‘Wings of the Dove’ brings Ethiopia’s Jews to Israel
237 Jews land in Tel Aviv from Addis Ababa, part of an operation that will bring the last of Ethiopia's Jews to Israel.
Ethiopian Jews arrive in Israel Photo: Moshe Shai
GONDAR – “I have waited for this happy moment for eight years,” says Fasil
Yehunye as he helps his family pack their meager belongings in their crowded
one-room abode just prior to emigrating from Gondar, Ethiopia, to
Yehunye was one of 237 Jews who landed Monday morning in Tel Aviv
on a special charter flight from Addis Ababa, part of an operation called “Wings
of the Dove,” billed as finally bringing to Israel the very last remnant of the
Jews in Ethiopia.
This was the largest single group of immigrants to land
in Israel in the last two years, following a government decision in November
2010 to authorize the aliya of the almost 8,000 Jews left in the African
The Jewish Agency was tasked with carrying out the government’s
decree and senior Jewish Agency official Asher Fentahun Seyum was sent in to do
the job. Seyum went to work with energy and skill and in less than two years set
up an operation that brought 6,000 Gondar Jews to Israel.
to “close shop” when the remaining 1,800 left in Gondar are settled in Israel –
within a year.
The vexed question of what to do with thousands of others
who consider themselves Jews but were not on the government list, remains
This reporter, who was brought to Gondar to meet some of the
olim as they prepared to leave Ethiopia, was dismayed at their appalling living
Yehunye, 38; his wife, Femiz; and their five children were housed in a single room in a mud hut.
Cooking was done outside on open wood fires and there was no evidence of
Their son Getaheh, 17, told me that the family had
left their village eight years before and eked out a meager existence, helped by
food handouts from the Jewish Agency, Keren Yedidut and other
However, their educational and religious needs were supported
by a school and community center set up by the Jewish Agency. The potential
immigrants had to make their own accommodation arrangements, as there was no
central housing facility.
The contrast between the demeanor and outward
appearance of the immigrants in their Gondar hovels and on their arrival in
Israel was striking. In Gondar, their clothing was poor and often torn; some
went barefoot or else wore cheap plastic footwear. In readiness for their move
to Israel, they dressed themselves in Shabbat finery and they seemed more
cheerful, if a little apprehensive at the sounds and sights of modern Israel,
compared to decrepit Gondar.
Moshe Bahta, director of the Ibim absorption
center where the new immigrants will be housed for the next two years, noted
that their homes were going to be much more comfortable than in Gondar, with
several rooms for each family and health, educational and social facilities on
Ibim is close to Sderot and well within the range of rockets and
mortars from Gaza. However, Bahta said none of the immigrants were fazed when he
explained the safety procedures to be followed when “Color Red” announcements
and sirens warn of an impending rocket attack.