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No promised land for Jews.

Since the late 1970s, nearly 30,000 Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel. Last May, the Israeli army airlifted more than 14,500 Ethiopian Jews from Ethiopia to Israel--the largest exodus ever from that African nation.

The mission called Operation Solomon helped the newcomers flee a country embroiled in civil unrest. However, they quickly discovered that moving to Israel came with its own set of problems. What had originally been thought of as a "trip to the promised land," had been hampered by unemployment, racism and pressure to assimilate into Israeli society.

The transition from living in a majority-black nation to a majority-white nation has been wrought with rough spots. "In the beginning, it was very difficult because we never felt we were different," says Ruth Yona, who immigrated to Israel in the late 1970s. "Everybody wants to touch your hair and skin to see how it feels."

Ethiopian immigrants complain that they've been the target of rock throwing by Soviet immigrants at Jerusalem's Shalom Hotel. Observers say racism and the misguided notion that Ethiopian Jews receive preferential treatment triggers the resentment.

The country's unemployment rate--expected to climb as high as 18% this year--has added frustration. Many younger Ethiopians have been forced to abandon their fields of study. "They always say I don't have enough experience," says real estate clerk Chaim Getahun, who has been looking for a job in computer science for five years.

Israeli officials report that all but 5% of the pre-Solomon Ethiopians are employed, but prospects for the newest immigrants are not good. Officials also estimate that there are only 10 Ethiopian-owned businesses in Israel. Most are small operations that employ few workers. Yona owns one of only two black beauty parlors in the country. Returning to Israel in April 1990, after spending nine years in Canada, she opened her shop in Tel Aviv in August 1990 with renewed hope.

"We Ethiopians come here without a cent," says Yona. "But we will survive."
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Title Annotation:Ethiopian Jews
Author:Dent, David
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:327
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