(photo credit: Ricki Rosen)
Baruch Tagnene, one of the first Ethiopian olim, who later played a prominent role in successfully lobbying the government to bring his brethren to Israel, died on Tuesday aged 65.
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Tagnene was born in Ethiopia and first came to Israel in 1955 when he was 12 years old as part of a youth group organized by then-president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.
He studied agriculture in Kfar Batya before returning to his country of birth, where he put the agricultural skills he obtained in Israel to use building a modern farm.
In 1974, he had to flee Ethiopia after a communist faction that had come to power accused him of being an Israeli agent. After a long and perilous journey on foot through the Sahara he eventually found his way back to Israel, where he championed the cause of his brethren back in Ethiopia.
Simcha Jacobovici, who made a documentary called Falasha: Exile of the Black Jews, credited the Tagnene with a key role in the immigration of around 81,000 Ethiopian Jews, also known as Beta Israel, to the Jewish state.
“When I met Baruch in Montreal in 1979, there were only 400 Ethiopian Jews in Israel,” Jacobovici wrote. “It is no exaggeration to state that he was the one individual most responsible for the fact that there are over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel today. Everyone who met him knows that Baruch was a sweet human being and a true Jewish hero.”
His relatives said yesterday that Tagnene served as an inspiration to his friends and family.
“My uncle was everything to me,” his nephew Demoze said.
Tagnene’s funeral will be held in Kiryat Ekron at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. He is survived by a daughter.