New hope for the future
A long road for Ethiopian Jews
Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, “Give them up!” And to the south, “Do not hold them back.” Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth. Isaiah 43:5−6
Isaiah 43:5−6 prophesized the future of the House of Israel Jews who for centuries lived in the “south” in the Ethiopian Empire and Kingdom of Aksum. In the Scriptures the area is known as Cush. Then, in the late 20th century, the House of Israel made renewed contacts with other Jewish commu-nities, including the State of Israel. In 1977, Israel officially decided that the Israeli Law of Return applies also to the House of Israel Jews.
The first wave of Ethiopian Jews already settled in Palestine in the 1930s. The second wave followed (1961−1975) with small groups of mainly young men arriving to study in the country. Later, Prime Minister Menachem Begin obtained a ruling that Ethiopian Jews were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes. Two other major waves followed: the third wave in 1975−1990 and the most well-known, Operation Solomon, came in 1991 as part of the fourth wave.
To remove any doubts as to their Jewish status, they were required to undergo an official Jewish conversion upon arrival in Israel.
For decades the Ethiopian community has struggled to make their life in Israel. As they arrived from poor farming areas of Ethiopia, succeeding in the advanced and developed economy of Israel seemed almost impossible. Illiteracy was common (estimated to be 90% among adults) and only a few had any useful training or even knowledge of modern ways of life, such as use of electricity. Learning Hebrew was a difficult task. As a result, high unemployment, drugs and crime became widespread in their communities.
On our visits to Israel since the 1990s, I observed their life in absorption centers and schools. I saw very little if any progress but we continued assisting them. This June 2016 visit to Bnei Brak changed my views. Along with CFI’s International Leadership team I visited an Ethiopian family center, and also a large family. Finally I saw some of the results of years of hard work. With financial help from CFI, Rachel, an Israeli lawyer and social worker, rented a small room for the Ethiopian children’s after-school class.
From the modest beginning years ago, her work has expanded to assist entire families in a larger and recently renovated center called Beit B’Pardes (House in Pardes). Today bright young students in the center have a good command of the Hebrew and English languages. They are also learning computer skills at six new work stations and making good grades in school. Their parents are advancing in Hebrew as well. The long road from Cush to the land of their fathers has ended. Like other Israelis, Ethiopian Jews are becoming productive citizens of the Jewish state. Most of these families are poor, but there is now a new hope for their future. With your prayers and gifts, we continue supporting them.
From Shepherd to IDF soldier
Many Ethiopian men don’t make it in the Israeli military service. However, there are also success stories such as the life of Mekonen Abede. Through his remarkable dedication to the Jewish state and the support of his Israeli community, Abede overcame extreme financial and family challenges to become a paratrooper and officer in the Israel Defense Forces. An inspiring film of his life, “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew,” was released this spring.
From Ethiopia to Knesset
Shlomo Mula was the second Jew from Ethiopia to become a member of the Knesset, serving from 2008 to 2013. Years earlier, he crossed the hot and dry desert, facing immense danger in order to move to Israel. Because of his Zionist ideology, he dreamed of arriving in the Jewish homeland.
First Ethiopian-born ambassador
At the age of 16, Belaynesh Zevadia arrived in Israel in 1984 on a Jewish Agency Scholarship to study at the Hebrew University. Twenty-eight years later (2012), she was appointed to Addis Ababa as the first Ethiopian-born Israeli ambassador. Zevadia’s appointment proves that Israel gives opportunities to all, veteran citizens as well as new immigrants. It also helps to heal the rejection that many Ethiopians feel in Israel.
─ Hannele Pardain
We are here to stay!
Archway in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem On June 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about his opposition to a return to the pre-1967 division of Jerusalem as a base for a future peace deal. He stated,
“Our roots are deeper than any other nation’s including the Temple Mount. Jerusalem was ours, is ours and will remain ours. Israel does not need to make excuses for its presence in Jerusalem any more than Greeks need to excuse their presence in Athens.”
“We remember Jerusalem up until the 1967 Six-Day War,” when the city was split, with Israelis excluded from the Old City and its eastern neighborhoods. “We certainly do not want to return to that situation. I believe the Six-Day War clarified to our enemies that we are here to stay,” he added.
The Prime Minister also lashed out at the UNESCO resolution from April that omitted the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem generally. The resolution accused Israel of “planting fake Jewish graves in Muslim cemeteries and of the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into so-called Jewish ritual baths or prayer places.” “These historical distortions are reserved solely for Jews,” said Netanyahu. On June 5, Israel celebrated 49th Jerusalem Day for the reunification of the city since 1967. (References: IND Weekly by Lonnie Mings and online posts.)