Ethiopia is a geographically varied African state with
highly diverse and dramatic climate, flora and fauna.
It has population of approximately 60,000,000, 80% of
whom live in rural mountainous areas at an altitude
of at least 1,500 above sea level.
The Ethiopian Jews lived primarily
in villages in the north and Northwest of the country,
far from their Christian neighbors, with separate social
and economic institutions and conditions. Their story
is a fascinating example of Jewish perseverance and
survival despite time, trial and tribulation.
It is a story of people long isolated
from the rest of the Jewish world. That separation was
so complete, that at one point, the Ethiopian Jews thought
themselves the only remaining Jewish community in the
world - the last guardians of Jewish knowledge, tradition
and the "Torah of Moses." The Ethiopian Jews
struggled mightily to retain that tradition and guard
it from outside forces that would see it assimilated,
conquered and destroyed. As a result, throughout Ethiopian
history, they often fell sacrifice to Christian kings,
wars and oppression.
That struggle continued in different
forms even after the arrival of the Ethiopian Jews in
Israel. Their homecoming, joyous as it was, was marked
by a lack of acceptance, as state religious institutions
did not officially recognize their status and Jews.
These institutions made life hard for Ethiopian immigrants,
and in some ways still do.
The first trickle of Ethiopian Jewish
immigrants to Israel began in the 1950s when 50 children
were brought to study in Israel and return to Ethiopia
as teachers. In the 1970s, individual Ethiopian activists
and their families began crossing into Israel via Sudan.
These journeys represent a crucial and important moment
in Ethiopian Jewish History. The dream of returning
to Jerusalem, rejoining the Jewish Nation and building
a state together seemed on the verge of coming true.
In 1977, due to pressure from various quarters, then
Prime Minister Menachem Begin proclaimed, "bring
me the Ethiopian Jews," and the floodgates were
opened. This set the stage for the mass exodus that
took place in the mid-1980s.
In 1977 30 families came. Between
1977 - 1984, 3000-4000 Ethiopian Jews came to Israel,
primarily from the Tigrae region. "Operation Moses"
brought another 8,000, mostly from Gonder. During that
Aliyah, approximately 4,000 lost their lives in the
desert wastes and refugee camps of Sudan. "Operation
Solomon" saw another 15,000 Ethiopian Jews reach
Israel, and small groups have continued to congregate
in Addis Ababa, and immigrate ever since. Today there
are approximately 85,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel, 20,000
of who were born here.
The story of the Ethiopian Jews
by no means ends with Aliyah. Their absorption and integration
into Israeli society has been a long road of challenges,
successes and difficulties. Some of the obstacles they
faced were objective ones - such as the dislocation
of moving from a developing nation to a modern industrialized
one. Others were the products of institutions and authorities
- such as the problems the community still faces with
regards to religion, education, employment and housing.
The Ethiopian Jews are now counting
their second decade in Israel, and their successes surely
outweigh the difficulties they have faced. The community
is grateful to all those individuals and institutions
who were part of their immigration process, and who
support them as they integrate into Israeli society.
They hope that the process will only grow easier as