Civil unrest is roiling Ethiopia. Hundreds of protesters have been killed in recent months by a government crackdown that human rights groups say has been ruthless. The United Nations is demanding that its observers be allowed in the country, but Ethiopia’s rulers have refused.
And 9,000 men, women and children who say they are Jews are trapped in transit camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa because the Israeli government does not have the funding, the bureaucratic nimbleness, the political will or the heart to answer their pleas and bring them to Israel.
The government has its reasons — in fairness, I’ll get to them in a moment — but first I have to ask: If civil unrest were roiling European cities, would Israel hesitate to answer the pleas of Jews in Paris or Brussels or Rome? Of course not. And American Jewry would not be silent.
We are all complicit in ignoring the plight of Jews who don’t look like us, or pray and eat like us, or practice the kind of Judaism with which we identify. To expand the boundaries of one’s tribe challenges human nature. But Judaism and, later, Zionism, have made us responsible for all Jews, and when it comes to people like Demoz Deboch and Gezahegn Derebe, we are failing.
I met the two Ethiopians a few weeks ago, at the beginning of their tour of the United States to raise awareness of their situation; the tour was organized by David Elcott, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, and funded by an ad hoc group of rabbis and leaders.
In their early 20s, wearing finely knitted yarmulkes, Deboch and Derebe speak passable English and fluent Hebrew, and with Elcott’s help they relayed a common story. It’s a story of being left behind.
For 25 years, ever since
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