Sharon Shalom

‘Survivor of Sudan’ sees sparks of light in darkness of Simchat Torah war

Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom, Founder and Director, International Center for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry, Ono Acaademic College

I write as “a survivor of Sudan.” That is how the Mossad official involved in my escape defined it. Sudan, in those days, was an “accident of a country” in which 4,000 Ethiopian Jews, who fled from Ethiopia hoping to get to Israel, perished. These included many women, children, and elderly who marched with ferocity, a great love for Jerusalem, and a yearning for the Land of Israel. They had a love that conquered fear. The situation in, and on the way to, Sudan was unbearable. The people were broken and torn. When it appeared that the darkness and gloom could not get any worse, suddenly out of nowhere, the good guys appeared. Mossad agents and the marine commandos of the elite Shayetet 13 unit came to rescue us. We hugged and cried upon meeting our brothers and sisters after a separation of two thousand years. One’s skin was lighter and the other’s was darker, but in these moments, what we saw was each others’ beating hearts. We saw the essence and not the husk. We saw light and not skin tone. Together with our brothers whom we had just met, we merited to make our 2,000 year old dream come true.

As bad as the horrors I experienced in Sudan as a small child were, what I have seen in the South of the country, since the outbreak of the Simchat Torah War, is so much worse. My reservist duty took me to one of the kibbutzim that was attacked and exposed me to the atrocities that were committed on my people by the cruel Hamas enemy. A paradise was turned into hell. Abandoned roads. Burnt cars. Destroyed houses. Bodies are lying everywhere. Attack motorcycles used by the terrorists are now strewn about and look like those I used to see in Holocaust movies. Blood still pools on the road. Exploded rocket components are everywhere. Trees that have been hit by missiles continue to burn, like Moses’ bush. You can smell the fuel spilled on the road. The land had returned to a primordial pre-creation state, having become chaos and darkness on the face of an abyss. The scenes were apocalyptic. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like I was watching a dystopian movie. Light and good had been banished. Darkness prevailed. Satan had defeated the angel.

Such horrifying scenes raise difficult spiritual questions. To this day, I have not been able to understand the essence of Amalek, and what feels like an immoral biblical command to utterly destroy this nation. Yesterday, I understood.

The toolbox that stands before democracy will never be able to deal once and for all with the Hamas “terrorocracy.” We probably need a different toolbox. The democratic world must unite and create a new toolbox that is appropriate for dealing with such demonic behavior. The toolbox of democracy is seen as a weakness in the eyes of the “terrorocracy.” The reality of Gaza teaches us that we must dry the entire swamp instead of killing a mosquito here and a mosquito there. Reaching a Hudna (temporary Islamic truce, like the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, described in the Koran, that Mohamed violated when he became stronger) here and Hudna there is not a replacement for a long term solution. Anyone who thinks that the toolbox of heaven will be able to provide us with a comprehensive solution to deal with the forces of hell is living in an illusion.

I heard former Israeli President, Shimon Peres, may he rest in peace, note that there is one phrase in the Torah which has paramount importance. This phrase is, “And let there be light.” Amidst all this darkness, we, the Jewish people, always knew how to see the light and the hope amidst the darkness. What I am seeing now is something more than that. Precisely in this dark reality full of horrors, and exactly because of this chaos and destruction, the abyss will soon reveal the spirit of God hovering on the surface of the water, like in the world’s initial creation. We will merit to see the spirit of good people, the dedication of the righteous, the reawakening of the soul, the angels of all types who continue to spread the original light of creation and restore hope for tomorrow and normality against the forces of Satan and the spirit of Amalek. And suddenly, from the darkness, stars will be revealed. “And God said let there be light and there was light.” This light will reveal the blindness we were subjected to before the outbreak of the war. It will be accompanied by the return to thousands of captive family members, the candles which they thought had burned out.

The power of unity is something which we see all around us. We are witness to the responsiveness of hundreds of thousands of reservists. We see Generals take off their civilian clothes and put on their uniforms regardless of their age. I am getting contacted by many people from all over the world asking how they can help. This is the light that one day is going to dispel the dark chaos we are in now.

In the same way that the Jewish people emerged out of Sudan, the Holocaust and dozens of other pogroms through the centuries, we will succeed in coming out of this atrocity stronger than ever. It will take time, but that time will surely come. The power of unity erupting now is something indescribable. With this we will win proving once again that the State of Israel is a miracle.

Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the Chief Rabbi of the Har Etzion Yeshiva, and a Shoah survivor, used to say “I saw the hand of God in the Shoah, but I did not understand its meaning.” I am not as great as Rabbi Amital, who was able to see the hand of God in what is happening today. Certainly, I do not understand these events’ meaning. However, one thing I do understand is that the State of Israel does not necessarily provide security; instead, it provides meaning. In this sense, the Jewish State of Israel is a phenomenon, and not an accident of history. It would be hard to find someone in Israel who did not pay a heavy price for this country. Everything about this country is characterized by an indescribable force, the same force that told us to leave everything we had and start marching to Jerusalem.  This is the same love that was able to defeat fear. It is now erupting in powerful dimensions with which we will be able to restore our security, but above all, to recapture our meaning. This is the reason why we are actually here in Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom is the founding director of Ono Academic College's International Center for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry. He is also the author of Dialogues of Love and Fear (Koren, 2021) and From Sinai to Ethiopia (Gefen, 2016).
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