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30 Years of Aliyah From Ethiopia

30 Years of Aliyah From Ethiopia

By law, all Israelis over 16 years old are required to carry their ID card around, anytime, anywhere. The card is smaller than a passport. It has a blue plastic cover, embossed with a menorah, and the words "Ministry of Interior" and "Identity Card."

I am a tough cookie by nature. I don’t tear up easily. But one of the things that chokes me up every time is seeing olim (Jewish immigrants) from Ethiopia getting their new ID cards after a hard-fought legal battle for Israeli citizenship.

Fortunately, I have had many opportunities for happy tears since the Israel Religious Action Center opened the doors of its Legal Aid Center for Olim (LACO) in 1992. This was shortly after Operation Solomon, a covert Israeli military operation to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991, and immediately we filled a void, dealing with the numerous legal problems that olim from Ethiopia were up against.

In the '90s, we were the expert organization in helping olim correct the countless registration errors that resulted from the Interior Ministry's bureaucratic obstinacy and lack of familiarity with Ethiopia's different calendar and registration procedures. LACO also helped many olim sue for damages after being exploited by ruthless real estate agents in their quest for permanent housing.

Over the years, the problems have changed. When the Falash Mura (descendants of Jews, who require conversion to be recognized as Jews) arrived, single mothers needed our legal assistance to be able to have their children converted without the presence of a father (Israeli law requires the consent of both parents or a court order for the conversion of a minor).

Today, we mostly work on humanitarian cases and family reunifications. Among the hundreds of families we helped reunite with children and parents who were left behind are many children from previous marriages, who remained alone in Ethiopia after the death of the former spouse. We also helped dozens of women and their Israeli-born children, who were threatened with deportation after leaving abusive Israeli husbands.

Remember our client Aipokoro Molato, who, just a few months ago, was wrongfully imprisoned and threatened with immediate deportation to Ethiopia, without being informed of his right to stay in Israel because his children served the IDF? The (very) good news is that he received his Israeli ID card last week; the bad news is that I doubt Aipokoro would have been imprisoned if he were white.

As Israel marks 30 years of aliyah from Ethiopia this week, it needs to acknowledge the inequalities faced by black olim. The government has just announced a final-final-aliyah of the remaining 9,000 Falash Mura from Addis Ababa. Hopefully lessons were learned and this newest wave of olim will find a more welcoming, cooperating, Ministry of Interior. However, if they don’t, we will be there, prepared with our motivated and skilled staff, headed by Attorney Nicole Maor, to give them a hand.

And I will be there, prepared with my handkerchief, for the moment they receive their new ID card.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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