JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - As a child, Asher Seyoum shepherded goats across the rural hills of Gondar Province, Ethiopia.
As he trod along with his flock, little did he suspect that he and his family would soon make the treacherous overland trek via hostile Sudan to to make aliyah to Israel.
"As soon as we landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, all of us – all of the olim – threw ourselves on the ground and kissed the earth," Seyoum says, recalling his arrival at age 13.
"It was one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen," he says.
But one he would see yet again, decades later.
After their arrival, Seyoum and his family settled in at The Jewish Agency's absorption center in Netanya, where – perhaps for the first time in his life – he entered a classroom in order to receive a formal education.
"I said to myself: 'if I want to fit into Israeli society, to go far, education is key.' I invested all my abilities in my studies, and pretty soon, I was holding conversations in Hebrew," he recalls with pride.
Later, Asher attended an Aliyat Hanoar boarding school where he completed his high school education, and continued on to higher studies in sports education and social work.
"Then, I enlisted in the army and became a physical education instructor at a basic training base for paratroopers and the Israel Defense Force's General Staff commando unit," he said.
After his three year stint in green, Asher found a position as assistant director at the Ben Yakir village at Kfar Haroeh.
"I worked there eight years, and I think I served as an excellent example for the students," he says, adding that, after completing his studies, he obtained a degree and became a senior instructor at the Wingate Institute, Israel's National Center for Physical Education and Sport.
Later, after accepting a newly established position as director of the largest absorption center in the north, in Tzfat, his earlier experiences in training soldiers under fire served him well. During the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, he won a Defense Ministry citation for his success in aiding his charges while under heavy Katyusha fire from Hizbullah rocket crews across the nearby border.
After holding several more directorship positions at absorption centers around the country, Asher was tapped to take on the most complex, sensitive, and symbolically powerful role of his career: to direct the final chapter of Ethiopian Aliyah, in the wake of the government's decision in October, 2012 to airlift the last remaining Jews in that country to Israel.
"As a child who was raised in a small Jewish village who survived the rigors of Aliyah via Sudan and fulfilled the dream of 'Return to Zion,'" he concludes, "it is a great honor to be here as the official representative of the State of Israel, in order to help full the dream of the 'Return to Zion,' for others, who also hope to fulfill the age-old Zionist dream."