Ethiopian Immigrants Not Being Prepared for New Life in Israel

Plans for preparing immigrants for move while in Addis Ababa camps are not being implemented.

Amiram Barkat
Haaretz Correspondent in Ethiopia
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Amiram Barkat
Haaretz Correspondent in Ethiopia

GONDAR, Ethiopia - Officials involved in the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel have accused the state of creating "an entire generation of parasites" by not investing sufficient resources in preparing the immigrants for life in Israel.

Officials from the Jewish Agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other organizations strongly believe that if the potential immigrants were given professional training while waiting for their applications to be approved, this would significantly improve their absorption into Israeli society. However, the officials said, the government has refused to allocate resources to this end.

After an eight-year wait at a transit camp in Gondar, in northeast Ethiopia, Kanau and Haymanut Gubau were informed this week that their immigration applications had been approved. Two days later, the couple and their four children reported to the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa and began the process of preparing to immigrate.

Jewish Agency officials gave them a crash course in basic Israeli life, explaining to the couple that food in Israel is customarily cooked inside and not in the yard, and showing them how to use an electric stove and a toilet. Over and above this, however, the couple was not told a thing about what awaits them in their new country. Gubau, who was on his way to Israel to join his parents, who immigrated about three years ago, told Haaretz that he did not even known where in Israel his parents live.

Immigration absorption officials claim that the numerous difficulties that face Ethiopian immigrants stem from the move from a Third World country to a Western state. A review conducted by Haaretz revealed that detailed plans for preparing the immigrants for their move do exist, but are not being implemented.

Yehudit Eyal of Kibbutz Nir David arrived in Gondar a month ago to teach Hebrew to Falashmura children. Her trip to Ethiopia was funded by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry ?(NACOEJ?), which operates a school in Gondar that caters to 1,800 students.

Before class, the children sing Hatikva and recite the morning prayers; their classrooms are decorated with Israeli and Ethiopian flags, and their curriculum includes lessons in Judaism and Hebrew. Eyal was astounded to discover, however, that most of the Hebrew teachers do not know Hebrew themselves.

"I did what I could to improve the situation, but one can only do a very little in a month," she said.

Rabbi Menachem Waldman, who is responsible for the spiritual absorption of the Ethiopian immigrants and has close ties with NACOEJ, said that children who studied basic Hebrew in Ethiopia adjusted better in Israel than those who did not study Hebrew at all. He admitted, however, that the level of Hebrew studies at the school was very low, and that all his requests for assistance from the Education Ministry and the Jewish Agency had been turned down.

Shlomo Mula, the director of the Jewish Agency's department for the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants, said that the lack of professional training in Ethiopia was one of the main reasons why some 80 percent of the adult immigrants from Ethiopia are unable to find employment in Israel and are forced to live off National Insurance Institute welfare payments.

According to Mula, "while they are still in Ethiopia, the immigrants believe that they are going to the land of milk and honey and that they won't have to work. We are not doing a thing to alter this perception, and thus, by our own hands, we are creating a generation of parasites. These people are sitting around and doing nothing for three years, when at just a small cost, they could be prepared for life in Israel and told about pay slips, the minimum wage and checks and credit cards. They could be trained for manual labor professions such as gardening and agriculture."



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