The Jewish federation system has launched a major fund-raising campaign to assist the Jews of Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.
At a meeting Sunday in New York, the board of trustees of the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the North American federation system, approved a motion to raise $160 million for two initiatives.
Criticisms and doubts were raised about the proposal, but the final vote was unanimous.
Most of the money, $100 million, will go toward expediting aliyah and absorption in Israel of some 20,000 Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, and for the integration of Ethiopians already in Israel. The funds will be raised in three to five years.
The remaining $60 million, to be raised within three years, will go to help Jews in the former Soviet Union through identity-building programs for youth and caring for the elderly poor.
The campaign comes as Israel prepares to double the monthly rate of Falash Mura immigration, from 300 to 600.
Transportation, initial education and welfare costs will run to some $23 million over three years, and will be managed by the UJC’s overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. About $40 million will go toward absorbing the Falash Mura, and $37 million to integrate Ethiopians in Israel through improved education.
The Ethiopian initiative was framed as the completion of previous mass immigrations from Ethiopia, namely Operation Moses in 1984-85 and Operation Solomon in 1991.
“Fourteen years ago, I was privileged to stand on the airport tarmac in Israel and be an eyewitness to a miracle and welcome more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews rescued in Operation Solomon,” said Susan Stern, chairwoman of the board of directors of UJA-Federation of New York and outgoing chair of the UJC National Women’s Philanthropy. “What an extraordinary experience that was, seeing the great pride of the Jewish community and feeling the great hope of that day. We have accomplished much since then, but we have not yet completed the promise.”
The new campaign was met with praise but also some consternation at the UJC’s board meeting Sunday, as the group became momentarily gridlocked over whether to place binding terms on the proposal, requiring federations to allocate a “fair share” of funds based on the overall funds each federation raises.
Binding language ultimately was left out of the resolution, but the debate underscored the urgency of effectively funding Falash Mura aliyah.
Shortly after the initiative was raised, Batia Eyob, executive director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, sent an angry letter to UJC officials, claiming the association wasn’t consulted about the project.
It looks like Gondar will be left without any Gondare at all. Did they even participate in the national election? Who's really profiting from this aliyah? Ethiopians are left with more questions than answers...