Ben Gurion Airport, Israel – When 63 people from Ethiopia arrived in Israel on October 9, their arrival marked the beginning of an effort by The Jewish Agency to reunite families of Ethiopian Jews. This effort is expected to bring some 9,000 family members of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel by 2020.
The history of Ethiopian Jews immigrating to Israel is a point of pride for the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel.
The two most famous airlifts from Ethiopia to Israel – Operation Moses (19841985)
and Operation Solomon (1991) – are widely regarded as epitomizing both Israel’s importance as a place of refuge and its commitment to protecting
Jews around the world.
With this new effort to reunite the families of Ethiopian Olim in Israel, The Jewish Agency for Israel aims not only to help facilitate their transportation to the country, but also to help them transition to life in their new home.
Decades of Providing Assistance
The Jewish Agency has been engaged with the Jews of Ethiopia since the early years of the State of Israel. It sent its first shaliach (emissary) to Ethiopia in 1953. By the mid1960s, roughly 27 young Ethiopian Jews had traveled to Israel for training and then returned to Ethiopia to serve as shlichim and teachers. The Jewish Agency also established clinics in Ethiopia during those years.
That all changed when Mengistu Haile Mariam seized power in 1977 and began ruling as a dictator. Aliyah was forbidden – and suddenly, it was more urgent than ever. Lacking any alternatives, many Jews made the journey from Ethiopia to Israel on foot.
In response to the situation in Ethiopia, the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency began assisting in clandestine Aliyah, with the IDF and the Mossad joining in this effort. In the early 1980s, a famine pushed thousands of Ethiopian Jews to flee across the border into Sudan, where they settled in refugee camps facing harsh conditions. In response, Operation Moses was launched, secretly bringing over 6,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
By 1991, Ethiopia had a new government, which had diplomatic relations with Israel. This new situation enabled Israel to facilitate another largescale Aliyah operation, this time in coordination with the Ethiopian government. In the rapid Operation Solomon, starting on May 24, 1991 and ending the following day, El Al planes transported
some 14,000 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.
After Operation Solomon, the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency continued to facilitate the Aliyah of Jews from Ethiopia. The story of largescale Ethiopian Aliyah appeared to end in 2013, as what was supposed to be the final Aliyah flight from Ethiopia landed in Israel. But late last year, the Israeli government decided to support the reuniting of Ethiopian families in Israel, aiming to bring some 9,000 family members of Ethiopian Olim to Israel by 2020.
The Jewish Agency is taking an active role in assisting the new arrivals from Ethiopia before, during, and after their immigration to Israel. The Jewish Agency’s previously closed center in Gondar – the Ethiopian city in and around which most Jews lived prior to the major waves of Aliyah – has again been prepared to help the prospective immigrants for their journey.
The Jewish Agency for Israel also continues to provide housing and educational resources for new immigrants from Ethiopia. The immigrants reside for up to two years in dedicated Absorption Centers, where educational programs help both children and adults learn Hebrew and start acclimating to life in Israel.