A ‘Tale of Two Cities’: Update on Ethiopia’s Jewish Communities

Joe Feit, head of anJie partner SSEJ (Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry), has recently returned from his second visit to the Jewish communities of Ethiopia this year.  He is pleased to report the following.

Gondar

The feeding program is going well.  SSEJ’s addition of a second daily meal has made it more worthwhile for women to make the trek (by foot) to the Gondar synagogue compound.  Currently, 400-450 women attend of whom 80-100 are pregnant and/or nursing mothers. In conjunction with the feeding programs, educational activities also take place. 

The summer camp is outstanding (1,500 kids actually attending daily; 1,900 registered). The noise level, indicating active participation, was gratifyingly high. It is exhilarating. Thirty volunteers from Israel helped the local community run the programs. 

There is much higher participation in adult educational Jewish activities than in the past.   Many hundreds participate and also attend daily prayer services.  Particularly noteworthy was the fact that a substantial number of people 15 – 30 years old were participating both in prayers and adult education classes. 

The medical programs are going very well with a high level of communal satisfaction and exceptional results. Unfortunately, SSEJ lacks funding to extend the program beyond the 850 children it currently serves.     

Registration for the after school program has increased to 670.   (So far something under 500 are showing up because the school year in Gondar has not started.)

The community stresses the importance of Judaic and supplemental education for their children.  Children receive 15 hours weekly of supplemental education in addition to attending prayer services. Attendance would be even higher but for the fact that many children do not have time to go home for lunch in between their municipally provided education and the SSEJ supplemental educational program, and SSEJ does not have the funds to provide them with even a simple lunch. 

Addis Ababa 

Because of financial limitations, Addis receives far less support than Gondar from SSEJ.  There are no medical, supplemental nutrition or after school programs. 

The Addis Jewish community is much smaller than that in Gondar, consisting of approximately 700 families.   

An encouraging development is the strong and growing nucleus of young people who intensively study Talmud and other Jewish texts, with a somewhat larger group who study somewhat less. Community representatives have participated in the worldwide bible contest in Israel for the past two years and have done remarkably well. (In the first year of participation, the community representative placed second among all the contestants from outside of Israel despite the lack of a formal learning program).  

Shabbat service attendance is impeded in part because over the years, the community has dispersed throughout Addis as the cost of renting a residence near the synagogue (which is now in the center of Addis) has increased.  

The community would be greatly strengthened if it were possible to dedicate resources to Addis commensurate with those dedicated to Gondar, but lack of funding currently makes this impossible.  Nevertheless, in the coming months, SSEJ intends to strengthen the Jewish educational components available to the community in Addis. 

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