Neal Brodsky

Sophie’s Choices

Biniyam Tesfahun in Israel with Israeli relative Inadis Andalao (Bini's mother Shashitu in mask.) Photo by Andalao provided to the author and used with permission
Biniyam Tesfahun in Israel with Israeli relative Inadis Andalao (Bini's mother Shashitu in mask.) Photo by Andalao provided to the author and used with permission

Now as the Israeli press returns to the Biniyam story, we must ask hard questions about the possible shipment of his revitalized body and soul back into possible harm’s way.

A mother whose one year old daughter sustained at her breast must leave her.

Flying to the side of her six year old son in Israel whose broken heart trickled blood into his mouth.

A mother forced to choose one child’s life to the detriment of another child.

A Holocaust era decision.

Not one we would hope for 21st Century Jewish parents. Anywhere.

Yet Shashitu the mother of Biniyam Tesfahun Maru lives that choice in Israel. As miracle workers fixed her son’s heart and he recovers, her baby daughter Sarah eyes the dry white milk powder that her remaining family will mix with water. Her primary food today in Ethiopia.

Does this mother rush back to Ethiopia and unsafe conditions? Or…?

Donations for the feeding program for children built by Struggle To Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ), North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) in the USA and Operation Ethiopia in Israel have dropped. In a time where Jewish parents have difficulty finding work, the feeding program can only afford two meals a day.  And only for children five and under.

What’s a boy like Biniyam, aged out from existing food to do? And what of hundreds of Jewish children in Addis Ababa who SSEJ cannot feed at all unless money surfaces?

As the sun rises over the trees here in Connecticut, my full refrigerator hums. In Ethiopia, internally displaced refugee families huddle in mud-floored huts with no electricity.

Biniyam’s compelling family story begs us to make another choice. To end the saga of family separation that has characterized so much of the Ethiopian exodus. To build the right to thrive for Jewish families of Ethiopian Descent while they wait in Ethiopia.

Jewish even though their skin is not white. It’s a Jewish story as old as Moses and Zipporah.

We need an integrated social service and education matrix that offers a secure lifeline in Ethiopia to the children and families who will become the next olim. Alisa Poskanzer, the family therapist of blessed memory knew and wrote of what can work when Israeli ingenuity, hearts and knowhow help to save and build lives. Programs for Ethiopia that bridge Jews there to Israel need scaling up now.

We don’t have to force Shashitu and other mothers or fathers in Ethiopia into Sophie’s Choices. We can re-unite this family in Israel and spin a new story beginning with Biniyam. A story that exemplifies Jewish hearts inevitably returning to drink from the abundant well we are called to share.

Let’s do it. Because we can. Because we must.

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 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 @onejewishfam (One Jewish Family) feeds on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and what readers formerly knew as Twitter. Due out with a book on his therapeutic work with children for Routledge/Taylor & Francis in 2024, his most recent writing can be found on Substack.
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