Ethiopian olim
Ethiopian olim from 2013. (Jewish Agency)

The Government of Israel approved the Aliyah of 2,000 members of the Ethiopian community who are expected to arrive in Israel by early 2021.

“A fabulous development.” That’s what Jane F. Sherman, daughter of Max Fisher, longtime leader in Jewish philanthropy and board member of the Jewish Agency For Israel, told the JN about this week’s announcement that the Israeli government had approved the Aliyah of 2,000 members of the Ethiopian community who are expected to arrive in Israel by early 2021.

These olim (immigrants) are among the thousands in Ethiopia waiting, some for over a decade, to be reunited with their family in Israel.

Both Sherman and her husband, Larry, took an interest in aiding in the absorption of the many Ethiopian Jews who began migrating to Israel in the late ‘80s and continue to do so to this day.

“Back in 1997, Larry and I took five Ethiopian kids who were living in foster homes under our wings,” she previously told the JN. “Today, we consider them part of our family, and they have all become successful, viable citizens.”

Sherman said that over the summer, about 100 Ethiopian olim arrived in Israel each month, but now the “process won’t be so piecemeal.” She added that an additional 4,800 Ethiopian olim will arrive in Israel in 2021.

“We’ve been working on this agreement for four years,” Sherman said. “I have to give credit to the new immigration minister for getting it done.”

Upon arrival, the olim will be in quarantine for two weeks and then move to absorption centers where they will be required to go through conversion. The Jewish Agency helps with that process.

All the Ethiopian olim who are coming to Israel will be joining family, some who have been there longer than 20 years, Sherman said.

“This still leaves thousands — nobody knows the exact number — unable to come to Israel and in a very tough situation,” Sherman said.

Many thousands are waiting in Ethiopia to come to Israel. Most have left their homes and villages to wait in the major cities of Gondar and Addis Ababa. Despite their ongoing limbo and harsh conditions, the communities in these cities maintain a strong Jewish identity and carry out daily Jewish rituals.

A Joint Effort

Aliyah from Ethiopia is a key mission of both the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), who have worked together to bring more than 92,000 Ethiopian olim to Israel.

“Helping Ethiopians and Jews worldwide come home to Israel is one of clearest demonstrations of our love and commitment to the State of Israel, which is central to our core mission,” said Mark Wilf, chair of JFNA’s Board of Trustees in a press release. “And it’s all made possible because of our historic partnership with the Jewish Agency.”

The Jewish Agency works in full cooperation with the government of Israel, primarily with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, on Ethiopian aliyah.

“This government decision will enable the dreams of families that have been separated for over a decade to come true — to finally be reunited, in Israel,” said Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency in a press release. “It is our moral duty to answer the prayers and pleas of those waiting in Ethiopia to come to Israel.”

The Israeli government is paying some of the cost of bringing these Ethiopian Jews to Israel, “but the Jewish Agency and JFNA need to raise the additional funds that will be needed,” Sherman said. The cost of bringing the first 2,000 Ethiopian olim over is approximately $4 million.

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