operation moses

It is with a bit of a struggle that I have tried to put this post together, but I wanted to try to write it sooner than later.  Throughout my blog, I have mentioned time and time again how the families that we are working with have endured a very long, difficult road in order to get where they are today. 

Most of these personal stories are untold, and I think that has made it hard for the outside community to truly understand what the Ethiopian-Israelis have gone through.  We have had the opportunity to listen to bits and pieces of peoples’ stories of their travels to Israel. I hope through this post it will become a little clearer as to why the Ethiopian Jewish community is so special, as well as shed light on why their stories don’t necessarily define who they are, but rather reinforce their strength and courage as a people. 

While we were in Rishon Le’zion this past weekend, we heard Samuel’s (name changed for privacy purposes) personal story.  Samuel lived a fine and happy life as a young kid growing up in Ethiopia.  Like many Jewish families in Ethiopia, his family lived in a remote village with no electricity or running water.  His whole life he was told of a wonderful place the Jews in Ethiopia had only dreamed of – the dream of one day living in Jerusalem. 

In order to make this dream a reality, during the year of 1984, Samuel and 52 of his family members began a 10-month journey to Israel. This journey, deemed Operation Moses, was the long trek from Ethiopia, through to Sudan and then secretly airlifted by the Israeli government and Mossad up through Europe and back down to Israel.  

These operations and journeys are not what most would consider a “typical” immigration. Hundreds of Ethiopian Jewish families picked up what they could, grabbed their horse and stock and walked, and walked and walked thousands of miles through the desert for days and nights on end.

As they traveled through the desert, the days became longer and the heat became hotter. Due to the danger of the treks, the families were extremely vulnerable to robbery and kept much of their walking for the night.  Samuel’s family sewed their money to the inside of the children’s clothing so when they encountered bandits, their money would be safe.  

There was a tremendous amount of disease and morbidity during these treks and it took the lives of many people – some due to heat exhaustion or malnourishment, some due to getting lost and never returning to camp or others who lost the strength to go any further.  By the time Samuel’s group reached Israel, they had lost three family members along the way, bringing their group down to 49 people.  It is commanded in Jewish law to give Jews a proper burial, but during the treks it reached a point where so many people were dying that their family members had to bury their bodies anywhere they could find.
Due to this, many Ethiopians are still mourning to this day. They may not know what happened to their family, they may not know how they died or where or if they are even buried. At the time, all they knew is that they needed to keep going to make it to Israel.

Samuel's family arrived to Israel approximately 10 months after beginning their journey.  They built their lives and Samuel went on to graduate high school, and then join the Israeli Defense Force as a paratrooper.  In 1991, he was asked to be part of Operation Solomon and helped to airlift thousands more Ethiopian Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.  Since the late 1970’s, these treks and various national operations have brought approximately 100,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.  Samuel's story is just one of many, and he is an incredible example of the strength and courage of the Ethiopian people. 

As you can imagine, this community is having a very hard time immersing into the many facets of Israeli society.  I’ve come to realize though that it is the roots of this community that hold them together, and without knowing and accepting those roots, it seems it will be very hard to move forward.  These stories need to be told and this community needs to be heard.  I know it will take time, but I also know that in order for us to understand more, we need to hear more.

When I was accepted to the Yahel Social Change Program I had some sort of idea of the kind of work I was going to be doing or people I would be meeting, but as I stated in one of my previous posts, this trip has become much more than that.  Over the past few weeks, I have been attempting to find the place where my expectations of the program meet my actual experience here in Gedera.  Throughout my time here, I am trying to see the world through the eyes of our Ethiopian counterparts - the special people with whom we our connected to this community.  Besides the volunteering that I am doing and the relationships that I am building, I feel I am responsible for much more.  So I will be using this blog to not only document my experiences, but also to shed light on the history, issues and feats within this community.  As time goes on, I hope to share some more personal stories as well as the issues that we are learning about along the way.  If you ever have any questions or comments about anything I write, please, please ask me.  I want this blog to act as an on-going conversation…

taken from my first experience at mercaz klitah merchaviya (an ethiopian absorption center in merchaviya, israel) in 2007

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