The first arrivals on the newest wave of aliyah of Ethiopian Jews from Africa to Israel landed Sunday night at Ben Gurion airport, where many were joyfully reunited with relatives they hadn’t seen for over ten years.
The mass return marks the end of a three-year “hiatus” on Ethiopian aliyah and the beginning of a new wave expected to bring another 9,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel by the end of 2020.
The mood at the airport was joyous but bittersweet, the Jerusalem Post reported, as some families reunited after a decade of separation and others remained split between Israel and Ethiopia, where many Ethiopian Jews, or Falasha, still live under poor conditions and the threat of local violence.
Member of Knesset Avraham Neguise, originally from Ethiopia, was on hand to join the celebrations, but acknowledged that Israel still has work left to do. Blessing the reunited families in his welcome address, he added, “I don’t forget those who still have family waiting.”
Also attending the welcome ceremony were MK David Amsalem, Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
Neguise and Amsalem were instrumental in restarting Ethiopian aliyah after its suspension due to budgetary issues. Neguise gave the new olim (immigrants) encouragement and advice, saying, “When I came here 31 years ago I was in the same situation you are in now. With some effort, I managed to integrate in society, to get an education and to become a legislator,” he said.
“I believe that every one of you can also integrate and advance in Israel through personal efforts and equal opportunities.”
Sharansky, one of the most vocal and active figures involved in Israel’s aliyah efforts, also spoke, calling the arrival “the last stages of a historic aliyah that began with the covert operations Moses and Solomon.”
The first wave of Ethiopian aliyah, labeled Operation Moses, took place in 1984, with 8,000 Ethiopian Jews brought from Sudan to Israel. Seven years later, Operation Solomon airlifted another 14,325 Falasha out of Ethiopia within 36 hours.
Sharansky added that group’s families would be united with them in Israel and assured them they would receive support and assistance integrating.
The new olim will first settle in the northern city of Tzfat, where an absorption center serves new Ethiopian immigrants.