The JTA has a new article on the tensions between the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel and the Falash Mura, descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity 100 years ago and who are now returning to Judaism and immigrating to Israel with the backing of the Rabbinut:
Rabbi Yosef Hadane, the [Shas-affiliated] chief rabbi for the Ethiopian Jews in Israel [and the first Ethiopian Jewish rabbi], said the controversy had mainly to do with confirming which of the new immigrants truly had Jewish roots.
“They want Jews to come, not non-Jews,” Hadane said.
He also said there were stark divisions between the communities when it came to religious practice. The veterans, for example, prefer to pray in the traditional Ethiopian language of prayer called Ge’ez while the Falash Mura pray in Hebrew. The Falash Mura will also often only eat food deemed kosher by the Chief Rabbinate while the veteran Ethiopians follow kashrut standards set by their elders.
The two communities, Hadane said, live fairly separate lives in Israel.
As the JTA notes, rumors about the nature of the Falash Mura continue to proliferate in the Ethiopian Jewish community:
Adding to the sense of alienation are rumors circulating in the veteran Ethiopian community that some Falash Mura return to Christianity once they are in Israel, even attending church services. Suspicions have been heightened by rumors that Christian missionaries who falsely converted to Judaism are among those immigrating.
I have been told by a well-placed source that at least some of these rumors can be documented, and I am waiting to see that documentation. But, it appears to me the root of some of this is the fear that Falash Mura will use up meager resources, and that Ethiopian Jews will be left even further behind.
And how far behind is the average Ethiopian Jew?
At an Ethiopian restaurant and bar a few blocks away [from Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market], veteran Ethiopians gather at the end of the day. Among them is a 23-year-old who calls himself Jimmy. He is bitter about his life, and says he does not understand why the country is contemplating bringing more Ethiopians here.
“We don’t feel like we are part of this society,” he said. “If the first and second immigration waves did not work, why should the third and fourth ones work?”
He works as a security guard, he says, “like every other Ethiopian you have ever met.” He then repeats a bit of immigrant humor, “They brought the Russians to clean the streets and the Ethiopians to guard the malls.”
Jimmy said he hopes to fly to Ethiopia in the next few months on a “trial visit” with a few other Ethiopian Israeli friends to see if, perhaps, their futures are there, instead of in the Jewish state.
And that says more about the quality of Israel's immigrant absorption than I could ever write.