Ethiopian Jews waiting to move to Israel are being taught Hebrew, Jewish law and Bible study by Israeli volunteers keen to help them, with representatives decrying Israel for “turning its back” on them.
The volunteer-run classes are being offered to around 8,000 Jews still living in communities in the capital Addis Ababa and the northern city of Gondar, which was established by the Solomonic Emperors of Ethiopia in the 16th century.
Israeli volunteers say graduates of the seminar programme will serve as teachers and hazzanim (prayer leaders) for Jews still waiting to move to Israel, while enrichment studies are being offered for synagogue leaders.
The two communities have synagogues with prayer services three times per day, mikvot (ritual baths for immersion according to Jewish law) and after-school Judaism study classes for children, while youth movement Bnei Akiva is active in both cities.
In October, the Israeli government said it would allow 1,000 Ethiopian Jews to make aliyah, but this was seen as a U-turn and a betrayal by Ethiopian Jewish leaders, who say Benjamin Netanyahu’s government promised to allow all Ethiopian Jews to make aliyah in 2015.
“The State of Israel has turned its back on the remaining Jews of Ethiopia who observe a Jewish-religious lifestyle and will even undergo a conversion once in Israel,” said a spokesman for the Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah group.
“We demand that the government will act according to the values of equality, justice and Zionism, and according to the decisions that it has already passed.”