David Wolf

Ethiopian Olim

Many of them were brought to Israel in 1984 – 1985 in a semi-secret operation called “Operation Moses.”

I remember the excitement in the air here at the time! It was quite a feat, quite an accomplishment by the Israeli government!

But soon the problems began.

The Rabbanut said that there was a halachic problem with their Jewishness and that therefore they should all undergo a formal conversion.

For some, this was a caring step, to make sure that nobody will refuse to intermarry with them, to maintain the unity of the Jewish people.

For others, this was an insult to a people who have kept their Judaism for thousands of years.

They moved from African villages straight into 20th century Israel. It was a cultural shock.

We heard stories of immigrants who went to Klita Centers and didn’t understand the toilet bowls. They would use the toilet by standing on top of the bowl and squatting…

They came from a patriarchal society. Respect for parents, for the elderly, for the rabbis (called ‘keisim’) was a given. They were religious. Thousands walked for weeks in the desert on their way to Israel, to the promised land. Many died on the way.

They were generally seen as quiet, peaceful, friendly people. When I told this once to an Ethiopian woman, meaning to compliment her and her people, she was insulted. She thought this characterization was demeaning to them…

And the suicide rate amongst them was high.

But then something happened that was similar to what had already happened with other immigrant groups — the breakdown of their society.

Children went to school and learned new values — education, knowledge, grades in school, money, army… and gradually started to look down at their parents, at their elders… who hardly know the language, who don’t understand this modern world, who can’t help them with their homework…

And the glue that had kept them together over the centuries, started to disintegrate.

They feel that they are discriminated against because of their color. They are dark, as are many Jews from India and from Yemen…

Is it true? Probably…

People prefer to marry and to give jobs to their own.

So you could say that Ashkenazim discriminate against Sfaradim, some discriminate against Moroccans, Hungarians and Poles discriminate against each other… Yiddish speakers favor Yiddish speakers, English speakers favor English speakers…

When the Ethiopians came, there was nobody here to ‘open doors’ for them. So they had to start from the bottom. Usually without formal education and without professions that are useful in this modern world.

Slowly, the new generations went to school, went to the army. Some became officers in the army, some graduated from universities. Some married non-Ethiopians and have ‘mixed’ children.

Gradually, like all other immigrants, they are blending into Israeli society…

They claim that the Israeli police shoots at Ethiopians too frequently and too easily. Is it true?

I don’t believe that the police simply goes around looking for Ethiopians to shoot at! Why would they want to do that? But if some such case happened, of course it needs to be investigated and if someone is guilty he should be punished. Nobody in his right mind would claim otherwise. When they protested and demonstrated in the past, they had my sympathy and, I imagine, the sympathy of most Israelis.

But nothing prepared us for what happened these days.

Lynch mobs attacking passersby… Molotov cocktails and rocks being thrown at police and bystanders… Many people wounded…

Those who did this with murder in their eyes are not protesters, they are criminals and it was only by sheer luck that nobody was murdered!

The police tried to speak to the community leaders and keissim, to have them exercise their influence and control the mobs. But their influence isn’t strong enough anymore…

These hooligans and criminals certainly don’t represent the entire Ethiopian community. But unfortunately, because of them, their community as a whole will get much less sympathy from now on… at least from me…

About the Author
David Wolf writes about his experience of being a second-time husband and father. He has a daughter from his first marriage, and, with his second wife, has accrued three daughters, two sons-in-law, one grandchild and twin 8-year-old sons. He is a social worker in a mental health department and in private practice in Raanana.
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