Ethiopian Jews make Aliyah
Ethiopian Jews make AliyahFlash 90

President Isaac Herzog spoke today at the state memorial ceremony for Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel. The following are the President's full remarks.

My brothers and sisters, this important and sacred ceremony, which brings us together here on the State of Israel’s memorial mountain, a mountain of tears and of longing, a mountain of rebirth, is not only a ceremony of remembrance and commemoration but a rite of love. A ceremony that salutes the formative, historic, and almost incomprehensible process in which an entire community chose to transform its enduring yearning and millennia-old longing for Yerusalem into a long journey toward the Promised Land. A journey of thousands of miles of wandering to a faraway yet beloved land, a journey from a natal land to a native land: a journey to Israel.

Such faith, latent in this collective stride! Such love for the Land of Israel and what it symbolizes! Such willingness to make sacrifices and take considerable risks! And such profound hope for a different future, for a different life, in the transformation of a dream into a lived reality!

As one who always has facing him, on the wall opposite my desk in the President’s bureau, the halakhic ruling by my grandfather Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac HaLevi Herzog from 1953, which gave a halakhic and political tailwind to the blessed aliyah from Ethiopia, I feel a profound link to this aliyah and remember and salute and admire the fact that behind this grueling journey was a spirit of genuine leadership. A leadership that knew how to unite and animate, the anonymous heroes, the kesim and community leaders who knew how to lead and direct, who instilled hope even in moments of despair, who gave security even in times of total uncertainty, in the heart of a desolate and barren desert.

It is doubtful whether members of the community knew, before they left Ethiopia, what the long trek through the desert held in store for them. It is doubtful whether they imagined the dangers that would follow them on their way through such a hostile country as Sudan. This uncertainty was compensated for by great faith and deep determination. You proved your boundless love for the Holy Land and for the State of Israel.

Ladies and gentlemen, today the State of Israel communes with the memory of the dearest of all: the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, boys and girls, and relatives who did not get to satisfy their longings. Those for whom the journey to the Land of Israel, which they had heard about, dreamed about, and prayed for ended too early and at a very heavy price. We know and remember that even with the passage of time, your pain, dear families, remains searing and painful—and there is no cure. Know that we are by your side. Today we grieve the untimely loss of lives, the shattering of the hopes that they bore with them, and the great void that they left among their loved ones.

We remember their tragic fate, but we wish to keep their lives alive in our hearts: their stories, their heroism, their unimaginable strength, their cultural wealth, the identity of the community of Ethiopian Jewry, which is an inseparable and formative part of the Israeli and Jewish ethos, which is an organic part of the body of our nation.

The journey you made, the journey of those who did not live to complete the journey, is the journey of us all. The journey of the People of Israel. When you walked with your backs straight, you straightened our backs too. We must remember and recall this story, the story of your clandestine immigration and this rebirth. We must hand it down, teach it to our daughters and sons, from generation to generation, till the last generation. This is our obligation. And this is our great privilege.

May the memories of the victims on the long journey to the State of Israel and the Land of Israel be blessed and preserved in our hearts forever.