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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 26, 2610 PAGE 17A Israel says the 8,000 Ethiopian immigrants may be the last By Uriel Heilman NEW YORK (JTA)--The decision last week by Israel's Ca.binet to bring as many as 8,000 additional Ethiopians to Israel over the next four years and then close the door on mass Ethiopian aliyah has a familiar ring to it. That's because it has hap- pened several times before. In 1991, 1998 and 2008, Israel declared an end to mass Ethiopian immigra- tion, only to reopen the gates after intense lobbying and pressure by advocates for Ethiopian aliyah. On Nov. 14, again af- ter dogged lobbying by advocates--including a former president of the North American Confer- ence on Ethiopian Jewry, or NAOEJ; a former Israeli Supreme Court justice; Is- rael's Sephardic chief rabbi; a former Canadian justice minister; and myriad other figures inside and outside the Israeli government-- the Israeli Cabinet again voted to expand Ethiopian aliyah. This time, however, it'll be different, promised one of the main advocates for the aliyah, Joseph Feit, the former president of NACOEJ. His New York-based organi- zation advocates for Ethio- pian aliyah and runs aid compounds in the Ethiopian city of Gondar that provide some food, schooling and jobs to the would-be im- migrants to Israel. "Everybody's working in cooperative mode," Feit said in an interview from Israel a day after the Israeli Cabinet voted to expand by as many as 7,846 the number of ad- ditional Ethiopians whowill be allowed to immigrate to Israel under special criteria established for the so-called Falash Mura--Ethiopians who claim links to descen- dants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago, but who now are returning to Jewish practice. What's different this time, Feit said, is that NACOEJ has agreed to withdraw from Ethiopia and cease all aliyah advocacy if the additional Ethiopians are brought to Israel in accordance with the government decision at the rate of 200 per month. Under the agreement, NACOEJ wil| turn over op- eration of its aid compounds in Ethiopia to the Jewish Agency for Israel three months after the aliyah be- gins, and NACOEJ will end all its activity in Ethiopia and aliyah advocacy once those among the 8,000 who meet Israel's criteria for aliyah are brought to the Jewish state. It's not the first time such an agreement has been reached. An identical deal was proposed in 2003 and signed in 2005, and since then thousands of Ethiopi- ans have been brought to Is- rael and been made citizens. NACOEJ did not cease its aliyah advocacy, however; Feit said it was because the 2005 agreement was never implemented. He said The Jewish Agency never took over the aid compounds, and the Israeli government dragged its feet on bringing the Ethiopians, stretching out the aliyah for years in fits and starts. In addition, Feit said, several thousand Ethiopi- ans who were supposed to be considered for aliyah were never included in the immigration. Adjusting for natural growth, those are the 8,000 or so Ethiopians currently in Gondar seeking to make aliyah, he said. "The numbers have not changed," Feit said. "These are the people left over after artificial caps." But a former Jewish Agency official who headed aliyah operations in Ethio- pia for.four years disputes that notion. Ori Konforti said the numbers are con- stantly changing in a ruse to keep Ethiopian aliyah going as long as possible. Rather than capping Ethiopian aliyah, the gov- ernment's decision last week actually sets a dangerous precedent by potentially opening the doors to even more Ethiopian immigra- tion because it dramatically eases the criteria Ethiopian petitioners must meet to qualify for Israeli citizen- ship, Konforti said. For the first time, an Israeli government will be allowing Ethiopians to ap- ply for aliyah who were not counted in the Efrati Census of 1999--a tally of would-be Ethiopian immigrants car- ried out by a former direc- tor of Israel's Population Registry, David Efrati. "It's a recipe for disas- ter," Konforti said. "Half of Ethiopia has relatives in Israel." Until now, any Ethiopian seeking to immigrate un- der the special criteria for Falash Mura had to be on the Efrati list. Now, how- ever, Ethiopian petitioners who were not on the list but have Jewish lineage on their mother's side will qualify for aliyah. Rabbi Menachem Wald- man, director of the Shvut Am Institute, which is involved with Ethiopian aliyah and preparing the immigrants for conversion to Judaism, said that inall likelihood no more than 6,500 additional Ethiopians will come to Israel as a re- sult of last week's decision. That number represents those who qualify for aliyah but were not counted on the Efrati Census because they were in rural villages where the census tally was imprecise. "We said all these years that there were a certain number that were not in the census," Waldman told JTA. He estimated the number of Falash Mura villagers who were not counted by the Efrati Census at about 5,000. The figure of 8,000, he said, includes those vil- lagers who migrated to Gon- Uriel Heilman This family in the Gojam region of thiopia, pictured in 2005, come from an area where there may be additional Falash Mura who were excluded from the Nov. 14 Israeli govern- ment decision to bring up to another 8,000 Ethiopians to Israel. dar between 2003 and 2007 and people from the Efrati Census whom the Israeli government mistakenly failed to verify for aliyah eli- gibility, plus natural growth due to births and marriages. "With this decision, I think the government went to the maximum," Efrati, who conducted the original census, told JTA last week. The 8,000 figure, he said, was the maximum number agreed upon by Ethiopian families in Israel, public fig- ures, advocacy groups, their American Jewish sponsors, the Israeli government and the Ethiopian government. That doesn't mean there aren't others in Ethiopia--a country of 88 million whose population believes it is the product of the offspring of an illicit union 3,000 years ago between King Solomon and the Queen of Shebamwho may be eligible to make aliyah, Waldman acknowledged. "In thevillages, not all the censuses were precise," Waldman said. "I think there are more in Gojam," a rural Ethiopian province. "But we took a decision in 2007 that we were closing the list at 8,700 to send a message to the Israeli government that we are advocating to bring only those who abandoned their homes, came to Gondar and are living as Jews. Someone who lives in his village and goes to church on Sunday morning and merely has Jewish iineage--I never advocated for him." Any Ethiopian who can prove eligibility for aliyah under the standards of the Law of Return--practically impossible for the Falash Mura--may immigrate to Israel regardless of this decision. The question at the heart of the dispute over the aliyah of the Falash Mura is how. many remain in Ethiopia, and therefore whether the aliyah will ever end. Opponents claim the number changes constantly because Ethiopians desper- ate to escape Africa's poverty for Israel's comforts are ma- nipulating the immigration system. Advocates claim the numbers have changed only due to natural growth and to earlier Israeli government mistakes in counting the Ethiopians. They say a combination of factors will help make sure that this time the Ethiopian aliyah ends for real: the Israeli government and the advocates agreed on a cap; to be eligible, would-peti- tioners had to have moved to Gondar by 2007, so new- comers cannot be added; the advocates have agreed to cede operations in Ethio- pia to The Jewish Agency, which will shut down the aid facilities and school once the eligible petitioners are brought to Israel; and the Ethiopian government does not want mass emigration to continue beyond these agreed-upon 8,000. "All the parties dealing with this subject for 20 years were active in reaching this consensus," Waldman said. "The list is closed." Former Angel Island refugee recalls journey to America By Dan Pine j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California While reading j. last July, Lotte Loebl Frank thought her heart might stop. Poring over a story about European Jewish refugees who made their way in 1940 to San Francisco's Angel Island, Frank found herself reading her own life story. Like those in the article, the Austrian-born Frank and her family escaped the Nazi noos e, making their way east th;'ough Russia, China and Japan. They, too, boarded the steam ship Rakuyo Maru, crossing the ocean to America and to freedom. But before freedom came Angel Island. "On Angel Island, we were treated nicely, but like pris- oners," says Fran'k. "They had wire gates there, and when we went for meals a guard went with us." Called the Ellis Island of the West, the Angel Island Immigrant Station served as a gateway for immigrants-- mostly Chinese, Russian, Lotte Loebl Frank Mexican and Japanese-- from 1910 until 1940, when a fire destroyed it. Today its legacy is tended by the nonprofit Angel Is- land Immigration Station Foundation. This year marks the immigration station's centennial. Foundation director Ed- die Wong, a historian and documentary filmmaker, is compiling information on scores of formerAngel Island internees, including 60 Jew- ish refugees like Frank. She and her family were interned there only a few weeks before being freed to launch a new life in San Francisco. "We went on this long journey to come here,, she says. "But believe me, it was worth it." Frank's story begins in Lackenbach, Austria, a few hours' drive from Vienna. Frank recalls a happy Or- thodox girlhood, during which the town's Jews got along with their non-Jewish neighbors. "My father [Ludwig Loebl] had a wonderful business," she remembers. "He was a professional tailor, and had several people working for him. In the back they had a factory and several people there." That all changed over- night following the Nazi invasion in 1938. Over the subsequent two years, the Loebl family, like all Austrian Jews, experi- enced a descent into hell, stripped of their livelihoods, citizenship, valuables and, for many, their lives. "Most of [the people] that worked for us all of a sudden came with Nazi uniforms," Frank recalls, "and knocked at our door and window and said in German, 'Jew, get out of here. I'm taking over now.' And they made us leave overnight." Suddenly homeless, the family (which included Frank's mother and sister) knew getting out of Europe was their only hope. With relatives in the United States, the familywas able to secure immigration papers. They made their way east by train through Russia to Harbin, China, and even- tually to the Japanese port city of Yokohama. "It was very, very hard," Frank says of the journey across the ocean. "It was almost four weeks. We slept on straw cots--men, women and children together on the floor." Once they arrived at Angel Island on Aug. 28, 1940, the Frank women were separated from Frank's father. Lotte still remembers the tables in the outdoor yard that were set up for meals. She also recalls that there were many other internees, mostly Chi- nese and Japanese, After a few weeks the He- brew Immigrant Aid Society stepped in to help the family, placing them with Jewish families in San Francisco. A few months later, they got an apartment of their own. In time, her father found work as a tailor at the Presidio military base. She attended high school. A few years later, her parents opened a dry cleaning store. "They worked uotil 10 at night," she says: "I was able to cook and bring them food. I walked with pots and pans in a bag, because we lived not too far from the store." The family prospered, buy- ing a house in the Sunset district. Unfortunately, all of their relatives back in Europe perished at the hands of the Nazis. After a few years at college, Frank got a job at Bond's Clothing Store in the credit department, then later had government jobs with the Army Corps of Engineers and the IRS. She met her husband, Alan Frank, on a blind date. The couple had three children and ran a grocery store in Mill Valley. They were members of Congregation Rodef Sholom for many decades. Eventually they sold their commercial property when, as Frank puts it, they "got an offer we couldn't refuse." Frank's husband died 13 years ago. She looks back on a life of good fortune, tempered by the sorrow of knowing how many of her fellow European Jews died so needlessly. But she's grateful to her adopted homeland, and even more grateful a long-forgot- ten immigration center on Angel Island was there to take her in. "Thank God I'm here in America," she says, "and was very fortunate to have my parents for a long time. We were very lucky to be a happy family." Dan Pine is a staff writer forj. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California from which this article is reprint- ed by permission.