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Exclusive: Vital Jewish health clinic re-opens in Gondar

From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
By Ruth Eglash
Nov. 27, 2009

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)-run health clinic in Gondar, which has remained closed since last May, officially re-opened its doors Thursday following a quarter-of-a-million dollar donation from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and an anonymous US donor, The Jerusalem Post was told Thursday.

According to a JDC spokeswoman, IFCJ founder and President Yehiel Eckstein provided a $125,000 grant for the clinic and his donation was matched by a donor from New York.

“We are very pleased that we are able to respond to the Israeli government’s request to re-open the clinic,” Steven Schweger, Chief Executive Officer of the JDC, told the Post. “We were able to do so due to funding from Rabbi Eckstein and an American Jewish donor.”

Earlier this month, the JDC announced that it was preparing to re-open the clinic, which had been providing basic medical and sometimes life-saving health services to thousands of Falash Mura (Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity centuries ago) waiting to immigrate to Israel.

While there were initial indications that the Israeli government would provide funding for the clinic, after they failed to materialize the JDC sought funding from private sources.

The re-opening of the Gondar clinic comes a week after Jewish Agency for Israel Executive Chairman Natan Sharansky told Jewish leaders in Philadelphia that he was in favor of bringing the remaining Ethiopian Jews to Israel if their Jewish ancestry could be proved.

It also follows some two years of contradictory decisions over continuing immigration from the East African country. In July 2007, it was announced that aliya from Ethiopia was almost over and in January 2008, the Interior Ministry recalled its staff from Gondar.

Protests from the local community, US Jewry and Israeli legislators, however, pointing out that thousands of Falash Mura were still eligible for immigration caused the government to rethink its decision and in September 2008 the Interior Ministry said its representatives would return to Ethiopia and continue checking the eligibility for aliya of some 3,000 people.

Less than a year later, however, the matter came under doubt again when a section of the 2009 Economic Arrangements Bill claimed that the overall aliya process for the Falash Mura community was too costly and suggested that previous government decisions be reversed. Under pressure from the pro-Falash Mura lobby, however, this section was dropped from the bill.

When the JDC clinic was closed last spring that also came under fire, with critics claiming that the Falash Mura, who are already learning Hebrew and various Jewish practices, had no alternative medical care.

Now, with the Gondar clinic re-opening, the Jewish Agency looking to increase its role in the area and Interior Minister Eli Yishai actively supportive, it seems that Ethiopian aliya is back on the agenda.