The 8,000 Remaining Jews of Ethiopia: A Photo Frozen in Time

Credit: Avital Lisker
Credit: Avital Lisker

I glanced at the photo and broke out in an immediate smile.  The memories of the summer camp in the remaining Jewish community of Ethiopia, still etched in my mind one year later.  Avital recently returned from Ethiopia and I was reminiscing over a photo she shared with me. The children in the picture were all smiles. Their flip-flops covered in mud.  Poorly dressed despite the chilly rains.

And I suddenly had this awful feeling.  A realization that pierced me.  When I looked more closely, I noticed that this was the same group of children I taught one summer ago, the ten-year-olds.  Yet one year has gone by, and these children are still there.  Still wearing the same shirts that are torn a bit more.  Still carrying the same worn out notebooks.  And nothing has changed. For them.

You see, one year before Avital was photographed with the children, I posed in a similar photo with these same youth.  And they too heard from me a wish that one day we would meet again, this time in Israel.  And I took the place in the photo of another emissary one year before that, who also offered the same wish to the children.  And four years earlier……

Next year, will another emissary arrive from Israel and take Avital’s place in that photo? An emissary who will offer these children the same wish, “Do not lose hope, for soon you will arrive in Israel and we will meet again!”  We emissaries come and go. We are constantly replacing the next in the photo.  But these children remain.  As do the hopes in their hearts.

How many photos can these children bare until they are permitted to enter the Promised Land?  How many more tears must be shed?

Despite a unanimous resolution passed 1,117 days ago by the Israeli government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 8,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia, awaiting immigration to Israel. Though flamboyant promises have been shared with the Ethiopian-Israeli community, their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers in Ethiopia have been abandoned by the Israeli government and the international Jewish community.  The Israeli government finds every reason to bring disconnected Jewish communities to Israel, but when it comes to the remaining Jews of Ethiopia who are faithful to Jewish custom and law, the government throws around every excuse to not bring them.

And I return to the photo. To the young, innocent faces that tell a story too painful to be transmitted by mere words on a screen.  Who represent shattered dreams, promises unfulfilled, questions left unanswered.  Faces that year after year become a bit older, a bit wiser and a bit sadder. And I know that we must open our hearts a little more. We must be attentive to the sweet voices of the young.  And we must demand that our leaders not forsake the dispersed ones.

For further information about the Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah email the author at iamalisab@gmail.com

About the Author
Raised in New Jersey and living in Israel for the past 7 years, Alisa Bodner has been involved with various initiatives to forge connections between Jewish communities abroad and Israel. She is the Spokesperson to Foreign Media for the grassroots organization, "The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah."
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