Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Jews Live in Ethiopia?
About 6,000-7,000; about two-thirds in Gondar Province and the remainder in the capital city of Addis Ababa.
Why Are They There?
Jews have lived in Ethiopia for millennia. In the Hebrew Bible, Numbers Chapter 12 refers to Moses marrying a “Cushite woman.” “Cush” is thought by many to refer to Ethiopia. Other sources refer to the Jews of Ethiopia as direct descendants of the liaison between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (“Sheba” meaning land to the south).
“I Thought They All Were Brought to Israel”
Unfortunately, the majority of the world’s Jews share this erroneous belief. In 1984 and 1991, Israeli military airlifts (“Operation Moses” and “Operation Solomon”) did bring thousands of Jews — but not all — to Israel. Thousands of others were stranded — and then abandoned, including those who could not arrive from their remote mountain villages to the airlift departure sites in time and those whose Jewish identity was in question (e.g., patriarchal vs. maternal descent, or whose ancestors had been forced to convert to Christianity).
After many years, in 2015, the Israeli government set aside these questions, noting that most still in Ethiopia who claimed to be Jews had endured long separation from first-degree family members already in Israel. The Government thus agreed to bring them. Unfortunately, the decision has been implemented haltingly and only in small increments, because the Israeli Government has failed to allocate funds to absorb them. Whereas each small group of immigrants is greeted with great rejoicing by the Ethiopian community in Israel – and attendant press coverage — the circumstances under which the remainder continue to live receives little media or political attention.
What Are Their Circumstances?
A 2017 Knesset (Israeli Parliament) delegation visited the communities and soberly reported:
We found them to be living in appalling conditions and in dire need of medical, nutritional, educational and other forms of humanitarian assistance. (Read Delegation Letter)
The Knesset delegation requested the urgent assistance of two very large Jewish aid organizations — the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — and of two small private aid organizations with long experience in Ethiopia, NACOEJ and SSEJ.
The two large organizations have thus not provided any aid. Only NACOEJ and SSEJ have done so, albeit their resources are extremely limited.
In 2017, Rabbi Art Levine visited the communities and with photos and clips made from an Iphone 6, created these VIDEOS:
Are Jewish Aid Organizations Helping Them?
No! Almost a decade ago, as a condition of Israel bringing home the remaining Jews, the Israeli government required American private aid organizations to leave Ethiopia and turn their programs over to the Jewish Agency. Ever since, major institutional donors — who continue to fund humanitarian aid to non-Jewish communities in Ethiopia — argue that they are precluded by agreement from reinstituting aid to Jews. The Israeli government provides none. As a result, the Jewish communities in Ethiopia are “on their own”. They receive far too little to sustain them even in severely substandard conditions. And, as of now, the promised aliyah has not been fulfilled and apparently will not be for some years to come.
Is Their Jewish Identity Disputed?
All American Jewish movements (including the largest Orthodox rabbinical organization) and the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel have passed resolutions or issued rulings either accepting the remaining Jews as Jews or agreeing that they should be brought to Israel to undergo formal conversion.
This is in accordance with Jewish law and practice over millennia, during which Jews who converted under duress, or their descendants, sought to return to Judaism. Moreover, nearly one-million Russians were allowed to immigrate to Israel despite little connection to, or knowledge of, Judaism.
Currently, the Jews of Ethiopia live as steadfastly devoted Jews. They strictly observe Shabbat and holidays, keep kosher, and suffer discrimination by the non-Jewish majority. The Israeli government’s decision to bring the remaining Jews is officially based the humanitarian reason of family reunification. 70% of those still in Ethiopia have first-degree relatives – parents, siblings, or children — already in Israel from whom they have been separated for more than a decade. Some of these relatives have served in the IDF.
Periodically, the Ethiopian Jews in Israel demand that their families be brought on aliyah, but there is no effective political leverage to expedite this. In the 2019 Israeli elections, the Ethiopian Member of the Knesset was moved down the Likud party’s “list” and not returned to the Knesset.
How does anJie help the Jews of Ethiopia?
By (1) raising awareness of their plight and encouraging others to do likewise, (2) raising desperately needed funds, which donors send directly to 501(3)(c) tax-exempt organizations NACOEJ and/or SSEJ. These organizations have long experience in Ethiopia and collaborate with each other and with ANJIE. Since ANJIE does not have tax deductible status, it does not accept financial contributions other than (non-tax-deductible) contributions to help defray its expenses, such as this website.
Why Should We Care about the Jews of Ethiopia?
For thousands of years, during captivity, persecution, Inquisition, pogroms, poverty, and distress of all kinds, we, the Jewish people, have helped each other. We are one people, no matter where we live.
Beyond our religious obligation to help our fellow Jews, we share a “covenant of fate” throughout history as the descendants of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Now, it’s our turn — individually and collectively – to help our brethren in Ethiopia, especially when our family in Israel has not yet accepted its responsibility.
Why give to anJie (or NACOEJ/SSEJ) rather than other Jewish causes?
While there are innumerable Jewish (and other) causes worthy of financial support, few offer donors the opportunity to actually save Jewish lives and to feed malnourished Jewish children. To help when almost no one else is doing so.
How much money does it take to make a difference?
As our tradition teaches, “He who saves one life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.” [Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5] Many Jewish children and pregnant women in the communities are malnourished — some severely so. One meager meal — a roll, powdered egg, a small potato, a small banana — makes a difference. All donations, even in small amounts, are urgently needed. A donation of just $20 will feed a Jewish child for the entire summer program (two months of lunches at $.50 each).
How to Donate
Please click here.
What Else Can I Do?
Help us spread the word. Most North American Jews — including rabbis — are unaware that thousands of Jews languish in Ethiopia! Acquaint your religious leaders, your friends, and others with the plight of Jews in Ethiopia. Ask your local Federation why they fund all manner of Jewish programming, but ignore hungry Jewish children. Invite ANJIE to speak at your religious or civic organization. Don’t stand idly by!
For more information or to otherwise contact us, please click here.