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Speaker describes the Ethiopian Jewish exodus

Chizuk Amuno Brotherhood co-sponsored an interesting morning program agenda with Israel Engagement Committee.

Immediately after a Sunday morning Minyan (prayer meeting), and a tasty brunch, Matt Friedman - associate vice president of Jewish Federation North America, who has traveled to Ethiopia six times and had an opportunity to accompany Ethiopian Jewry making "aliyah" to Israel - was featured as the interesting guest speaker.

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He updated this morning's brotherhood guests regarding "The Lost Tribe, The Jews of Ethiopia," the exodus of Ethiopian Jewry to the unsafe refugee camps in Sudan, and then from Sudan, with the assistance of undercover Israeli agents to the holy land of Jerusalem - a far off vision, in their dreams, for many years.

Their parents and grandparents had told them for many years, "Jerusalem was the "Land of Milk and Honey." This was a place of refuge, offering peace and it is here where they belonged." Yes, Palestine is where they belonged!

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Note, after the horrific holocaust, Israel and North America is where there are always welcoming open doors and safety for Jewish people to live.

Matt is very proud of his late-beloved grandfather, Joseph (Joe) Katz, of blessed memory, who, in 1952, informed Ethiopian Jewry that Jerusalem had become sovereign.

Knowing this, Ethiopian Jewry thus began their many journeys of suffering, walking only at night in small groups, hoping to reach refugee camps in Sudan, already filled with thousands of Christian and Muslim Ethiopians seeking refuge elsewhere.

Matt spoke of his Ethiopian friend, a man named Asher, among the many to make this very long night journey, who was told to take a shovel. Why? To bury the dead. With a small group of people of all ages, he did walk in the darkness of night for six weeks. Due to sickness and hunger he unfortunately had to bury several precious young relatives.

During one of these late night journeys, a group heard a scream. Someone had walked off of a cliff! It was against the law for them to leave Ethiopia. If caught, they would be jailed, tortured or killed! It is known that during these continued repeated rendezvous at night between 4,000-5,000 perished en route.

Walking daily, for between four and eight weeks to reach their destination, these groups walked the treacherous terrain to reach the refugee camps in Sudan where there was little food and disease.

Ethiopian Jewry are very religious. They are quiet. respectful people, who are completely family oriented. Children would never talk back to their parents. Instead, they would kiss their feet out of respect and love. They kept the Sabbath, participated in ritual bathing and put out all fires on Friday afternoon. Everyone attended a prayer house; no one stayed home. Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day. Imagine, many even kept kosher! Meat was slaughtered by a trained "kess." Unable to own land due to prohibition, they were potters, weavers, metal workers, builders, etc. They lived segregated in Jewish villages.

For years, told on the wings of an angel, they would reach the holy land! It turned out, the wings of an angel was an airplane the Israeli agents provided for the refugee Jewry when they rescued them in Sudan.

Operation Moses, Nov. 1984-Jan. 5, 1985 rescued 7,000 from Sudanese refugee camps.

"Operation Solomon" brought over 25,000 into Israel.

From May 24-25,1991 during Operation Joshua, more than 14,000 were processed through the embassy, bussed to the airport and flown to Israel within 36 hours in unmarked jets, with the seats removed to accommodate as many as 1,000 passengers who took nothing with them except what they wore. Note, this airlift was negotiated between Israel, Ethiopia and the United States with Vice President George H. Bush's involvement.

Today, there are over 100,000 Ethiopian Jewry living in Israel, they are thought to be descendants of Queen Sheba and King Solomon. Falasha is the accepted name of Ethiopian Jewry that refer to themselves as Beta Israel (House of God), that had spiritual leaders.

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When landing in Israel, the Ethiopian Jewry kissed the ground, were processed through absorption centers. They first lived in trailers and hotels - many did not know to get off elevators, riding up and down - Remember, they lived in huts in Ethiopia.

The first of the Ethiopians arriving in Israel were very welcomed. Then, with the arrival of so very many more, the Ethiopian Jewry have encountered a difficult time. Even with degrees earned from colleges and universities, they are unable to obtain work. Many professionals work in low paying jobs. Many live below the poverty line. About 60% cannot find work. Israel is indeed very difficult for many Ethiopians.

Many, many families were separated/dislocated during their many ventures to Sudan refugee camps. One interesting story the guest speaker this morning spoke of described one couple during this separation. The mother kept the daughter, and the father took the son to Sudan. A happy note to this story, after many years, in Israel, then after their aliyahs, the sister and brother met. Ironically, both were in the Navy, stationed only one base away from each other! Imagine this reunion!

Note:

They have a national holiday, Yom Hazharah to memorialize the thousands of Ethiopians who died in their attempt to make "aliyah" to Palestine/Israel. Most know of someone in their family or a friend, that unfortunately perished during their venture to live in Palestine/Israel.

Gary Brager is president, Chizuk Amuno brotherhood. Gary was unable to attend this interesting meeting. Eric Beser, brotherhood vice president, did a great job participating with this mornings meeting.

Another participant was Ellen Friedman, involved with above mentioned Israel Engagement Committee, co-host for this mornings interesting brotherhood breakfast meeting.

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