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20110601 Ethiopian Community Remembers its Children Who Perished En-route to Zion.
The Ethiopian Jewish community, called Beta-Israel, lived in seclusion for over 1,000 years, only reconnecting to the Jewish world in the late 20th century. According to Ethiopian tradition, their roots go back 3,000 years to the era of King Solomon. Like their brethren in many parts of the world, Ethiopian Jews suffered persecution for their beliefs and refusal to adopt Christianity. In the Middle Ages their lands were confiscated, villages plundered and many murdered. They were nicknamed Falash - intruders, homeless and without property. The Ethiopian Jewish community, living for so long in complete seclusion, were convinced they were the last Jews left on the face of the Earth. They practiced all the religious rituals with which they were familiar including male circumcision on the eight day from birth, Kashrut (Kosher) rules dealing with food, the holiness of the Sabbath and they prayed, three times a day, facing the holy city of Jerusalem, yearning to return.
In 1975 Israel formally recognized “Beita Israel” as a part of the Jewish nation. In 1977 Israeli PM Menachem Begin instructed the government to bring them home. The Ethiopian government refused to release them and millions of dollars were transferred to the government of Sudan for them to be allowed refugee status in its territory. The rumor spread quickly to villages all over Ethiopia – a route to Jerusalem via Sudan. Thousands left their homes overnight and set out on a long and dangerous journey to Sudan through unbearable desert heat, thirst and hunger, avoiding bandits and the Ethiopian military. They left everything they had behind. They were walking towards fulfillment of a thousands of years old dream – reuniting with Jerusalem.
Refugee camps in Sudan were of horrible conditions - hunger, illness, epidemics and death. Four thousand men, women and children, one fifth of the community perished on their way to fulfilling the dream.
In1984 Israel activated “Operation Moshe”. Four thousand Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel in a lightning fast attempt to save them. Families came apart. Children were quickly loaded on airlifts sometimes without their parents. The operation was abruptly aborted when leaks to the press hit the headlines all over the world. US intervention brought an additional six U.S. Hercules airplanes with refugees to Israel.
In1991 political changes in Ethiopia caused great worry for the destiny of the remaining Ethiopian Jews. “Operation Shlomo” began. Tens of millions of dollars changed hands as bribery and air lifts to Israel began again. In less than 48 hours 14,000 were saved and flown to the Israel.
The reality of Jerusalem, not literally of gold, a modern city far from purity and holiness was a shock to many. Integration into the Israeli society was not easy for Ethiopian Jews. Culture shock, lack of education, lack of work skills, the undermining of the traditional family structure, all caused alienation and detachment. Separated Ethiopian neighborhoods evolved as a result of government policy mistakes and Ethiopian aspiration to stay together.
In 2003 a committee of ministers dealing with immigration and absorption decided to erect a monument for the demoralization of the Ethiopian Jews who lost their lives en-route to Jerusalem, on Mount Hertzel. The government decided an official memorial service would be held on Mount Hertzel on the Jewish date of 28th of Iyar, symbolically coinciding with Jerusalem Reunification Day.
In March 2007 the monument was inaugurated. It was designed by architect Gabriel Kertesz, in cooperation with the Ethiopian community, incorporating monologues written by Ethiopian Jews describing their village life in Ethiopia, their yearning for Jerusalem and the hardships of the journey to Israel.
As singer Itzik Bessa sang "We Will Not Forget You" the sobs in the audience occasionally overcame the singer's voice and President Shimon Peres' soft words offered little comfort to this unique community, in which almost no family was untouched by tragedy.
4000BetaIsraelEthiopiaEthiopianEthiopiansFalashIsraelJerusalemJerusalem DayJerusalem Reunification DayJewryJewsKayseKaysimMiddle EastMiddleEastMount HertzelMt. HertzelOperation MosheOperation ShlomoSudandeathimmigrationmemorialmemorial servicepeoplereligiousreligious leadersservicetragedy20110601X100010354EthiopianMemorial