Rabbi Abie Ingber, director of the Office of Interfaith Community Engagement, and Art Shriberg, professor of management and entrepreneurship, are traveling from Saturday, Jan. 28, to Friday, Feb. 3, on a mission trip to help one of the last groups of Falash Mura Jews emigrate from Ethiopa to their homeland in Israel.
The Falash Mura people are Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity under social pressure. They have returned to Judaism and seek to emigrate to their homeland. After arriving in Israel, they are processed as Israeli citizens and moved to absorption centers. They have two years to learn Hebrew, study Judaism, and acclimate in their new culture. Eventually, each will receive financial assistance buying a home.
"We want them to come to Israel and become part of us," said Yosef Hadane, the Ethiopian community's chief rabbi who helps verify which of the Falash Mura people actually have Jewish roots.
The immigration is not without controversy. Some question if the Ethiopians are genuinely returning to their faith or simply see Israel as a place where they can escape famine and poverty in Ethiopia.
While in Israel, Ingber and Shriberg are meeting with Israeli entrepreneurs and business leaders to develop a summer course initiative for the Williams College of Business. Ingber will also meet with leaders in the Druse community to add an interfaith dimension to the usual mix of academic offerings.
“I am honored to witness firsthand the historic rescue of the last members of the Ethiopian diaspora community which dates itself to the Queen of Sheba,” Ingber said. “I teach Hebrew scriptures and raise up our Xavier students to be schooled in interfaith issues and social justice. Little did I think I would see these diverse elements collide on the African continent. Not only will we see the village in which these Falash Mura live and the schools that teach their children, but we will accompany them on their flight to Tel Aviv and welcome them ‘home’ to Israel.”
Ingber and Shriberg will also visit an absorption center where they will discuss solutions to some of the difficulties facing these new immigrants in Israel.