OPERATION MOSES 1984
Villagers sell their possessions in haste, pack the little that is left, gather in small groups, leave the place they have lived for thousands of years and begin their journey by foot through Sudan to Holy Jerusalem. Old people and babies, pregnant women march together under the light of the night's moon, having to hide during the day from robbers and soldiers. The journey to Sudan took weeks and months while food and water gradually disappeared. Thousands of Jews from Ethiopian villages arrived at the Sudanese refugee camps. There they were stuck. They sat months and years waiting for their redemption, for the giant "iron bird" to fly them to the promised land. They left their close families behind, facing them their dream, while between them death closed in. Four thousand Ethiopian Jews died in these Sudanese refugee camps on this journey while Six thousand five hundred made it to Israel.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND –Ethiopian Jewry (Beta Israel)
Tracing the Sources of the Ethiopian Jewry
Judaism arrived to Ethiopia before Islam and Christianity, although it is not clearly understood how. According to tradition the Ethiopian Jewry traces its sources back to the meeting of Queen Sheba with King Solomon, in Jerusalem. Melinik, their son, took the holy arc from Jerusalem back to Ethiopia, the home of his mother. Another version traces the first existence of Ethiopian Jewry back to the tribe of Dan, one of the ten lost tribes. This is justified by the Ethiopian Jewry's long observance of Jewish religious customs dating to the first temple, which are differentiated from those of the second temple- (based upon the Talmud and mishnas) that were maintained in Ethiopia.
Jewish Life in Ethiopia
Beta Israel lived in the north and north- west regions of Ethiopia close to the Christian rulers and the Moslems and were spread around 500 villages sprawling on large areas, cultivating and living off the earth. Their customs revolved around working the land, family, tradition, and unity of their small community. In the eyes of the Christians, Ethiopian Jewry practices resembled a strange cult that bordered on witchcraft. They were called Beta Israel- the only title accepted by them, Falashas-which meant strangers, Kealla-Masters of Unworldly powers and Boda Jeev Jeratum-With powers to change their shape and devour human flesh.
The connection between Beta Israel and the rest of the Jewish world
It began in 1904 Yaakov Patolovich and his teacher Yosef Ha Levy arrived and researched for many years the Ethiopian Jewry. He revealed to the world the great danger the Ethiopian Jewry face there. He started schools in Ethiopia which taught Hebrew, agriculture and Judaism and succeeded to create a connection between them and the rest of the Jewish world. The revolution and change in the Ethiopian government caused a disconnection between Beta Israel and the rest of the Jewish world and many of them converted. Patolovitch warned that the very existence of their black skinned Jewish brothers was greatly threatened.
ISRAEL HEEDS THE CALL
In the early 1980's the Ethiopian government closed all of the schools founded by the Jewish organizations for Beta Israel. The Ethiopian Jewry began fleeing their villages and walking by foot and arriving to refugee camps in Sudan. Agents of the Israeli Mossad met them there and began smuggling them to Israel.
Aliyah to Israel
Between 1977-1991 the Ethiopian Aliyah took place. The majority took place in two concentrated operations:
Operation Moses 1984- For three years thousands of Ethiopian Jewish families wandered in small groups by foot, facing dangers until reaching the Sudanese refugee camps. On this treacherous journey more than 4,000 died or in the camps themselves where they waited months and years with dwindling food and water. Approximately 6,500 succeeded in immigrating to Israel.
Operation Solomon 1991- An additional 14,000 Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel directly from Addis Ababa. Other Ethiopian Jews that remained were flown in an intensive 48 hour period.
Today in Israel
Although the Chief Rabbi of Israel Rav Ovadia Yosef decreed Beta Israel to be Jewish, the Israeli Rabinate still expresses doubt regarding the status of each of the different Ethiopian Jewish groups. One of the main reasons is that the Cases (the Ethiopian rabbis) conducted marriages and conversions within the community without acknowledging accepted "Halachic" rulings. Also the new generation's journey into the heart of Israel society is still continuing. This new generation that was born in Israel, yet disconnected from their parents' language and traditions, experience great difficulties with Israeli culture. They have a serious identity crisis, paralysed, confused and stuck between the past and present.