It 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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