The Ethiopian Jews arrived for the most part without marketable skills and in many instances with little familiarity with a western way of life.

By Cliff Savren (CJN) |

I remember it well. It was May 1991. I was living in Cleveland and news surfaced that Israel had airlifted masses of Jews to Israel from Ethiopia in a secret operation that lasted just a day and a half. Dubbed “Operation Solomon,” the Israeli army and the Mossad intelligence agency carried it out with the help of the U.S. government and Jewish organizations. In the space of just 36 hours, 14,325 Ethiopian Jews made aliyah to Israel.

I also remember the media reports of the exhilaration in Israel at the time. This actually wasn’t Israelis’ first encounter with a Jewish community that had been isolated in East Africa for centuries. A similar covert airlift, “Operation Moses,” brought 8,000 Jews to Israel from Ethiopia until media coverage of the operation led authorities in East Africa to shut it down.

Over the years, particularly since my family and I moved to Israel in 1999, I have had occasional contact with Ethiopian Jews, whose aliyah remains a shining example of the lengths to which Israel has gone to rescue Diaspora Jews and bring them home, but theirs’ is not an entirely happy story.

The Ethiopian Jews arrived for the most part without marketable skills and in many instances with little familiarity with a western way of life. The younger generation adapted more quickly, but that presented its own problems because the traditional lines of parental authority in what had been a very patriarchal community broke down in Israel. A large number of Ethiopian Jews here remain poor and the number of Ethiopian juveniles in Israeli prison is nearly 10 times the incarceration rate of the population as a whole.

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Grievances within the community came to a head last year when a video surfaced of what appeared to be the unprovoked physical abuse of an Ethiopian Israeli soldier, Demas Fekadeh, by police. Media reports said that the police had cordoned off the area that Fekadeh had intruded into.

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