Remembering The Falash Mura

Seven federations, headed by UJA-Federation of New York, led the way this week in making sure that thousands of Falash Mura languishing in compounds in Ethiopia will have a second meal a day. The emergency effort will provide $248,000 – half from UJA-Federation _ to provide food for mothers and young children, and came about after a loss of funding to the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry following the death of a major donor. There is a political as well as humanitarian angle to this story because the decision this week marks the first time in memory that the federation system has made a sizable contribution through NACOEJ to the Falash Mura – Ethiopians with Jewish roots whose descendants converted to Christianity a century ago.

NACOEJ, a New York-based grassroots organization that lobbies for and provides services to the Falash Mura, has been highly critical of establishment organizations like federations, The Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for allegedly not being forceful enough in advocating for the beleaguered Ethiopians. The primary goal of NACOEJ is to bring the Falash Mura, estimated at between 15,000 and 24,000, to Israel to live. The emergency campaign by the seven federations raises the credibility of NACOEJ in the organized community and sharpens the call for Israel to take action. Thirteen months ago, the government in Jerusalem pledged to coordinate efforts to facilitate the aliyah of the Falash Mura as quickly as possible, based in part on the ruling of the chief rabbinate that the Falash Mura should be treated as Jews. But since then there has been little impetus to expedite the aliyah, with Israeli officials blaming lack of funds and facilities.

The Jewish establishment here, primarily through the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of North American federations, has offered to help provide funding and has been pushing Israel to move more quickly. But it has done so quietly to this point so as not to embarrass the Sharon government, which has its hands full. Still, there is every reason to speak out in the hopes of drawing attention to the plight of the thousands of Falash Mura who long to settle in Israel. It is admirable that federations have stepped up to provide emergency funds for food. Now it is up to the community to press for expediting the aliyah of a long-suffering people.

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