More than 100,000 Ethiopian olim are now living in Israel - a large number of olim who meet very few "zabarim" (native Israelis). They face tremendous absorption problems, much greater than any other group of olim. Things that seem obvious to the rest of us are an enigma for them.
The lack of contact with zabarim creates prejudice, the poor integration - hardship. A social-cultural vicious circle is generated, the outcome of which is published in the newspaper headlines.
In an effort to change this state of affairs, we have decided to embark on a public campaign aimed at emphasizing the need to accept "others", that is to provide the opportunity and assistance required to bring about success. The campaign will be a call for action by the public, asking them to actively volunteer instead of simply passively accepting the olim.
Background - facts and figures
The Ethiopian community in Israel numbers 110,000 persons. 23,000 of these are zabarim, born in Israel, and they account for 30% of the community. 41% are children below the age of 15, half the community is less than 19 years of age, due to the high birthrate among Ethiopian women.
The Ethiopian olim are spread among 60 communities throughout the country, with 36% in the center, 27% in the south and 18% in the north of the country. The vast majority of the Ethiopian olim (94%) live in urban areas - Netanya, Rehovot, Haifa and Krayot, Hadera, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheva.
Operation Moses - In 1985 the government of Israel conducted a campaign to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel - this was "Operation Moses". Hostility on the part of the Ethiopian government forced the organizers to keep the operation a close secret, in which context thousands of Jews arrived in Israel. Israel's Chief Rabbinate refused to accept the "Falashim" as halachically authentic Jews, demanding that all the olim undergo a thorough conversion process. Following a struggle by the olim, it was agreed that they would only have to immerse in a ritual bath (mikve). However, the Ethiopian olim fiercely objected to this ceremony as well. The two sides eventually agreed to establish committees to review each case individually.
Operation Solomon - In the summer of 1991, during the final days of the Mengistu regime, 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel within the framework of Operation Moses. The Operation was organized by the IDF, under the command of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Gen. Amnon Shachak, and was received enthusiastically and with considerable satisfaction in Israel and worldwide. However, the olim faced severe housing and social problems as well as the difficulty of social integration.
The Ethiopian olim still suffer from numerous problems: a lack of integration, prejudice, inferior socio-economic status and more. Severe cases of this kind have recently appeared in the press.
The public campaign
In an effort to improve the situation, we have decided to launch an extensive public campaign aimed at shattering the stereotyped image of the Ethiopian olim, at improving their image and proving that the community's second and third generation can become an integral part of Israeli society if we just give them a chance.
We intend to highlight the success stories of those who have successfully integrated in Israeli society, and to call upon Israelis to help them become fully absorbed.
The campaign will present five cases of Ethiopian olim who have successfully integrated in Israeli society: Baruch Dego - a well-known soccer player, an IDF deputy battalion commander, a doctor, a university lecturer, an attorney, and more. The films will present these figures as an integral part of the Israeli landscape.
Their narratives will avoid commenting on their absorption, thanks to Israeli society and mention of their aliyah from Ethiopia. Such issues usually signify their "separateness" whereas we wish to convey a message of natural integration.
The general framework will be defined as 30 years of Ethiopian aliyah - since the ministerial committee's decision on this subject - that is, the olim are here and they should therefore already form part of Israeli society.
The campaign will include a "call for action" in several areas of voluntary activity - specific voluntary assignments (coaching, legal advice, etc.), native Israeli families assigned to assist families of olim, organizations (industrial plants, army units) will "adopt" an absorption center in their community thus generating contact between different cultural groups.
The campaign will seek to exploit the holiday period which is well-known for promoting open-mindedness and tolerance and will include the clips, PR and media activity as well as a call center for volunteers seeking to organize a variety of activities to bring olim and veteran Israelis together.
At the same time, we will conduct a media campaign in Amharic to increase community pride, calling on people to participate in the "Babayit Beyahad" (At home - Together) initiative.
The campaign will be organized by the Jewish Agency under the auspices of the "Babayit Beyahad" project, in conjunction with the Ministry of Absorption. We also intend to involve the education system in the activities.