On Wednesday night, 69 Ethiopian Jews fulfilled their decades-long dream of making aliyah, or returning home to the Jewish state. Landing at Ben Gurion airport, the newcomers were met by hundreds of ecstatic family members, Israeli youth groups dancing and singing, and activists who are working to bring more Ethiopians home.
The date of their arrival fell on the second anniversary of the Israeli government’s unanimous approval of a resolution to bring Ethiopia’s remaining 9,000 Jews back to Israel. However, implementation of the resolution was halted after the government said it did not have the funding for the project.
Since then, several small groups of Ethiopians have managed to make aliyah with the help of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (IFCJ), a pro-Israel Christian organization which donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Israeli foundations for the purpose of sponsoring and supporting Ethiopian aliyah.
However, no large government efforts have been made, and thousands of Jews still remain in Africa awaiting assistance. Some families have been waiting over twenty years to reunite with their relatives in Israel, reported The Struggle for the Aliyah of Ethiopian Jewry, an advocacy organization.
Kbretu Ezra, now studying economics and finance in Jerusalem, made aliyah from Ethiopia 13 years ago with his parents and sisters, but his five older brothers were left behind.
“The situation is not easy. We help them provide for their livelihood and we want to move on with our lives,” he told SAEJ. He was able to travel back to Ethiopia with his parents two years ago in order to visit his brothers. “When we parted, I told my brothers, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ They are still there.”
According to Ezra, lack of assistance for Ethiopian aliyah is an issue of Israeli society. “For years, the Ethiopian community has fought on its own. It’s time to bridge the gap,” he said.
For most Ethiopian Jews, aliyah is a lifelong dream. Many families leave their villages and move to the city in order to prepare. During the year, volunteers travel to Gondor and Addis Ababa, the two main centers of the remaining Ethiopian Jewish population, to teach Hebrew, religious studies and Israeli culture to Ethiopian children.
Singing Hebrew prayers and chanting Zionist songs and anthems, the kids yearn to become Israeli. But the reality of everyday life can be dismal. Many adults are unemployed after leaving their villages, and living conditions are poor.
For the 69 Jews who arrived in Israel on Wednesday, the dream has come to life. Within the next few days, children will begin school and adults will start intensive Hebrew classes. Although life in Israel for immigrants is not easy, they are the lucky ones.