||Falasha is a term used negatively for Jewish Ethiopians by other Ethiopians. The Falasha call themselves House of Israel and claim descent from Menilek I, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. They remained faithful to Judaism after the Ethiopian kingdom was converted to Christianity in the 4th century AD. Persecuted by Christians, they settled in the area around Lake Tana in northern Ethiopia. Though ignorant of the Talmud, members adhered strictly to the Mosaic law and observed some festivals of Judaism. In 1975 the Israeli rabbinate affirmed that Falashas were Jews, and from 1980 to 1992 some 45,000 Falasha emigrated to Israel, leaving probably only a few thousand in Ethiopia.
Often called the “father of the Falashas”, Jacques Faitlovitch was a man who devoted his life to the cause of his “Black brethren” who lived in Abyssinia and who, indirectly, contributed to their immigration to Israel. Born in Lodz in 1881, he studied in Paris and specialized in Semitic languages, in particular with Joseph Halévy, professor of Geez at the Sorbonne. Under the influence of Halévy, his master who had already made a trip to the Falashas, he became impassioned with these distant Jews and left in 1904 to meet them, financed by the baron de Rothschild. Faitlovitch wrote his first report upon his return and left again in 1908, writing after that a detailed book. He went eleven times to visit the Falashas and brought back dozens of Falasha manuscripts, objects and books; he wrote reports which still remain a source of ethnographic information for researchers today. But more than all, Faitlovitch gave himself as a mission to “normalize” the Falashas’s pre-Rabbinic Judaism and endeavored to encourage a local élite by sending young boys to study in Europe and return to teach in the villages. Finally, he created pro-Falasha committees and mobilized the international community to encourage the immigration of this community towards what was then Palestine and later Israel. His dream was only realized 80 years after his first meeting with the Falashas, who began to emigrate en masse towards Israel at the beginning of the 1980’s and 1990’s.