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Ofra Immigrants

July 19, 1998

Your very interesting article (July 9) on the Ethiopians being absorbed in the settlement community of Ofra on the West Bank might unintentionally offend many of the immigrants, by referring to them as "Christians" and implying that they can trace their Jewish ancestry to nothing nearer than the "lost tribe."

These immigrants, it is true, come from Jewish families that made pro forma conversions to Christianity under severe pressure, usually to obtain farmland, which was denied to Jews under Haile Selassie's government (which ended only in 1974). However, few of these converts became practicing Christians; indeed, they continued to call themselves "Beta Israel" (House of Israel), like the normative Jewish community in Ethiopia.

Further, most of the Ofra immigrants (usually called Feles Mura to distinguish them from normative Ethiopian Jews) began their process of returning to Judaism long before they reached Israel. In the Addis Ababa compound run for them by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry they learned and practiced traditional observant Judaism. By the time they reach Israel, and conclude their Return to Judaism courses, most are familiar with Kashrut, the observance of the Sabbath and holidays, the laws of family purity, synagogue ritual, etc.

RICHARD A. GIESBERG

President, NACOEJ

Los Angeles

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