Posted by Judy K. Warner on September 13, 2013
The story in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger begins:
With a limited English vocabulary, Fitsum Anafu Tsema Molla has few ways of describing events of the first 38 years of his life. Oftentimes, “not good” serves as the perfect catchall.
Today, Fitsum sits in the quiet lobby of a West Hartford synagogue – where he is now a “regular ” – thousands of miles from anything resembling home, and communicates his harrowing life story, one “not good” at a time.
Headlined An Ethiopian refugee living in Hartford struggles to live a Jewish life, the piece recounts a tale of woe. The 38-year-old Fitsum was born just before a Marxist government took over Ethiopia and the Jews were targeted — 2,500 killed and 7,000 made homeless. Fitsum’s father was shot in 1978 and remained paralyzed and in a hospital until he died in 1993.
During the 1980s thousands of Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel in a covert operation. But Fitsum stayed with his father, as conditions for Jews got worse and worse. In 1997 he snuck into Kenya, where Jews are not liked. He was brutally attacked a number of times and carries scars all over his body from knife wounds.
Finally, Fitsum’s cries were heard and an alphabet soup of acronyms, representing a multi-course meal of refugee organizations, entered his life. The Refugee Consortium of Kenya learned of Fitsum’s plight and on Oct. 9, 2010, referred him to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a Jewish organization dedicated to rescuing and resettling imperiled refugees. At some point – when exactly is unclear – the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) officially designated Fitsum a refugee according to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and labeled him an assault victim in need of medical service….
With the UN’s blessing in hand, HIAS passed the case on to the U.S. Refugees Admission Program, which interviewed Fitsum in October 2010. Several months later, he was interviewed again, this time by U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, and approved as an immigrant. The State Department placed him with the Hartford branch of Catholic Charities, an organization that provides resettlement services for refugees from around the world.
There’s more to the story, but at this point my head began to spin. Fitsum was referred to HIAS and he ended up in the U.S.? He could have gone to Israel at any time in his life and be given entry as a Jew. Not only that, but his father was Israeli! Father was described as an engineer so he wasn’t an uneducated guy. He must have known his son stayed with him although he could have gone to Israel during the airlift. So why didn’t he say, “Son, when I’m gone, get yourself to Israel”? But since apparently the father didn’t think ahead for his son, why didn’t HIAS get him resettled in Israel?
Instead, Fitsum ended up with Catholic Charities in Hartford, Connecticut, which settled him in an apartment with a Muslim roommate who “objects to his Judaism.” He avoids being at home and sometimes rides a bus all night to avoid the situation. He couldn’t hold the jobs he got and believes he has medical problems that hamper his functioning. With all those beatings, he could be brain damaged, and from the description of him in the article it seems quite possible. If he were in Israel, he would be getting top-notch medical care, but here he is just one more pathetic refugee.
Fortunately, all is not hopeless.
Fitsum and Rabbi Pincus [from the Jewish Ledger, Connecticut edition, 9/11/13]
Fitsum finds respite from strife at Congregation Beth Israel, in West Hartford. When he asked Catholic Charities about access to a synagogue, they contacted Rabbi Michael Pincus, who spread open arms to a new congregant. … Beth Israel has been an almost-literal savior for Fitsum. He attends minyan there Monday through Thursday and visits for weekly Friday night services as well. As he tells it, Beth Israel is the only good thing he has going.
…. word of Fitsum’s plight has spread, and the Jewish community is rallying to action. Soon after meeting Fitsum, Pincus spoke to Bob Fishman, executive director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT). Fishman spoke with Gough at Catholic Charities, whom he says was very receptive to his concerns about Fitsum’s circumstances and happy to work with JFACT on solving Fitsum’s issues.
According to Fishman, Catholic Charities, which cannot comment publicly on the specifics of Fitsum’s case, will organize mediation between Fitsum and his roommates. They will also explore options for moving him from his current home and finding him a more suitable job, Fishman says.
Mediation? Are they nuts? What are they going to do, tell the roommate (or roommates; it’s unclear) that Jews aren’t really apes and pigs and they should be nice to Fitsum?
Then, in light of what I’ve said before, this takes the cake:
As Pincus, JFACT and Catholic Charities scurry to make his life more pleasant – or at least more bearable – Fitsum remains motivated by the most ingrained allegiance his father passed down: love for Israel.
“My father’s country is my country,” he says. “If I sacrifice, I sacrifice for Israel. I’m working for Israel.”
Three days before Anafu’s death, he passed on to his son an Israeli flag, and Fitsum has clung to it throughout the ensuing 20 years. Fitsum says Anafu spoke every day about Israel and dreamed every night about Jerusalem. He says, if possible, he would happily relocate one more time. The holy land would be a presumptive ultimate destination in his constant search for a place where his Judaism is accepted and celebrated. Fishman says he and Pincus are already working to make aliyah possible.
Somehow Fitsum kept an Israeli flag, and now talks of going there, but never thought of trying to get to Israel before, either from Ethiopia or from Kenya. Maybe he was too ignorant to know he could have gone there and been accepted, but why didn’t any of the agencies and bureaucrats whose hands he passed through think of that? Perhaps it’s ingrained dislike of Israel. Perhaps … I was trying to think of another reason, but I can’t. Nobody in the refugee business could be unaware that any Jew can settle in Israel. Let’s hope his Jewish helpers can get him to Israel, where he can have some kind of a life.