Ethiopian Jews arrive in Israel
Ethiopian Jews arrive in Israel Avishag Shaar-Yashuv, IFCJ

The arrival of an Ethiopian Airways jetliner at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport earlier this week set the scene for an emotional reunion between family members, some of whom who hadn’t seen their relatives for as long as twenty years. The Aliyah flight consisting of 150 people was made possible through a joint initiative of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, Ministry of Interior, and the Jewish Agency as part of “Operation Zur Israel”.

The operation, which has been spearheaded by Pnina Tamano-Shata, Israel’s Minister of Immigrant Absorption, is designed to help the remaining community of Jews living in refugee camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa to make their way back to Israel. So far over 5,000 people who have first degree relatives already living in Israel have moved or are scheduled to move in the near future.

Escorting the group back to Israel, Yael Eckstein, President of the IFCJ, said helping to bring the final remnants of Ethiopian Jewry home to Israel is a central part of their mandate. “It’s a source of great pride to be able to assist hundreds more olim to come home. The most powerful part of this flight is knowing that many of these passengers have been waiting for decades for this moment and we see it as a central Zionist ideal to be able to make these types of reunions possible. We look forward to working with our partners in the Immigration Absorption Ministry to completing this operation as quickly as possible.”

Among the arrivals was 50 year old Astabal who said that he hadn’t seen his parents in 18 years since they moved to Tel Aviv. Another of the immigrants, Azanu Geremay Melesa similarly hasn’t seen her mother in nearly twenty years. She suffered the death of her eldest son recently after he fell fighting in the nation’s civil war, which helped spur the family’s decision to finally make the journey to Israel.

“When this awful thing happened to me, I was very lonely,” she says. “My mother, who I was very close with was not with me and when I couldn’t share my pain with her, it made the pain even worse. Coming to Israel was always our dream, and we believe only good things are going to happen to us there. I believe we are making a great choice and opens up a great opportunity for our children”.

Excited for to meet her grandchildren for the first time, Azanu’s mother and others in the community receive financial and medical support from the IFCJ. “It’s like an international circle of brotherhood and help,” she continued. “The Fellowship helps my mother in Israel and now the same Fellowship helps me to get to Israel to meet my mother. I am a really lucky person.”

Minister Tamano-Shata commented that “To be able to unite families who have been separated by thousands of miles allows us to finally address a failure that has affected the Ethiopian community for many years. These families have been waiting for this moment for decades. Through the partnership between our ministries, the Jewish Agency and the IFCJ we are able to witness another historic moment in Israel’s history where we have reaffirmed our commitment to do everything we can to bring our brothers and sisters home.”

Ranging in age from 6 to 50, the new immigrants will first live in five different absorption centers located around the country where they will be provided with Hebrew-language courses as well as training to help them acclimate into Israeli society and join the workforce.

“The Jewish Agency will continue to lead the aliya efforts from everywhere around the world and for every Jew who wants to move to Israel,” said Chair of the World Zionist Organization and Acting Chair of the Jewish Agency Yaakov Hagoel. “We deeply appreciate the work of all the partners who have made this possible and know that with every new oleh who comes home our country becomes that much stronger.”