Photo: The Heart of Israel

By: Maayan Hoffman

“The ingathering of exiles is prophesied in the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and is already being witnessed today,” according to A.Y. Katsof, director of The Heart of Israel.

Katsof recently raised $25,000 to help bring the last 8,000 Jews of Ethiopia to Israel, a move that he believes is the next step in the redemptive process.

“It says that in the end of days, the Jews will come back to Israel,” Katsof said. “That we are given the opportunity to be a part of the ingathering of the exiles is so special.”

However, the last Jews have not yet made it to Israel despite the best efforts of individuals like Katsof. Rather, the government has taken little action on Government Decision No. 716 that passed in 2015 and calls for the approval of the immigration of these Jews.

Last month, the government was scheduled to meet to put a plan in place for this final aliyah. The meeting was pushed off for the third time.

“We have not seen my sisters for nine years,” said Seffi Blilin, who moved to Israel from Ethiopia nine years ago with her mother, father and four siblings. Her two older, married siblings were considered separate families and could not come over on the same immigration visa. “My father died of heartache. My mother cries herself to sleep every night.”

Katsof said he believes the government has not chosen to bring the last Jews of Ethiopia to Israel because of a combination of racism and political and financial reasons.
“No office wants to allocate money for this, and there are political parties, such as ultra-Orthodox parties, that would lose votes in the next election if they helped facilitate this,” Katsof explained.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopians are living in holding camps in the provinces of Gondar and Addis Ababa in extreme poverty.

Abere Endeshaw, a young man from Ethiopia, spoke to this reporter via email. He said his parents and five siblings live in a one room mud and straw hut – the same room in which they cook and sleep. His family lives primarily on a traditional Ethiopian food called injera, a sourdough-risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture, dipped in various sauces, he said.

Ethiopian Jews eat no meat, “Since the rabbi who slaughters animals made aliyah some years ago… there is no kosher meat provider in Ethiopia,” Endeshaw said.

In April, Katsof visited the Ethiopian Jewish communities in Gondar and Addis Ababa and he said he was struck by how members adhered to a “pure, untouched Judaism,” as he would have imagined his ancestors following before they moved to Europe and the United States.

He said they learn Hebrew, go to synagogue and, “they have this drive for ‘next year in Jerusalem.’”

Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, an Israeli Orthodox rabbi and former politician who served as a member of the Knesset, said that Israel has a religious obligation to bring these Jews to the Holy Land.

“It is part of the promises of the prophets, starting from Moshe until the last prophets,” Waldman said. “It is the will of God and a basic principle of Judaism, no less than the other mitzvot [commandments], such as Shabbat or the chagim [holidays].”

Many have protested Ethiopian aliyah, claiming that these last 8,000 individuals are not Jewish according to the strictest opinions of Jewish law. Waldman said this is not correct or relevant.

“It is a group that converted to Christianity in the end of the 19th century, but thanks to God, returned to Judaism,” Waldman said. “Now they struggle, waiting and longing for Zion.”

He said that when the last Jews come, they can and will undergo a “just-in-case” conversion (giur lechumra in Hebrew). For now, though, he said, “It is our basic humanitarian and Jewish duty to bring them home.”

Added Endeshaw, “All Jews need to be in our promised land.”

You can still donate to The Heart of Israel’s Bring them Home campaign.