rise to a critical challenge. Ethiopian Jews dreamed of and prayed for the day when they would live in Israel, and Israel went to great lengths to bring that day about - most dramatically in Operation Solomon, 15 years ago this month. We knew then that the transition from Ethiopia to Israel would not be easy. As the IAEJ describes the problem, most of the Ethiopian Jews now living in Israel "left rural, agrarian environments and entered an urban, industrialized one. In Ethiopia, the culture and economy was that of a developing nation, and individuals possessed few skills marketable in a modern industrialized economy. This has resulted in severe inequalities between Ethiopian citizens and other citizens of Israel." At this point, however, many difficulties cannot be blamed on the transition from one culture to another. Over half of Ethiopian Jews in Israel are under the age of 19, and almost all of these young people were born or grew up in Israel. Yet the current crisis has been going on for some time, and many pledges have been made to rectify it. Back in 2001, the American Jewish community announced the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), which was to be a joint endeavor of the American federation umbrella, United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee and Keren Hayesod. The US side was supposed to raise $660 million, which would be matched by Israel. In fact, according to IAEJ, only $9m. was raised, which the Israeli government planned to match with NIS 9 million, and even this fraction of the funding did not come through in the 2005 budget. According to the UJC web site, in order to substantially expand the ENP scholarship, youth outreach, parent workshop and other critical programs, another $8m. must be raised in the US and matched by local budgets. It is not clear, even if such funds are provided, that they will be sufficient to address the problems that we as a society have allowed to accumulate and deepen. If even these funds are not forthcoming, the costs of delay until the next manifestation of the crisis again jolts public awareness will be even higher, as will the human cost both to Ethiopian-Israelis and to our society as a whole. Nor is it sufficient to adopt budgets without ensuring that the funds actually go to the intended recipients and are spent effectively. Monies provided to schools specifically for Ethiopians, for instance, must not disappear within general spending, The dramatic airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews 15 years ago was a great moment in Israeli and Jewish history. Yet how can this act be deemed complete, or even sincere, if we now remain indifferent to the real challenges of this same community, now that its members live in Israel, speak Hebrew, and serve in the army? Operation Solomon is not over yet.