In 2004, The Knesset passed a referendum that Yom Yerushalayim (the 28th of Iyar) would also be a national day of remembrance for the 4,000 Jews from Ethiopia who perished on their journey through Sudan on their way to Israel. The Ethiopian Aliyah is a story of determination, longing, and the centrality of Eretz Yisrael as a symbol for thousands of Jews who had never been there.
Crossing the Desert
Ethiopian Jews were permitted to immigrate to Israel up until a political upheaval in 1977, when dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam came to power. Not only was immigration outlawed, so too were any kind of Jewish or Zionist activities. Many Jews became refugees, some walking for days on end to Jerusalem for the sake of freedom.
The Jewish Agency, Israel Defense Force (IDF), and Mossad worked together to bring Ethiopian Jews safely to Israel. The first large rescue mission was known as Operation Moses (1984-1985), where 6,364 Jews from Sudanese refugee camps were brought to Israel by foot, boats, and planes.
“Between November 1988 and May 1991, 150,000 Ethiopian Jews moved closer to Addis Ababa, the center for Aliyah activities in Ethiopia. Operation Solomon was an airlift rescue of Ethiopian Jews. In May 1991, 14,000 Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel aboard IDF, El-Al, and Ethiopian Airlines aircrafts... With aid of American arbitration, the Israeli government reached a settlement with Mengistu and with the rebels, allowing the rescue to take place within 34 hours.” (The Jewish Agency)
מַסָּע לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל
(Masa L’Eretz Yisrael, "Journey to the Land of Israel")
The following song was written by Chaim Idissis, a Tel Aviv native who was touched by the story of the Ethiopian Aliyah. Shlomo Gronich composed the tune, and sang the most well-known and loved version with the Sheba children’s choir (which he created):
- What are the central themes of the song?
- The song is written by a man who grew up in Tel Aviv and sung by another Israeli who formed the Ethiopian children’s choir that sings this version. Does it make a difference to the song if it was written by people who didn’t experience it?
- Do you think it was important for the Ethiopian children who did experience what the song describes, to sing it? Do you think it was difficult for them?
אִמָּא סָפְרִי לִי
(Ima Sapri Li, "Mom, Tell Me")
This song was written in 2017 by Ethiopian-Israeli singer Ayala Ingedeshet and Israeli-born musician Ran Cohen Aharanov. This, too, tells the story of leaving Ethiopia and arriving in Israel, although the singer is asking her mother to remind her of what happened.
What are the central themes of the song?
What does the tune add to the feel of the song?
How would the singer define a hero? How does it compare to your definition of a hero?
How does this song compare to the first?
How do you think the singer’s mother feels every time she is asked to repeat this story?
What do you imagine a conversation about the Ethiopian Aliyah would be like between the singers of the two songs?
What stories are important for you and your family to retell?
Remembered or Retold?
Take a moment to think of an early memory.
Consider if it truly is something you remember, or rather due to seeing a photo related to the event or being repeatedly told the story, it has become a part of you without actually remembering it.
How have these early memories been framed for you and by whom?