Jonathan Davis

Commemorating the Heroic Journey of Ethiopian Jews

On the 28th of Iyar, this year falling on June 10th, We will be holding a special ceremony at Reichman University in order to commemorate the Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel.  The government of the State of Israel decided that a national memorial ceremony will be held each year on the 28th of Iyar.

Between 1980 and 1984 a mass immigration of Jews took place from Gondar through Sudan, clandestinely organized by the Mossad through Sudan.  During their escape in the Sudanese camps on route to Israel they suffered from disease, hunger, acts of harassment, rape, and violent robberies. The families, with their elderly and young members, walked  for long periods of up to several months and were forced to await rescue in Sudan for up to two years.

According to the description by the Knesset approximately 4,000 members of the community perished on the way and in the camps in their attempt to arrive in Israel. Their instructions by the Mossad on minimizing their Jewish identity made it difficult for them to observe Jewish law and tradition.  They could not bury their dead in the desert for fear of robbers, and they could not perform Jewish burial ceremonies at their camps for fear of the Sudanese guards.

In March 2007 a national memorial was erected on the southern part of Mt. Herzl. It was designed by architect Gabriel Ketesz in cooperation with artists and authors of Ethiopian origin. Their work was introduced into the design of the memorial, as well as the monologue by the members of the community describing their way of life in the Ethiopian villages, their journey to Israel, waiting in the refugee camps in Sudan and their yearning for Jerusalem. The area surrounding the memorial serves as a gathering place for uniting with the loss and the courage of the thousands of Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel.  They would walk and point to “Yerusalem” which energized and motivated them, as the epitome of their desire to live in the Land of Israel.  For me, this is the epitome of African Jewish Zionism.

The Ethiopian of community of over 140,000 in Israel has struggled through trials and tribulations to acculturate and has faced many challenges.  Today we are beginning to see the half of a cup which is full. This vibrant community contributes to Israel on a daily basis perhaps more than many other community in the country. During the Swords of Iron War we are witness to the countless members of the Ethiopian community in Israel who serve in combat units and have paid the highest price.  Their patriotism, love of Israel and Zion and Jewish identity are the order of the day.

At Reichman University approximately 250 students of Ethiopian background , have graduated the university since the inception of our Israel at Heart Program, which provides full scholarships for students of Ethiopian background. Many of them are the grandchildren and great grand children of the courageous immigrant who strived to come to Israel during Operation Moses. During this war many dozens of them joined the colors and served their country.  A number were severely wounded.  A very high proportion of these students have achieved the Dean’s List, a number have achieved Fullbright and Rhodes scholarships. Many of our graduates are in key positions in the foreign ministry and throughout the civil service. They are employed in top accounting and law firms. A very significant number of the clinical psychologists in the State of Israel of Ethiopian background  are our graduates. A very special group of our graduates have continued in the IDF and security services, and play vital roles in the defense of this country.  Some of our graduates have decided to take on the role of social responsibility and take leadership roles in the community, serve as role models, and impact lives.

When we observe this memorial day for Ethiopian Jewish who perished in the midst of this war, let us remember the descendants of these brave individuals, who are resilient, give thanks, and realize how fortunate we are to have our African Jewish brothers and sisters together with us in Israel.

About the Author
Jonathan Davis is head of the international school at Reichman University (formerly the IDC) and vice president of external relations there. He is also a member of the advisory board of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Mr. Davis also serves as a Lieutenant Colonel (Res) in the IDF Spokesman’s office.
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