As an informal group of rabbis and Jewish leaders who share a love for and commitment to Israel and its welfare, we are writing to express a deep disappointment we feel in the Government of Israel’s painful failure to admit Ethiopian Jews into the country, in accordance with the “Law of Return.”
These children, young men and women and their families, left their villages well over a decade ago and have been living within the Ethiopian Jewish communities in Gondar and Addis. They are dedicated to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel.
We were encouraged by the strong recommendation of the commission you convened to bring the 9,000 Jewish souls still in Ethiopia home to Israel.
Yet you have rejected your own commission’s recommendation and continue to block Ethiopian Jews’ repatriation to Israel, even though they are living Jewish lives in Ethiopia, learning and speaking Hebrew, praying as Jews and passionately committed to aliyah.
Many of these 9000 people have close relatives in Israel, whose names were recorded in 2003 and 2010 by the Israeli government, but who, because of retroactive changes in the laws, bureaucratic slips, and an apparent absence of political will to bring them to Israel, have been left to languish, without any option to go safely back to their villages of origin.
They want to join their families in Israel and to live fully as Jews in the State of Israel. We feel a deep obligation to speak and mobilize on their behalf.
We are mystified at why the Israeli government would want to undermine a righteous and appropriate policy of kibbutz galuyot (bringing home those yearning to return to Israel), which is consistent with Jewish values and with the spirit of the Law of Return. The stated reason is financial, which, given Israel’s population of eight million, is not acceptable. Recently, The Jewish Agency offered Israeli citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews from centuries ago. In fact, Natan Sharansky was quoted as saying that there are probably hundreds of thousands of descendants of Conversos who are interested in re-embracing Judaism, and that “the State of Israel must ease the way for their return.” Given the history outlined above, we found this to be profoundly upsetting. Conversos were converted to Christianity more than 500 years ago. Those Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity under duress just over 100 years ago have lived as Jews now for at least a decade. In spite of Israel’s heroic past repatriation of so many Ethiopians, we worry that at a time of vulnerability for Israel, your unilateral decision as Prime Minister to reverse your own commission’s recommendations will be perceived in the most negative ways.
The prophet Zekhariah looked forward to the day when “people from every nation and language would take hold of a Jew by the corner of his cloak, and say ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’.” The prophet, of course, did not have only white-skinned Europeans from France, Spain and the Former Soviet Union in mind. And as Americans who live with the failure of the United States to understand and address its own racism, and who fought and fight for an end to discrimination, we are committed to helping ensure that the State of Israel welcomes Jews of all colors as it fulfills the prophetic call.
Therefore, we join in speaking out through the channels we have available to us, giving voice to the powerless, on behalf of these 9,000 people who have risked much in order to identify themselves as being of Jewish lineage, and who are eager fully to join the Jewish people in the Jewish state.
Original signers include:
Rabbi Gordon Tucker Temple Israel Center, White Plains, NY
Rabbi Lester Bronstein Bet Am Shalom, White Plains,NY
Rabbi Shira Milgrom Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains,NY
Rabbi Chaim Marder HIR, White Plains, NY
Rabbi Daniel Gropper Rye Synagogue, NY
Rabbi Daniel Geffen Temple Adas Israel, Sag Harbor, NY
Rabbi Jonathan Blake Westchester Reform, Scarsdale, NY
Rabbi Shai Held Machon Hadar, NYC
Rabbi Joy Levitt Manhattan JCC, NYC
Nancy Kaufman NCJW
Rabbi Michael Paley UJA-Federation, NYC
Mark Levitt Washington, D.C
Prof. David Elcott NYU Wagner
Prof. Robert Chazan NYU
Shalom Elcott Former CEO, Jewish Fed of Orange County
Rabbi Stephen Gutow Former Exec., JCPA
Rabbi Daniel Smokler International Hillel
Isaac Luria Auburn Seminary
Aaron Dorfman Lippman Kanfer Foundation
Rabbi Mitchell Cohen National Ramah
Stuart Himmelfarb Pres. Jewish Week
Nancy Ratzan Former President, NCJW
Rabbi Ayelet Cohen Manhattan JCC, NYC
Rabbi Marc Margolius West End Synagogue, NYC
Sydney Perry Former Exec., New Haven Federation
Rabbi Asher Lopatin Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Rabbi Tom Weiner Cong. Kol Ami, White Plains, NY
Prof. Jonathan D. Sarna Brandeis University
Prof. Ruth Langer Boston College
Dr. Jeffrey Solomon Charles and Andrea Bronfman Foundation
David Farber Past president, AJC chapter, Washington, DC
Rabbi Rachel Cowan Institute of Jewish Spirituality
Marcella Kanfer Rolnick Lippman Kanfer Foundation
Karen Adler Past President, NY Jewish Communal Fund
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster T’ruah
Rabbi Jill Jacobs T’ruah
Rav Avi Weiss Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
Rav Ari Hart Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
Rabbi Irving Yitz Greenberg NYC
Blu Greenberg NYC
Rabbi Laura Geller Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Rabbi Howard Shapiro Palm Beach, Fl. Federation
Dr. Jonathan Woocher Lippman Kanfer Foundation
Rabbi Ed Feinstein Valley Beth Shalom, CA
William Kreisberg Board, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Rabbi Leonid Feldman, Congregation Beth El, West Palm Beach + Former Refusenik
*Signatures are personal and do not indicate organizational endorsement.