An Ethiopian Jew’s Journey To Israel

sacrifice for IsraelIt was a whirlwind trip to a conference in Israel. I was running on very little sleep and meeting all sorts of interesting people. I had just spoken to a woman – an only child – who had lost both of her parents before her 30th birthday. Then another woman explained how her father, with whom she was estranged, had become very sick. It was all very emotional, but I was holding it together despite my exhaustion.

I then moved onto a new group and the topic of aliyah (moving to Israel) came up. I mentioned that my family was thinking of making aliyah but that we hadn’t worked out jobs yet and weren’t exactly sure how we’d do it. Suddenly, a woman who had been sitting off to the side piped up and asked me to join her, so I did.

“I want to tell you a story,” she began in a quiet voice. Her English was broken as Hebrew was her native tongue. “My family came from Ethiopia. But all our lives we prayed daily to return to Jerusalem. So one day, our entire village picked up and decided to go. We didn’t have a plane or a boat to take – so we walked.

“It was a very dangerous trip,” she continued. “I was three at the time. There wasn’t much food and during the daylight we had to hide, lest bandits find us and kill us along the way.

“Three thousand of us set out for the journey to the Holy Land, but half of us died during our travels – including my mother.”

The tears that I had been trying to hold back began streaming down my cheeks.

“Living in Israel is not easy for me either,” she explained. “Finding work is hard for me too. And there’s racism that I face being Ethiopian.”

“But how can I leave?” she asked me. “How can I walk away when my family sacrificed so much to be here, to return to this land?”

I cried and cried as I felt the pain of her loss, and through my sobs I attempted to speak, “All of us Jews have a responsibility to Israel, but your sacrifice was too great. You took on more than your fair share of our national burden,” I said as I wept. “I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but one day my family will also return.”

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  1. Deanna says:

    Thank you so very much for writing this story. Though I am not Jewish, I am a Sabbath observer, and I am studying more about Judaism. I am also a brown person. As I read this story my heart just broke. I can understand how this woman felt being doubly unaccepted in what she considers her homeland. I have only recently been reading more about Ethiopian Jews after hearing the infamous D. Sterling’s not so kind comments about blacks being treated like dogs in Israel. I had never heard of such a thing and wanted to know more. So after doing some research I learned of the Ethiopian Jews and their plight. I could say so much about this but as I am not Jewish, I don’t feel I have the right to comment too much. However, please permit me to share a few thoughts with you. I long for the day when the Creator of Heaven and earth, and everything and everyone that lives and breaths will right all wrongs. He sees everything, hates injustice, and loves all of us– Jews and non-Jews alike. And I do believe that those who truly love Him, also love their Ethiopian brothers and sisters. Again, thank you for sharing this story. I hope that it does much good. May G-d Bless you.

  2. From what I/we have seen with our eyes, and yes, I was born from Jewish (reform) parents, etc. …… but …… orthodox Jews are very strange. The males are completely rude. Have little respect for non-J. Religion and believing in their god in one thing ….. living here, in USA, another. Treat other people how you wish to be treated and respected. This does not happen with orthodox. I see continued rudeness all the time, living not a very far distance from the various sects or tribes. Also, there seems to be a huge issue with cleanliness. It’s very weird. My findings are on target though. They’ll eat kosher, but in a dirty house. Female (the mamas) do not take proper care of their (many, many) children when shopping. Kids run into the street, do not pay any attention to traffic, anything. It’s like they are in their own worlds. I find the culture to be sad. They make things very difficult for themselves in countless ways. Most do not look happy, or even healthy for that matter. I wish my niece did not make the choice to become one of them. Way too difficult for her from our eyes.

    • Jonathan Gewirtz says:

      Marcee,

      I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to write what you feel. What’s interesting is that you haven’t described Orthodox Jews. You described a segment of the Orthodox population using adjectives that describe practices that are cultural not religious. While you may find people who are considered Orthodox doing something specific, that doesn’t mean it’s mandated by the Torah, like when the repairman who frequented Jewish homes asked, “What’s the religious significance of the chandelier?”

      As far whether people are happy or healthy, you are not necessarily on target. Did you discuss it with them? Did you approach with an open mind or did you not approach because you didn’t have a can of Lysol? Does your niece complain, or do you merely feel that what she accepts would be too difficult for you? Being on the outside makes it harder for us to understand what someone is going through, and it would be presumptuous to think we know what someone else is thinking without them telling us.

      The fact of the matter is that Jews were blamed for the Black Plague because not so many of us died. That’s because we do frequently wash our hands as part of our religious practices. We bury the dead right away, and clean away filth because we cannot speak words of holiness in its presence. Orthodox ritual praises and advocates cleanliness, caring for children, and polite speech to ALL people. Some of these things are even halacha, Jewish law. That said, if someone is not acting accordingly, they’re actually unorthodox, and not in a chilled out, good way.

      It seems you’ve had some negative experiences with specific individuals. Perhaps if you met others of us you’d feel differently. But either way, don’t blame Judaism for the Jews.

    • Dear Marcee,
      I, like your niece, chose orthodoxy… And my family, too, was a little leery of the idea. One member of my family almost talked my grandmother out of going to our engagement party because of things they had read about Orthodox Jews. Thank Gd, she went anyway. It was a wonderful time and the beginning of a bridge to understanding.
      That being said, there are days when I have been tired and a little shlumpy on a grocery run, with a fussy baby and a toddler having an “off-day”, and I would hate to think that anyone might be judging all of Jewish Orthodoxy because I’m not having the best morning. Just like I wouldn’t attribute someone else’s mommy-moment to their religion. I also hope no one is looking at me on one of those rare off-days and assuming I am generally a miserable person. I love my family and my life, and the good moment far outweigh and overshadow the occasional supermarket tantrums. I hope and I believe that many Mommies, across all religious lines, feel the same way.
      It’s true that some sects of Orthodox Judaism are more insular than others, but it varies from community to community. If you happen to live in the Boston area, I would love to extend an invitation to you to come and have a meal with my family. It would be my pleasure to show you an orthodox community that is incredibly warm and welcoming.
      Best Wishes,
      Aliza

  3. Marcee, allow me to introduce myself. I am an Orthodox Jew (even an ultra-Orthodox Jew) I don’t consider myself strange, neither do my friends who are a varied group (non-Jews, secular, Conservative, Reform, white, black…). I live in a small Southern city with an even smaller Jewish community, we stick together, doesn’t matter what kind of Jew we are. My husband is the Rabbi of our Orthodox synagogue, he respects all different types of people and was recently interviewed by a local Pastor for his blog. We believe in G-d and we live in the US, and we thank G-d every day for this country where we are not persecuted and derided for our beliefs.
    I clean my house and my clothing and my kids. (Though my husband usually does bath-time LOL)
    My children are well mannered and very aware of safety rules…
    You say your findings are on target, but I challenge that statement. Have you spoken to an Orthodox Jew? I mean really spoken? Like a sit down talk? Like visiting for a Shabbat meal?
    I am so sorry that you have that impression and I hope that you take the time to question it.
    If you live in NY, I am officially inviting you to Allison’s house for Shabbat. I’m kidding, I can’t do that, but I can arrange for you to visit with a number of Orthodox families in the tri-state area if you’d be willing.

  4. A beautiful story. Racism is a plague on society, but I am hopeful that the Ethiopian Jews will be able to make a great contribution to the Jewish State.

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