U.S. Christians paid for summer airlift of Ethiopian JewsBy Catherine Cohen , Ha'aretz
Television evangelists helped inspire American Christians to give over $20 million for Jewish immigration to Israel, part of which paid for the recent airlift of Jews from Ethiopia. The Kuwara aliyah of this summer was financed by a $2 million donation from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), a Chicago-based organization that raises funds among the 68 million-strong evangelist Christian community in the United States.
The IFCJ began its campaign among Christian Americans five years ago with an 'infomercial' calling on Christians to sponsor immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union. The promotion starred evangelist singer/actor Pat Boone and was broadcast on cable television. "We wanted to give Christians a vehicle through which to demonstrate their support for Israel and the Jewish people," said IFCJ founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. "They feel remorse for the Holocaust and want to oppose anti-Semitism."
The IFCJ has produced three infomercials so far, featuring leading Christian figures like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Chuck Coleson and Jack Hayford and a 1-800 number to which donors can make a pledge. Inspired by the words of American Christian leaders like Falwell, who told viewers: "I think of the words of Jesus when I think of Rabbi Eckstein. Blessed are the peacemakers," and Pat Roberston who said: "I will urge everyone who is watching this program to participate in the fulfillment of the words of scripture," the IFCJ has raised about $20 million since 1994, and has about 150,000 donors.
According to Eckstein, while the average infomercial in the United States elicits $30 to $35 from each donor, the average donation from the IFCJ clip is $132. "These are not wealthy people making large donations, but lower and middle class people giving sacrificially."
American donor Fay Dupont claims that she donated after watching the clip. "God spoke to my heart. He said: 'let my people go.'" Fellow donor Jerry Reynolds said that he contributed because he believes in God, the prophets and the scriptures and that helping the Jews get out of Russia was "one of the greatest things he ever saw."
In addition to assisting Jews from the former Soviet Union, the Christian community in the United States paid for the 1,500 Jews of Kuwara to emigrate from Ethiopia to Israel. The IFCJ raised some $2 million in just five months. Eckstein says: "I read about the Jews of Kuwara and wondered why the state was not bringing them to Israel. I spoke to officials at the United Jewish Appeal and the Jewish Agency and they told me that there wasn't enough money to bring them. I said: 'Tell me what it takes.'"
In addition to raising money for Russian immigration, this year, the IFCJ will focus on raising $5-10 million among Christians in America to help with the Ethiopian absorption in Israel, in matters ranging from education and job placement to housing and crisis services. "Israel has to start dealing with the Ethiopian community," said Eckstein. "It's a time bomb waiting to explode."
The Kuwara Jews are apparently unaware that the Christian community in American financed their immigration. Amara Eyov, head of the Kuwara community in Israel, who made aliyah in August and now lives in Kiryat Yam, knows only that the money came from one man, Rabbi Eckstein. "I thank him," he said. "And I am waiting for Israel to bring the other 100 families."
Asfaw Getane is one of 3,500 Ethiopians who immigrated in 1994, leaving his family behind in Ethiopia. He has spent many sleepless nights waiting for his relatives to emigrate since then. "The man who brought us here is like God," he said. "It was very difficult to wait. We were alone here for seven years. We tried to bring our families but we didn't manage. This man helped us. Finally, I can sleep.