President Reuven Rivlin held a memorial service at on Thursday, May 21, the annual day of remembrance for the Ethiopian Jews who died on their journey to Israel.
Included in the service, held at Mt. Herzl, was also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently designated Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, who is Israel's first Ethiopian-born minister, and Eden Alene, the first Israeli of Ethiopian decent to be chosen to represent Israel in the Eurovision contest.
Knesset Speaker Yarin Levin, Supreme Court Judge David Mintz, and representatives from bereaved families all took part in the ceremony as well.
The ceremony was led by Ethiopian journalist Almaz Mangistu, during which Eden Alene sang the songs, Hamasa Leretz Yisrael (The Journey to the Land of Israel) and Shoshanim Atzuvot (Sad Roses). The few people that were able to attend the ceremony during the coronavirus period were greatly moved by her songs. Alene began crying while singing Hamasa Leretz Yisrael.
Rivlin opened his speech during the ceremony by speaking on the Beta community, the community of Ethiopian Jews living in Israel. "The Beta community in Israel left everything familiar to them, embarking on an arduous journey as they clung to yearning passed from generation to generation: Jerusalem."
Rivlin continued his speech, regaling the "heartbreaking" testimony of the mother of a girl from the Beta community from the book, The Journey isn't Over, by Ethiopia-born Israeli journalist Danny Adeno Ababa.
"I'd like to read you a few words from the book," Rivlin said. He began reading the testimony from the book, "I had a baby girl that was born in Ethiopia a few months before we left on our journey. She had beautiful eyes and a gentle face. She made the journey to Sudan safely. In the camp, she became a little sick, however she recovered. I dressed her in several layers of clothing, and put her on her back, such as is done in Ethiopia.
"Then one day our turn to make aliyah came, we were so happy. But then I was given the most terrible news a mother can hear, my baby had died. I did everything I could to bring her here in peace. The moment that was supposed to be the happiest in my life, I carried her body on my back."
Rivlin continued with his speech saying, "not everyone came home and made it to Jerusalem. Mothers and children, brothers and sisters, grandchildren and grandparents, didn't survive along the way. They couldn't make that arduous journey, the bandits along the way, the starvation, the disease, the harsh living conditions in the transit camps.
"We carry their memory in our hearts forever. Jerusalem carries their memory forever. Their love for Jerusalem burns as an eternal torch which at its head burns toward the heavens. A pillar of fire which guides all of the nation of Israel on their way.
"May the memory of those who perished, our brothers and sisters who lost their lives on the way to Jerusalem and the land of Israel be etched in our hearts forever," he finished.