I wake to loud explosions in the distance. I cry out. I hear the shuffle of feet moving closer. Muffled voices in the tiny room where everyone sleeps and eats. The woman who feeds me peering down. Her eyes look big and scared. Door creaks open. I shiver. Has the man brought the bottle of creamy nourishment for me to drink?
Or will I go hungry today?
I have a few photos and not much else. The family members who agreed to bring Daniel up have been hard to reach these last few weeks as ethnically inspired warfare in Ethiopia threatens to engulf Jews waiting for admission to Israel. These Jewish families abandoned their mountain villages years ago for the dream of “Return” to Jerusalem.
I think of Baye Tesfa, the Chazan of the Jewish community in Addis waiting over two decades to join his family in Israel. His faith in the eventual redemption of all these families had him choosing to return to Ethiopia after a tantalizing visit to Israel. Returning to teach Torah and halacha to his students including his two young sons. How much he misses Jerusalem. Now he waits with thousands of others, among them 80-100 babies born to Jewish mothers this year. “Jewish,” as my dear friends in Ethiopia remind me, “even though their skin is not white.”
Danger and opportunity coupled now as at the end of World War II when journalist Ruth Gruber led 1000 survivors of the Holocaust to haven in America. Israel as a nation did not yet exist. Later, Gruber became a staunch advocate for Ethiopian Jewry. Yet today, the 2015 promise by the Israeli government to bring all Jewish families remaining in Ethiopia by the end of 2020 remains unfulfilled. 2000 are said to arrive at Ben Gurion airport by the end of January 2021. Will the other thousands be left to starve or die?
Barbara Ribakove of North American Conference of Ethiopian Jewry tells a story from the days of operations to rescue Jews before the turn of the century. As war raged, Jews fleeing to Addis Ababa from Gondar were dying in droves on the road. At the Jewish cemetery in Addis, the woman coordinating funerals had not returned home to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner for days. The cemetary overflowing with bodies of people who “gave up everything,” as Barbara Ribakove relates, “to starve in Addis.”
“So many” she remembers, “were children.”
Today, as baby Daniel and his family wait in hunger and fear, Jewish officials sit in a brightly lit office somewhere in Jerusalem. Before them, the decision to provide sustenance and save lives. The decision on who will come to Israel. Faced with catastrophe in 2020 Ethiopia, I visualize them intoning the words of Tikkun that will move mountains.
“Let us help these people.”
I imagine walking the streets of Jerusalem one day, together with Daniel. I imagine my tears of joy, as I watch Daniel read from the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Together we touch the Temple Wall in gratitude. Together we praise the One who our forefathers praised.
“Blessed is the Redeemer of the Oppressed.”