Category Archives: Ethiopian Jews

Falash Mura Set Up Christian Missions In Israel?

Ethiopian Jewish leaders are complaining that some of the Falash Mura, Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity but who themselves have returned to Judaism, have set up missions in Israel to convert Jews and have done so with the backing of several churches. Ha’aretz reports:

    Ethiopian rabbis and spiritual leaders (keisim) called on the government Monday to halt the Ethiopian Falashmura aliyah to Israel, citing concerns that many of the Falashmura are engaged in Christian missionary activity.

    The leaders made the call during a Rehovot conference titled "Defeating the [Christian] mission manifestation in the community," in which hundreds of Ethiopian Jews took part.

    The keisim and rabbis called for establishing new rules for bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel, maintaining that in recent years many of the Falshamura in Israel have resorted to Christianity and built missions in Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Rehovot, as a result of their difficult financial situation.…

    Conference participants elected a keisim-led committee that will map out the various missions in each city and prepare a list of missionaries, which they will transfer to the Interior Ministry, requesting that they be barred from marrying or being buried in a Jewish cemetery. In addition, the committee will formulate a position paper on potential future Falashmura aliyah.

    "The missionaries persecuted us in Ethiopia, and [we must] not permit them to persecute us in the Holy Land," said the conference participants.

This is a difficult problem. First of all, the Rabbinate already ruled these people must be saved. It did so, however, with the caveat that they formally convert to and practice Orthodox Judaism.  If these charges are true – and they appear to be, at least in part; I have seen documents that support the charges – should all Falash Mura suffer because of the sins of a few?

I don’t know. My first reaction is to say no, they should not, and aliyah should continue. But Ethiopian Jewish leaders are adamantly opposed to this. (Indeed, I spoke with one leader about this problem this morning. He said what he has said for much of the past two years – stop aliyah now.)

The problem, it seems to me, is one of a contract violation. Falash Mura got to come to Israel on the condition they observe Orthodox Judaism. The question is, what should we do when that contract is violated?

I should also add that much of the missionary activity comes from financial distress, and Ethiopian Jewish leaders themselves say this is so. Israel has done a poor job of integrating all Ethiopian Jews. This has relegated many to poverty and despair. Successive Israeli governments bear the responsibility for this, for the pain and suffering it causes, and for the Christian missionizing that grows from it.



Filed under Ethiopian Jews, Israel

Too Black For Respect?

An Ethiopian Jew is jailed with 52 other Jews in Sudan. He is a small boy, five years old, but he is beaten and tortured. Why was he in Sudan? He was escaping with his family to Israel. Israel mounts a rescue operation (still classified) and saves the 53 Jews, but brings them to Ethiopia, not Israel. The Jews wait another year in Ethiopia before finally being taken to Jerusalem.

Flash forward. This Jew is a Prisoner of Zion, just like Natan Scharansky. He suffered along with his family for promoting Zionism and Israel. There are 2,203 Prisoners of Zion now living in Israel. Most are from the former Soviet Union. But more than 15%, 369, are from Ethiopia. The problem? He’s embarrassed to show his official government-issued Prisoner of Zion I.D.

Why? Because so few people realize that there are black Prisoners of Zion, he fears being laughed at and having the whole thing treated as a joke. His face still bears scars from the beatings in Sudan. His soul bears scars from Israel’s callous treatment of true heroes with otherly-pigmented skin.


Filed under Ethiopian Jews, Israel

For the Ethiopian Jews


This week was Sigd, the Ethiopian Jewish holiday reminiscent of Shavuot. For hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, Ethiopian Jews gathered on this day to remember Jerusalem and the giving of the Torah. What follows are photos of this year’s event from Arutz Sheva (more photos and other coverage here) and a poem written by Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Charles Adés Fishman, from his book Chopin’s Piano. (A special thank you to Charles Fishman and Time Being Books for graciously allowing me to reprint this.)


© Charles Adés Fishman





Filed under Ethiopian Jews, Poetry

The Tzaddik of Addis Ababa

Uriel Heilman reports:

The door to Mother Teresa’s Mission in Addis Ababa cracks open and a nun pokes her head out. When she sees the doctor, her face breaks into a broad smile and she swings the door wide open.

"Come in, come in," she beckons, grabbing Rick Hodes’ hand.

Inside, the nun and the doctor — an Orthodox Jew originally from Long Island, N.Y. — quickly are overwhelmed by the clinic’s masses of sick and dying.

Every three paces, Hodes is stopped by another patient. They come to him limping, clutching their bellies, hobbling on elephantine legs rendered virtually useless by cancerous growths or mysterious tumors.

Hodes, 53, is the only doctor most of these people will ever see. As the lone Western-trained physician to conduct regular rounds here, Hodes represents the best hope at this palliative-care clinic for Ethiopia’s neglected legions of malaria patients, cancer victims, AIDS orphans and tuberculosis sufferers.

Without X-rays, lab tests or MRIs, Hodes does what he can, making diagnoses on the fly, recommending medication and moving from patient to patient with an urgency that bespeaks his mission.

Often he pays out of his own pocket to send the more hopeful cases for tests or treatment at private hospitals.

"It doesn’t matter what religion he is; he is doing this for humanity," says Monica Thonen-Bartet, a Maltese volunteer at the mission. "This is the most beautiful man I have ever seen."

This is not Hodes’ day job: As medical director for Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Hodes is responsible for the medical welfare of some 10,000 Ethiopians known as Falash Mura.…

Hodes’ real passion, however, seems to be caring for the severely ill at Mother Theresa’s Mission. He does not get paid for this work.…

At last count, Hodes had more than a dozen youths living in his home, and he has placed three more at boarding schools in Ohio and a cancer clinic in Washington. Hodes picked most of them up at the mission, where they had diseases ranging from polio to bone cancer.

Many were abandoned by their families; some were orphans. Mostly healthy now, these boys no longer are Hodes’ patients; they’re his children. Hodes has paid for the boys’ private schooling in Addis Ababa and has officially adopted five of them.…


Filed under Ethiopian Jews, Hessed, Modern Orthodoxy

The Lies of the Rebbe, cont.

In his infamous 1983 letter to me responding to my pleas to help Ethiopian Jews, the late Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote:

Equally, your claims regarding scholarships and other projects you
mention in your letter are not logical and they do not fit in with the
activities and duties of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions or

Of course, this was complete bullshit. Chabad had long been involved in using these same methods to save Iranian Jews. (So, to be clear, had Satmar.) But Chabad’s operation had come to a halt early in 1982. And it was no state secret. Iranian Jews saved this way were very evident in Crown Heights and LA, and they didn’t hide how they were saved. Many had moved from the US to Israel, as well.

Many of you questioned me on this point, claiming Chabad had not used student visas to save Iraninan Jews. Well, just to keep the record clear, here is why you were so very wrong:

One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service’s central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.

They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.

This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn’t feel scared.

"I was courageous," he said. "I had the purpose to save Jewish children."

He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of [Chabad’s] Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.…

Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.

Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, "There’s no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America."

The Rebbe lied. Ethiopian Jews died. Period. End of story.


Filed under Chabad and Ethiopian Jews, Chabad History, Chabad Theology, Chabad: Rebbes and the Abdication of Responsibility, Ethiopian Jews

Brazil’s Crypto-Jews Seek To Return

Ynet has an interesting article on Brazil’s Crypto-Jews, descendants of Marranos who in some cases have always married within their extended family. Some of these hidden Jews are now seeking to return to full Jewish practice.  And interesting point to make about this is to compare Ethiopian Jews to these Crypto-Jews. Both communities would have the status of sofek Jews, according to many poskim. But the Ethiopians have a stronger mesorah halakhicly, which is why Ovadia Yosef was able to rule Ethiopian Jews are in fact Jewish without need for a conversion. Yet I think most haredim and Modern Orthodox would be quicker to welcome Crypto-Jews back into the fold than Ethiopians. And this was evident long before DNA testing. The only reason I see for that is skin color. And that is sad.


Filed under Ethiopian Jews, History, Religion

Ethiopian Jews Complain of Missionary Activity by Falash Mura

Ethiopian Jewish leaders have told me for years that many missionaries were coming to Israel with the Falash Mura and were now actively trying to convert Ethiopian Jews in Israel. The story has finally made the papers in Israel:

Spiritual leaders of the nation’s poor, culture-shocked and embattled Ethiopian community opened another front of divisiveness Wednesday, calling to excommunicate members of their community who engage in Christian missionary activity.

The Jewish Ethiopian community plans to compose a blacklist of known missionaries who will be ostracized.

“We know who they are,” said Itzhak Zagai, Chief Rabbi of Rehovot’s Ethiopian community. “The worst punishment imaginable for an Ethiopian is excommunication, because we are all so interdependent.”

Ethiopians who appear on the list will be unable to marry inside the community.…

But what more should be done? Should we deny entry to all Falash Mura because of a few missionaries? Ethiopian Jewish leaders often say we should do just that. The Rabbinute says the opposite, based on a series of halakhic rulings. And the state? The state would just as soon left all Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia. Without outside pressure and some strong intervention from President Regan, that is exactly what would have happened.

Here’s where I come down on this: Bring in all the Falash Mura now. At the same time, begin intensive anti-missionary campaigns in the Ethiopian community. Helping Ethiopian Jews fit in, find work and become Israeli is extremely important. Missionaries feed on poverty and alienation, the two things Israel’s failed absorption policy ensures. Chabad’s shameful treatment of Ethiopian Jews, along with haredi racism, doesn’t help things, either.


Filed under Chabad and Ethiopian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Israel, Religion