The last Jews of Ethiopia
The remaining members of the Ethiopian Jewish community will make aliyah by the end of this summer, and the Jewish Agency educational compound in the northern part of the country that has prepared them for their new lives in Israel will be turned over this month to the Ethiopian government.
The compound in Gondar, which earlier was under the auspices of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, “will not be needed beyond July,” said Misha Galperin, who heads the Jewish Agency’s department of international development. “That’s it. There’s no more.”
Galperin said representatives of Israel’s Interior Ministry are completing eligibility interviews with the last of some 2,000 Falash Mura, descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to the country’s dominant Christian religion a century ago. Several thousand Falash Mura, who returned in recent decades to the Jewish community and have sought to immigrate to Israel, are now part of Israel’s 120,000-member Ethiopian Jewish community.
As part of the end of the Jewish Agency’s “Completing the Journey” operation, which the quasi-governmental organization began two years ago to phase out the Gondar compound and the decades-long aliyah of Ethiopian Jewry, participants in two missions two weeks ago—coordinated by the Jewish Agency, and by the Jewish Federations of North America—traveled to Ethiopia to “see the final stages of the operation” and accompany some of the Falash Mura on their flights to Israel.
“People are celebrating what will be the end of an extraordinary chapter in Jewish history,” Galperin said.
The participants met the Falash Mura at the compound, which is administered in partnership with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, where the Ethiopian natives learn Hebrew, receive health screenings and take part in other activities that will prepare them to become Israeli citizens.
Some 7,000 Falash Mura are now in Jewish Agency absorption centers throughout Israel.
All the eligible Falash Mura will be in Israel by September, Galperin said, and the few still in Gondar after the compound closes will receive off-site assistance.
Steve Lipman is a staff writer for The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission.