Liam with his prize certificate
Liam with his prize certificateAssaf Efrati

Winners of a creative writing contest held among Israel's religious state schools were announced on Tuesday, with a third-grade Ethiopian Israeli student taking home a prize.

The contest included elementary school students in grades 2-6. Participants competed locally, then regionally, and of them, forty-five went on to become national semifinalists. The contest was organized by Yael Nadler, religious schools supervisor for linguistic education, and her unit's staff.

The winners arrived with their parents and representatives from their schools at the Ben-Tzvi School in Jerusalem, and received prizes for their stories.

One of the winners was Liam Assaf Talah, a third-grade student from the Moriah School in Be'er Sheva. His story, titled, "My Journey," tells of how his family immigrated from Ethiopia, and is based on stories he heard first-hand from his grandfather, who passed away less than two years ago.

His grandfather, Adahanani Hayas Tayah, came to Israel with his wife and eleven children via Sudan, a dangerous journey which took over four years. During the journey, two of the family's children died, and another one was born. One of the girls, Tari, is Liam's mother.

4000 Ethiopian Jews died on the trek through Sudan to the airplanes that brought them to Israel. On Jeursalem Day, chosen because they dreamed of reaching the Holy City, the Ethiopian Israeli sector, memorializes them.

Liam and his father (Credit: Assaf Efrati)

Tari said, "Liam came home one day with a writing assignment... At first he thought he would write about something that happened to him and his friends in the neighborhood. I encouraged him to write about something that spoke to his heart, something he wanted to tell. Two days later, he came to me and said that he had changed his mind and decided to enertalize (sic) his grandfather's memory. It was very emotional for me, and it was so sweet of him."

"My father, of blessed memory, would sit with his grandchildren at every opportunity, especially the first night of Pesach (Passover), to tell about his own personal 'exodus.' Already as a small child, Liam would drink his stories up thirstily, and every time he would ask his grandfather to tell him a bit more about his memories of the journey to Israel. When they called me to the school office to read what Liam had written, my eyes welled up with tears. I was so emotional, I didn't know he had such talent."

Liam himself was very emotional, and could not contain his excitement.

"At first I told a story, about things I remembered my grandfather telling me," he said. "My teacher really liked what I wrote and said she'd sent it in for the writing contest. And today I can't believe it, I won a prize. It's really amazing."

"Every year, it's special to see the children develop their first pieces of writing, and their creative imagination, which helps them write a story that sometimes is more moving than what 'adults' write," Nadler said. "In these stories, we see that the students express their inner world and develop a love for writing."

Here is Liam's story (translated from the original Hebrew):

My Journey

The sky was a strong, dark gray. I looked up again, to see if it was raining.

My parents had prepared all of our things, packed little bags with holders.

The clothes, the food, and all our belongings were in little separate packages, and it was so strange to me to see how our lives are suddenly changing.

The journey began.

We were already on our way, I was so scared for my parents and I was worried about this inexplicable choice that had been made.

The darkness was very scary and threatening, but we walked in absoute silence, without any worries or fear.

My father kept returning to the end of the line to make sure we were all there - he'd count quickly and then go back to the front to continue leading us.

We couldn't stop at all, because the darkness hid us until morning.

At the first light, my father made us all a meal and let us rest some. We put our heads down, crushed and exhausted.

In my dreams, I saw my parents happy, we were all smiling because we'd reached our destination. We all danced, were merry, and had fun.

I woke from my sleep, and it was already afternoon. We ate a light meal, in another few hours we'll continue our journey.

We passed sands, and we arrived at a place with a running river. My father asked the locals if the water was drinkable, and allowed us to drink it. I liked the trip, because we were also allowed to bathe in the river's water, and it made my heart happy.

After two and a half days, we arrived at a desolate place, where not a soul could be found. My father said, "We are going to stop here until next week." He said that because my mother was due to give birth, and that's the time we needed to give her until the birth.

After a week, when I had a little cute brother, we continued our unknown journey, the endless march to a place which was not yet named.

It took a month and a half of exhausting and long walking in small groups, when we all helped others.

The adults carried the littlest ones amongst us, and the older people who got tired got on horses or donkeys, and took turns along the way. And so we crossed the Sudanese border.

I was so surprised, thank G-d we are all fine, and everyone is with us, even though on the journey we saw some awful things, a mother who didn't feel well was left at a place with a little bit of food and water, alone.

My mother got better. Father asked that we sit in a temporary hut that he made, and thank G-d for the justice and the good that He did for us, that we managed the long journey.