Posted by: Elena's Israel Blog | 03/09/2011

DRAMATIC Ethiopian Airlifts

As you know, Israel is comprised of Jews from every country in the world because of God’s having dispersed them for centuries with the promise of regathering them. One of the countries they have come from is Ethiopia – yes, there are thousands of black Jews, as there are also thousands of Chinese Jews, Venezuelan Jews, French Jews, Italian Jews, and so on. (Remember, Jewishness is an ethnicity, not a religion.) The roots of the Ethiopian Jewish community run thousands of years back in time. Their immigration to Israel however has only occurred since twenty-seven years ago. In 1984, Operation Moses brought some 7,000 Ethiopians into Israel. These Jews WALKED hundreds upon hundreds of miles to cross into Sudan where this secret operation occurred. In May 1991, Operation Solomon, in a very similar fashion, carried another 15,000 Ethiopians arriving in a dramatic airlift, Operation Solomon, in May 1991.

Their exodus began on foot or by truck from primitive dwellings in the northwestern reaches of Ethiopia. In the past, those who managed to survive the arduous trek across the famine-ravaged land then had to endure, sometimes for years, squalid life in sprawling refugee camps on the Sudanese side of the border. They are called Falashas in Ethiopia, which in the Amharic language means “strangers” or “ones without a place.” But they have always had a spiritual home: Israel. Although these Ethiopians are black, they are also Jews, and they longed for the Promised Land. The Israeli government was forced to reveal that it had been carrying out a costly, highly secret operation to satisfy that yearning. For more than a month, remnants of Ethiopian Jewry, emaciated and often suffering from a variety of tropical diseases, were airlifted out of Sudan for resettlement in more than 25 towns throughout Israel.

Since 1975, some 10,000 Ethiopian Jews have arrived in Israel, 3,000 of them as the result of Operation Moses. Prior to the airlifts, the typical method of escape was for couriers, financed mainly by private American Jewish organizations, to smuggle Falashas into Israel in small groups. This “underground railroad” usually took the emigres from Ethiopia to Sudan, then through third world countries in Africa and Western Europe.

The blacks’ religious practices differ somewhat from those of most Jews. They believe in the Torah, the basic Jewish Scriptures, observe the Sabbath and dietary laws, and are circumcised. The Talmud, Jewish law and its interpretation, seems never to have reached them, however, because of their geographic isolation. Also, many Ethiopian Jews had converted to Christianity, which at first barred them from immigration. However, they were later admitted into Israel. The issue of whether the Ethiopians are even Jews was not settled in Israel until 1972. That was when Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef decreed that the Falashas are “undoubtedly of the tribe of Dan,” the inhabitants of the biblical land of Havileh in what is today the southern Arabian Peninsula. A government committee later decided that the Ethiopians are covered by Israel’s Law of Return, which permits all Jews to become citizens upon arriving in Israel.

Excerpts from an article in Time Magazine, Monday, Jan. 14, 1985



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