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
Jewish community.

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.

The 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 exile.

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 lost.

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.

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