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Reform Judaism and Ethiopian Jews

The organized Reform Jewish Movement has a long history of efforts to assist the Jews of Ethiopia, with resolutions going back to 1935. Person-to-person contact began in 1984, when Glenn Stein and Rusty Franks, both NFTY regional directors (from SWFTY and CAFTY respectively), traveled to Ethiopia to deliver prayer books, Jewish calendars, and shofars. Acting in coordination with Israeli officials, they provided money to Jews who were willing to risk the long and dangerous trek to the Sudan, the staging area for what would become Operation Moses, the airlifting of some 10,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel from November 1984 to January 1985.

Ten NFTY regions supported this effort with contributions of $300 each. Every participating region also provided one or more of their region's t-shirts, which were distributed to teens in Jewish villages of Gondar.

Also in 1984, NFTY established Project REAP (Reform Movement's Ethiopian Jewry Assistance Program); and Stein joined the staff of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) in Washington, D.C., where he coordinated the Movement's efforts on behalf of Ethiopian Jews.

In response to reports of increasing death and disease among the Ethiopian Jewish refugees in the Sudan, the RAC joined with other Jewish organizations to lobby Congress and the Administration to help bring about their rescue. The U.S. government responded by joining forces with Israel to launch Operation Moses.

In addition, the RAC raised funds from congregations to help Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan establish a tent-city for 20,000 Ethiopian non-Jews in the draught-ridden areas of Ethiopia, and to provide medical assistance to Jews in the Gondar region through Project REAP (in conjunction with SACOW - Surgical Aid to Children of the World). RAC director Rabbi David Saperstein then traveled to Ethiopia with Arizona Senator Dennis Deconcini to formalize an agreement with the Gondar School of Medical Science whereby REAP/SACOW health professionals would be sent to the region to provide care to both Jews and non-Jews.

In 1990, most of the remaining Ethiopian Jews were brought from their villages to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Stein, now director of Operations for the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ), helped to assist them in coordination with the Joint Distribution Committee, Israeli Embassy, the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, and the RAC (which provided medicines and a doctor). The RAC also joined in lobbying Congress and the Administration to bring about the rescue of the Jews remaining in Addis. In 1991, most were spirited out of Ethiopia in Operation Solomon.

In 1993, The American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ) closed its doors, believing its mission has been completed. Its Israel office became the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ). The RAC was given the AAEJ mailing list in order to continue raising funds for the absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. From 1994 to 1998, the RAC, through Project REAP, continued to raise funds for this purpose.

In 2001, Stein made aliyah to Israel and created Tech-Careers, a computer programming career training school for Ethiopian Jews at Kibbutz Nachshon. The program is based on Byte Back, a project Stein founded in Washington, D.C. The RAC serves as the program's fiscal sponsor in the United States.