On Mount Herzl stands a relatively recently erected monument: a memorial to the Ethiopian Jews who died on their journey to reach the Holy Land.
The Memorial to Ethiopian Jews Who Perished on the Way to the Land of Zion-Jerusalem pays tribute to the more than 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who died during the journey from Ethiopia to Israel. Between 1979 and 1985, some 10,500 Ethiopian Jews made their way to Israel from their rural villages in the northern highlands.
For many years the aliya of Ethiopian Jewry was hindered by opposition from the Ethiopian government, lack of support from the Israeli government and lack of recognition from the Chief Rabbinate. The communist overthrow of emperor Haile Selassie in 1976, the resulting nationwide famine, and the efforts of Menachem Begin's administration finally led to the opening of a tenuous escape route for Ethiopia's Jews. The Mossad created a secret passage through Sudan whereby Ethiopian Jews, disguised as refugees, would be spirited out of the country by airplanes flying covertly from Khartoum. In the early 1980s, messengers from communal leaders relayed the news from village to village, leading to the exodus of entire enclaves. Jews sold their houses and cattle, taking only the bare minimum. On the way to Sudan, they were subjected to harassment, murder, robbery and rape. They hid their Jewishness in the refugee camps in Sudan, where many remained for almost a year. Sickness, starvation and attacks claimed many lives. Operation Moses was canceled in January 1985 due to information leaks. Six years later Operation Solomon transported 14,000 Jews to Israel.
The idea to build an official national monument for those who perished was first realized in 1991 when the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency erected a monument designed by Daniel Kafri at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. In 2003 the Israeli government took it a step further and built a memorial to Ethiopian Jewry on Mount Herzl, which was unveiled in 2007.
The creation of a monument at a central location of national importance provides Ethiopian Jews in Israel a place to honor their fallen and serves as a venue for community events. An official memorial day established by the Knesset is observed on the 28th of Iyar. The monument also places the Ethiopians in the history and narrative of the State of Israel. By having a monument on Mount Herzl, the Ethiopian Jews are located alongside the lions of Zionism such as Herzl and Jabotinsky and not far from the memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem.
The monument has a separate entrance and parking lot that is open 24 hours a day. It consists of a central plaque in Hebrew, English and Amharic describing the events it commemorates. The park behind it has a small amphitheater, symbolic blocks of concrete and a stone hut like those in the Ethiopian Jewish villages. Inside the hut are personalized stories etched in stone relating the experiences of the journey to Israel through the eyes of a child, a mother, a communal leader and a religious leader, or kes.