Mark Wilf, Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency (right) greet
Mark Wilf, Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency (right) greetMaxim Dinshtein)

A group of 111 new olim (immigrants) from Ethiopia fulfilled a lifelong dream on Tuesday, landing at Ben Gurion Airport on a flight chartered by The Jewish Agency for Israel. They now join the more than 95,000 Ethiopians who have made Aliyah (immigration to Israel) to Israel with the help of the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency since the establishment of the State.

Mark Wilf, Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency, led a special delegation of dignitaries and VIPs who accompanied the new immigrants on their journey from Ethiopia to Israel. Other notable delegation members included Eitan Bernath, an award-winning chef and TV personality, and popular Los Angeles-based comedian Tehran Von Ghasri. Upon arriving in Israel, the olim were greeted by Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman of the Executive Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, who commanded a number of clandestine missions to bring Jews from Ethiopia to Israel during the 1980s.

On Wednesday, the delegation will head to one of 17 Jewish Agency-run absorption centers for Ethiopians that provide subsidized housing dedicated to the specific cultural needs of olim from that country. When new Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel, they experience a “soft landing” by transitioning into their new lives at absorption centers, with the assistance of The Jewish Agency as well as the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration. The immigrants receive financial support and guidance, including Hebrew language education as well as preparation for integration into the employment market and the education system. The Jewish Agency operates 18 Absorption centers across Israel, including the 17 centers that are specifically dedicated to Ethiopian olim.

For Wilf — the son of Holocaust survivors and former Chair of the Board of Trustees at The Jewish Federations of North America — this week’s delegation marked a continuation of his efforts to help ensure the welfare and vitality of the global Jewish community.

“Touching down in Israel with a flight of new olim from Ethiopia is a breathtaking moment that reminds us how lucky we are to have the State of Israel as a homeland and safe haven. Bringing these olim to start a new life in Israel embodies The Jewish Agency’s dedication to our historic role as an unwavering advocate for the Jewish people, wherever they may be,” Wilf said.

Tuesday’s arrival marked the continuation of Operation Zur Israel, the initiative that will ultimately reunite 3,000 Ethiopians with their families in Israel. The operation was initially launched in December 2020 following a government decision in October of that year. The Jewish Agency is responsible for preparing the Ethiopian immigrants for Aliyah and organizing their flights to Israel, in coordination with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, and in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive, Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog said: "The arrival of each plane of Olim is an historic moment for the Jewish people. The Jewish Agency is working to enable each of the Olim an easier integration into Israeli society and allow them to reach their full potential. We embrace the new Olim from Ethiopia who have finally made it to home Israel and welcome these new citizens of Israel with love."

In addition to the roles of the government and The Jewish Agency, the 3,000 immigrants in the current phase of the operation are arriving in Israel thanks to support from The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and Keren Hayesod, which both started the process of raising millions of dollars to support the cause when the government announced its decision, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, and friends of Israel from Korea. Senior leaders of JFNA, Keren Hayesod, WZO, and IFCJ will join Wednesday’s Aliyah flight from Ethiopia.

Chair of the Board of Jewish Federations of North America Julie Platt said: “I celebrate these olim because this moment is the fulfillment of their personal ‘Hatikvah’ – the hope that they never let go of for so many years that one day they would reach the Land of Israel. It is an absolute privilege to partner with The Jewish Agency for Israel in supporting these olim in their Aliyah journey and in their absorption as they take their first steps in the Jewish Homeland. Our decades-long commitment to Ethiopian Aliyah is a duty that we at Jewish Federations are so proud to carry out.”

This week’s delegation carried special meaning for Jewish Agency senior staff members who themselves have immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia — including Pnina Agenyahu, Director of the Partnership2Gether, Connecting the Jewish People Unit, and Sigal Kanotopsky, Regional Director of the Northeast Region.

In the mid-1980s, approximately 8,000 immigrants arrived through Operation Moses through Sudan. In 1991, 14,000 immigrants arrived as part of Operation Solomon. In the summer of 2013, The Jewish Agency completed its leadership of Operation Dove’s Wings, which brought 7,000 immigrants from Ethiopia. To date, more than 2,250 new immigrants have arrived in the ongoing Operation Zur Israel.