Ethiopian Jewish community remembers a great leader
By AYANAWO FAREDA SANBATU
I wanted to write a short letter in honor of a man who was greatly admired, and will be remembered by, the Ethiopian Jewish community.
With the passing of Yitzhak Shamir, I wanted to write a short letter in honor of
a man who was greatly admired, and will be remembered by, the Ethiopian
Dear Yitzhak Shamir,
You, our former prime minister, perhaps did not know how
much you were in our thoughts, even after you retired from political life. Some
of us have photo albums with pictures of you with our families, and in many
other homes there is a picture of you on the wall. Many in our community
remember you as a redeemer and messiah.
Despite the objections of various
parties to our immigration and racist arguments invented and fabricated against
us, you saw us for what we are: Jews. You did not judge us because of our black
skin or allow the false ideas of others to influence your views.
Ethiopian Jews feel a close, covenant-like relationship with you, one that was
built on spiritual links. The relationship began with Menachem Begin’s
note to the Mossad, “bring me the Ethiopian Jews,” and it was translated into
action as Israel sent operators into enemy lands to help the Ethiopian Jews. In
the middle of the night many Jews left their villages and, without maps but only
faith to guide us, we waked through the hills and deserts of Ethiopia and Sudan
to freedom. This helped unite us with the living Zion.
In two major
operations the Jews were brought from Ethiopia to Israel; Operation Moses in
1984-5 and Operation Solomon in 1991. The whole world was moved to see
the brotherhood and friendship the Jewish people demonstrated for us. In
1991, in 24 hours, our community, that came on the flights from Addis Ababa,
realized the dream of our forefathers who had prayed for 2,500 years in
The news of your passing was received with pain and sorrow by both
our community’s elders and people of my younger generation. We have not
only lost a leader, but a kind of relative.
We remember the role you
played in rescuing us from the bloody deserts of Sudan. If it was not for you,
many whole families would have perished there. If you had delayed the operation
in 1991, there’s no telling how many more families would have been
I remember that when the 1984 operation had to end suddenly, we
protested and lamented that many of our relatives were left in Ethiopia and
Sudan. In 1991, my mother and father did not believe that Operation Solomon
would truly bring the people here, until they saw the planes landing with their
own eyes. For them it was a nightmare, those years of waiting.
As we say
goodbye to Shamir, and he is laid to rest with love and pain, we know we have
lost a leader who stood firmly on his watch and did not allow anything to
distract his mind from his faith and love for Zion, and the desire to strengthen
the state and the Jewish groups in the country.
We remember how you came
to the airport and shook the hands of our people with love and excitement. The
excitement brought tears to our eyes and we were choked up with
emotion. We should have a day of national mourning for all to cry and let
out their feelings for you. Here in Israel, the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jewish
community exists because of your efforts. Hopefully we will not betray
your heritage, which is the love of Eretz Israel, the Jewish people and the
Torah of Israel, forever.
The writer is an Israeli journalist who did
aliya to Israel on Operation Solomon in 1991.