As they reached the tarmac most of them fell on their knees and kissed the ground. Again I had to conceal a tear dropping along my cheek.
The flight Addis – TLV literally crosses the entire length of the Red sea so that the thoughts about the biblical exodus are rather inescapable. If the parting of the Red sea was ever a difficult task imagine what it means to cross the realities of rural Gondar region (where the Falashmura came from) into Israel of the 21st century in just four hours time.
How come this lost tribe kept its faith, celebrated Shabbath, sang lullabies about Jerusalem to its tiny children? Where from did they derive the obstinate determination to defy the Kings, the missionaries, the alien neighbors – all trying to assimilate them – while being totally cut off from the rest of us which they did not even guess did exist. Why did 4000 of the Beta Israel sacrifice their lives (1978-1984) wandering the Sudan desert in quest for Jerusalem? How come they sent every morning their children on a treacherous mountain trail for a three hours walk in each direction en-route to the Jewish Day School?
Last week I again stood in front of the school in Ambover (by now taken over by non Jewish residents) and I found no answers. The lack of answers only increased my admiration, and the admiration grew even more on Wednesday morning when we joined the Shacharit prayer in the synagogue at the Gondar compound. Over six-hundred men and women all wrapped in Talitot followed intensely the young chazanim, stood on their feet for the Amidah and pierced our hearts when repeating the Shma Israel. Just one hour later we stood in the schoolyard where hundreds of Falashmura kids started their morning with the singing of Hatikwah terribly off-tune, but nevertheless the words Li'hiot Am Chofshi Be'arzeinu, Eretz Zion Jerushalaim, took on their deepest possible meaning as they resounded over the courtyard.
We are coming close to the end of a chapter in the history of Ethiopian Jewry. There are still 1425 Falashmura who have been cleared for Aliah and they all will arrive in Israel before July 2008. The Jewish Agency has been involved in Ethiopia from the first hour. For over twenty years we have been sending the Jews to their promised land. They waited for generations for this moment to come – quietly, with endless patience, with an unparalleled dignity, with the capacity to endure hardships we will never have, with their remarkable innocence which makes integration in Israel so much more difficult!
For the last 4 years Ori Konforti has been leading the JAFI team in Ethiopia. Every single week he was in charge of one of the most exciting night visions in Addis: Out of the darkness the Olim arrive in their white gowns, carrying their belongings to the truck waiting by the wayside. Silently they bid farewell to family relatives which are left behind. Parents kiss good-bye their children hoping to reunite, hopefully soon. For many of them it is the moment they have been waiting for 7-9 years! Security forces around are watching every move.
Around mid-night the convoy starts driving to the Airport. To all of them it's their first flight ever. Once at the airport they have to negotiate the metal detectors, who will never detect the steely resolve of these people to reach Jerusalem.
When the boarding sign lights up, Ori is leading the Olim to the gate and waves good bye, five hours later the staff of JAFI at BGN will welcome the group and usher them thru the first steps at their homeland. If I said that one chapter is nearly closed I must add that the biggest challenge is still ahead of us: the absorption. The challenge of integration is more demanding than we wish to think. It is complex, long-term, and it demands the caring and compassion we rather save for shorter spans of life. It is here where we will be judged by future generations.
We are not allowed to fail them, we cannot fail them, and we will not fail them- with your help!
It is thanks to Sylvia, Albert, Tsirah, Ishay and Meirah who insisted on visiting Ethiopia, that I was privileged to travel again and witness this modern time exodus, My gratitude to them is hereby repeated.
Jacob (Yankele) Snir
Director for Europe, Keren Hayesod
"The Jewish Agency has been involved in Ethiopia from the first hour. For over twenty years we
have been sending the Jews to their promised land." With your help, the Jewish Agency can continue to assist Ethiopian Jews in their absorption process, giving them an opportunity to build a satisfying and successful life in Israel. To learn more about how you can help, click here.
*Only low resolution photos available.