>Comes after debate about their Christian background
>Aliyah regulations remain controversial
>First Christian-organized flight in August
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife)– A Christian group said Tuesday, June 7, it would help organize “the return of the last 8,700 Ethiopian Jews to Israel” by sponsoring what are known as “Aliyah” flights, the coming months.
The Jerusalem-based International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) told BosNewsLife it was asked for urgent assistance by the Jewish Agency, which claims to have brought over three million Jews to Israel since the state’s establishment in 1948.
ICEJ Director of Aliyah Operations, Howard Flower, called the Ethiopians’ Aliyah — the Jewish religious word for immigration to Israel — “urgent given the current drought and political turmoil in the region.”
He said Jews face food shortages and the prospect that the chaotic revolutions in the Arab world might spread to Ethiopia.
Additionally, Flower stressed, there are “growing medical problems” of Jews living in refugee camps in the mountainous Gondar area as several clinics have closed due to funding shortages.
He added that Jewish children in a Gondar school were also awaiting their turn to come home to Israel as they have been separated from family members. “Children are growing up away from their grandparents, who are now well advanced in age”, Flower said.
“With concerns growing over their deteriorating conditions, the Jewish Agency is eager to speed up the process, and due to budget cuts they are very thankful for the help from the Christian Embassy”, explained Flower.
“We are a long-time partner with [the Agency] in the great modern-day Aliyah and this provides us with another amazing opportunity to assist in the final Ingathering of the Jews to the land of their forefathers.”
Yet, the cooperation between the ICEJ and the Jewish Agency comes despite controversy over Aliyah regulations, BosNewsLife established. Israeli authorities have rejected immigration applications of Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah or were allegedly involved in Christian activities.
Earlier this year, for instance, the Jewish Agency and the Interior Ministry rejected a request from American singer Barbra Streisand’s cousin to come and live in Israel.
Dale Streisand, 57, was reportedly refused new immigrant status on grounds that his profile on social website Facebook indicated he had been involved in Christian missionary activity in the past.
Israel’s High Court of Justice has in the past also upheld a decision not to grant immigrant status to a Jewish person who converted to Christianity.
Ethiopian Jews faced similar challenges. However the ICEJ said the Ethiopian Jews could prove that they were “pressured” to “convert to Christianity” some 150 years ago for economic reasons, although they still wanted to retain “their Jewish identities and traditions.”
The ICEJ acknowledged that “years of debate” on their status only ended last November when the Israeli government and rabbinic authorities “finally approved the Aliyah requests of over 8,000 Jews left in Ethiopia who are known as Falash Mura.”
The Jewish Agency has since been flying each month some 200 Ethiopian to Israel, but at this rate “it will take up to four years to complete this unique Aliyah initiative,” ICEJ said in a statement.
“With concerns growing over their deteriorating conditions, the Jewish Agency is eager to speed up the process, and due to budget cuts they are very thankful for the help from the Christian Embassy”, added Flower. “We are a long-time partner with JAFI in the great modern-day aliyah and this provides us with another amazing opportunity to assist in the final Ingathering of the Jews to the land of their forefathers.”
The ICEJ’s involvement in the return of Jews to Israel comes on the 20th anniversary of “Operation Solomon”, when nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel in what the group called “a dramatic airlift” involving 34 round-trip flights over one weekend, in May 1991
Several years earlier, “Operation Moses” rescued an initial wave of thousands of Ethiopian Jews who had fled the nation’s bitter civil war and were trying to journey to Israel by foot via Sudan, ICEJ recalled.
The current group of over 8,000 Falash Mura represents the last contingent of Ethiopian Jews who will be able to come to Israel under the Law of Return, “thereby realizing this isolated community’s ancient dream of returning to Zion one day,” ICEJ said.
The first ICEJ-sponsored flight in this accelerated Aliyah initiative will make the journey to Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport in August with 100 Ethiopian Jews on board, Flower said. “We plan to be waiting with a festive reception.”