Six year old Mosei (Moses) peeks his smiling face from the end of a multi-colored fabric play tunnel. He’s just finished crawling its two meter length to emerge in triumph. This is the same tunnel I use for dynamic play therapy with children in the United States. The only difference here is that the tunnel rests not in a carpeted Manhattan office but on the hardened mud floor of a synagogue classroom in Gondar, Ethiopia. Mosei is one of the 7,500 remaining Jews in Ethiopia, thousands of them children whose parents left all they had in the mountain villages to come down to Gondar and Addis Ababa as they wait for permission to go to Israel. Today we are using the tunnel to experiment with what it will feel like to “go up to Jerusalem” something they will all hopefully do given the 2015 Israeli government decision to bring them all by the end of 2020.
The tunnel rests on the floor which tilts up at a 20 degree angle. My guess is that the Jewish community didn’t have the money to level the floor. For us today, it’s perfect.
As the children climb up the slanting tunnel they are chanting their own names. “Beati, Beiti, Mosei!” “Beiti, Beiti, Mosei!” Mosei wears a finely knit blue kippah woven by his mother, Mulu Sew who also manages the community’s mikveh. I know because I had seen her sitting and knitting them. I bought all she had left to bring them to my next stop, Israel.
Hadassah Gotlieb, a 22 year old volunteer from Israel who I met in Ethiopia says that these children have a “glisten in the eye” like no others she’s met. She speaks of their pure intelligence, their passion for learning. Hadassah is a former IDF Commander and not just any Commander. She was the one who managed pilots from the ground. Centered and strong, she is the kind of woman I’d trust in a crisis, under fire. When Hadassah speaks of the potential power of what these children represent for Israel, I listen. I think of the joy watching entire families kiss the ground of the promised land. I know in my heart that one day, one of these children can and will grow up to be a future Prime Minister of Israel.
And now the crisis has descended upon us. The Covid virus is expected to hit the horn of Africa hard by mid-June and I pray it will not take the life of Mosei and his friends or that of the parents and caregivers on whom they depend. These children live like all Jewish children live in Gondar. In one room huts with their families. Try that one on for social distancing protocol in a pandemic. I am writing this and I hope the God of Israel wlll forgive me, on the first day of Shavuot. Sitting here on my comfortable deck in Connecticut, the wind blowing through the trees. My only excuse is that I could not live with myself if I didn’t get these words out to you, my fellow adult humans, Jewish or not.
The name, God help us, of Mosei’s twin brother in English is Joshua. Now I get the joke. GOD IS PLAYING WITH ME and with us. These are the Jewish boys who literally brought the Torah to the Jewish people and set the groundwork for the entire of Western civilization. Are we going to save them, or not?
In Jerusalem, I imagine all is quiet as the Sabbath descends. Here in diaspora USA, where unmasked crazies spit in the eye of authority, we may continue playing with the pandemic for some time to come. Yet in Israel, wisdom and common sense may prevail as it has so many times before. We are the People of the Book. The next chapter will tell whether we play with fire by ignoring the cries of our sisters and brothers in Ethiopia or whether by rescuing them, we “Save A World Entire.”