Biniyam’s Army

Biniyam with his mother in Ethiopia before his rescue
Biniyam with his mother in Ethiopia before his rescue

UPDATE: February 28, 2021: Biniyam and his mother have arrived in Israel. The boy awaits lifesaving surgery and continued care which readers can support.

January 7, 2021 — The leader of Children of God circus troupe in Gonder, Ethiopia sends me an urgent message on WhatsApp. His six year old nephew Biniyam needs a life-saving operation to repair a hole in his heart. In December, they wrote to the Jewish Agency in Israel requesting help. No answer. Yet.

I ask former Israeli Defense Forces commander and volunteer teacher in Ethiopia, Hadassah Gotlieb to create a WhatsApp chat group. Included: Dr. Mesrasha Dessie the heart physician finishing his studies in Israel, Avi Bram, development economist and Trustee of the Meketa charity who’s recently moved back to Addis Ababa with his wife and infant son. And Mesenbet Andebet Tizale, Biniyam’s uncle.

A text arrives from another friend, “Have you asked Dr. Hartstein about this?”

Dr. Morris (Mo) Hartstein has been among those leading the charge in critically needed eye care and surgery for waiting Jewish families in Ethiopia and also in the feeding programs developed for children under five years of age at risk for malnutrition.

I email Mo and sure enough he’s on top of the situation and doing all he can to get treatment for Biniyam.

Biniyam’s family, mother Shashitu, father and one year old sister Sarah have come down from Gondar waiting along with many others in Addis Ababa for possible news on a flight to Israel.

Avi moves into action, asking the former head of the Gonder Jewish community, Ambanesh Tekeba Biru, now serving as social worker supporting Meketa programs, to check in with Biniyam’s family. Whatever he learns, it seems dire and Avi arranges paying the family’s room and board.

I title the WhatsApp Chat group: “Passport for Mesenbet” because getting that document for Biniyam from Ethiopian authorities seems our singular focus. But Dr. Dessie says the Israeli embassy in Addis can allow Biniyam to travel with other special permission.

Why can’t Biniyam’s family travel together to Israel for this medical emergency?

For that matter, why is Dr. Dessie’s wife Beza and three year old daughter Yan still stuck in Ethiopia almost two years after he made Aliya?

I know the trauma that occurs when families are separated so I open up my laptop and begin what I do when feeling helpless.

I start writing the story…

Notes: The author wishes to express gratitude for the fortitude and courage of so many including P’nina Tamano-Shata, Isaac Herzog, staff of the Jewish Agency For Israel and the dedicated people at Save A Child’s Heart. An earlier version of this story by the author appeared on Medium.

About the Author
Neal H. Brodsky, a family and somatic psychotherapist, writer and activist lives in Connecticut near NYC. A contributor to the 2021 Routledge International Handbook of Play, Therapeutic Play & Play Therapy, he practices online during Covid-19 and is affiliated with the Israel Center for Self Transformation. Originally trained as a script writer, his career includes ten years writing grants supporting families in subsidized housing, more than a decade in marketing positions at major U.S. public television stations and programming management at HBO. Neal curates One Jewish Family: News of Ethiopian Jews social media feeds on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. He also writes for publication in The Forward and Medium.
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