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Interfaith in Ethiopia

Xavier helps emigrants move to Israel

By Kris Reilly
On February 7, 2012

Only 500 other people on the planet have witnessed what

Rabbi Abie Ingber, founding director of the Office

of Interfaith Community Engagement, and Arthur Shriberg, Ed.D. professor of management and entrepreneurship,

saw in Ethiopia and Israel. From Jan. 28 through Feb. 3, the two Xavier faculty members helped a group of 78 Ethiopian Jews, known as the Falash Mura or Beta

Israeli people, emigrate from Ethiopia to Israel as part of an international religious relocation effort. Since the time of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba 3,000 years ago, there has been a population of Jews in Ethiopia. Perhaps

as the descendents of one of the "Ten Lost Tribes" or of people who went south instead of traveling in the exodus with Moses, the Jewish community has deep African roots. A series of kings ruled the area for centuries, and some of

these leaders were Jewish, so religious diversity was

accepted. Yet in the mid-1700s, rulers targeted the Beta

Israeli population and forcibly converted them to Christianity. This Christian majority continued until the situation of the Falash Mura Jewish minority became

more publicized around the world in the 20th century. The Jewish Ethiopians showed interest in emigrating to Israel, go-ing so far as to travel across the dangerous mountainous desert through Sudan, and the United

States supported their desire for a religious exodus program. In the past 25 years, Operations Moses, Joshua and Solomon were emigrant initiatives to move the Ethiopian Jews into Israel. However, there were concerns

about the amount of refugees Israel could absorb. Meeting the people who ran these operations and acted as interpreters in successfully relocating thousands of repatriates was a meaningful part of Rabbi Ingber and Shriberg's trip. Currently there are 120,000 native

Ethiopians—about 1.5 percent of the population—living in

Israel. Rabbi Ingber explained the uniqueness of such an event was that African people were requesting

to be transferred to a Western country. The Israeli government has organized a plan to continue the emigration process for any remaining Falash Mura people in Ethiopia. Until March 2014, 100 people every month will be absorbed into the Israeli nation. The number of remaining Falash Mura Jews in Ethiopia is unknown but could number in the thousands. On their trip, Rabbi Ingber and Shriberg first flew to Ethiopia and met with the Falash Mura who desired to become citizens of Israel.

"They have different traditions, but to me they are Jewish,

and it is a profound connection," Shriberg said.

In the town of Gondar, they visited the Jewish compound

where the majority of Ethiopia's Jewish population lives and

toured oneroom schoolhouses and small synagogues. While visiting, Rabbi Ingber introduced local children at the Beth Israel Community School to the game of "Simon Says," which was a great success in the classroom. The volunteers then prepared the Ethiopian Jews who had emigration status by distributing clothing and supplies to them because they had few possessions to take to Israel.

After a two-day bus ride to the capital city of Addis Ababa, Rabbi Ingber and Shriberg accompanied the group of repatriates on the flight from Ethiopia to Israel. Both of the Xavier faculty members expressed the Ethiopians' incredible reaction to the twentyfirst century technology and their hope for the future in Israel. On the airplane, one of the elder members said, "This is what the Prophet Isaiah said about the Promised Land: ‘They will soar on wings like eagles'" (Isaiah: 40). When the group arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel, the emigrants had to check in at absorption centers to process citizenship paperwork. A center has also been founded to help Ethiopian Jews with their transition to another country and different way of life. In Tel Aviv, the volunteers welcomed the repatriates to their new life of religious tolerance and opportunity. While there, Rabbi Ingber and Shriberg also met with Israeli entrepreneurs

and business leaders to develop a summer course initiative with Xavier's Williams College of Business.

Rabbi Ingber and Shriberg hope to create a study abroad session for Xavier undergraduate and graduate students that would take place in the high-tech business center of Israel. The program would include two courses, one business-focused and one theology-based, due to

the strong religious ties of the nation. A visit with the Beta Israeli Ethiopian people would also be included in the trip.

Rabbi Ingber and Shriberg are hoping as well to have a Jewish Ethiopian emigrant come to the United States and share his or her story with the Xavier community.

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