The newest addition to the approximately 140,000 Ethiopians living in Israel opens a new chapter in the history of the Jewish state.
Every wave of immigrants stepping onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport during the past 40-plus years has experienced its own scrutiny within Israel. With this latest wave of humanity, the situation is no different. In the end, however, the Diaspora should be ever thankful to the Jewish Agency for providing a global lifeline to its people.
Having participated in the latest leadership mission to Addis Ababa and Gondar, in which a group of 80 leaders accompanied 181 Olim to be reunited with family in Israel, I’m well aware of the scrutiny surrounding the resolution-approved addition of 3,000 Ethiopian Olim.
The new Israelis, ranging in age from two months to the early eighties, have waited years, some decades, undergone a rigorous review process and are now fully vaccinated, face the challenges of absorption into a tiny country of nine million people. As Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata told the group, “These olim are not coming here to be hotel and restaurant workers. They are being reunited with families in Israel, and we want them to get the education and training to contribute at all levels of society.”
As with Tamano-Shata, Israeli Ambassador Aleligne Admasu, in remarks delivered from the expansive Addis Ababa embassy, exemplified the benefits of an Israeli education and experience from his arrival in the early 1980s.
What’s fundamentally important here is that the Diaspora must realize that like so many generations before them, these olim will no longer have to conceal their identity in embracing their own brand of Judaism – which is arguably one step away from the scrolls of the Five Books of Moses and stretches to the Beta Israel movement that took them through Sudan. While they may face discrimination on this leg of life’s journey, it is unlikely they will experience the brutal persecution and obsessive Jew hatred that have transpired through all of the great empires, dating back almost 4,000 years.
The Diaspora has found many ways to fracture and fragment itself through intermarriage, assimilation by compartmentalizing Judaism culturally or simply by evaporating into the mainstream of modern life. How interesting that obituaries of some notable but religiously neutralized individuals have been memorialized as “once coming from a Jewish home.”
Many believe Ethiopians are descendants of a splintered faction of the tribe of Dan, who blended into the Kingdom of Kush during the destruction of the First Temple, along with the tribes of Gad, Asher and Naphtali. Many of those refugees failed to survive the arduous trek through Sudan many centuries later.
The JAFI-WZO, Keren Hayesod and JFNA mission, as a prelude to visiting Addis Ababa and Gondar, experienced a memorial service at Mount Herzl for at least 4,000 Ethiopians who died walking to Sudanese refugee camps in the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians were fleeing famine, persecution and civil war.
Beyond connecting with the Exodus during Passover from an occasional archaeological announcement, the Diaspora should become more familiar with its history well before the modern state of Israel and the Holocaust. They must understand that the elimination of Judaism has long been part of the living history of the Jewish people. We are all descendants of the 12 tribes, later evolving as Ashkenazi, Sephardi and various other movements over more than 100 generations.
The Jewish Agency’s work in settling Jews, even in pre-state Israel, in kibbutzim and moshavim, remains crucial to our survival and the fulfillment of God’s promised land. JAFI, the WZO, Keren Hayesod, JFNA and many other organizations who have assisted with the ingathering of Jews from all over the world are worthy of continued investment, work and study.
While many modern-day Jews have focused their identity on such broad themes as promoting social justice and repairing the world (tikkun olam), which frankly have created more divisiveness than enhanced Torah study and faith, we must first realize the greater lessons in the sage teaching Kol Yisrael arevim ze la’zeh (all Jews are responsible for one another). We cannot allow the haters to set the agenda while so many people are just trying hard to hold on to any thread of Judaism.
The continued work of the ingathering in the face of global, modern-day blood libels, and anti-Jewish and anti-Israel false narratives reinforces the need, above everything, to advocate for one overarching imperative: work towards a secure and sovereign nation in our ancestral Jewish homeland.
The writer is immediate past president of B’nai B’rith International and a board member of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Hayesod.