The 8,000 remaining Jews of Ethiopia

My Dear Brothers and Sisters, Leaders of the Jewish Federations: We need to talk about the remaining Jews of Ethiopia

You work so hard on connecting our brothers and sisters around the word to Israel.  Yet you do not hear the knocks on the doors of the 8,000 Jews who have been totally forsaken by the international Jewish community. The Jewish communities in Gondar and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia have been waiting for over 20 years to come to Israel.  Some don’t know that they exist. Others don’t even care and the rest won’t even believe they are really Jewish. You fund starving children in South America and disconnected youth in the FSU.  But what about children living in intense poverty in Ethiopia, who pray three times per day in the flimsy tin-shack synagogue, end each prayer service with “Hatikva” and are verbally harassed by their Christian neighbors because they are Jewish?

And I ask, why? How are these amazing people different then all the rest of us. If we would only take a minute to listen to their great stores, meet them.

I recently returned from their community, after volunteering in the summer camp for one month. I can still remember the pain, the suffering. Besides the happiness and simplicity. I cannot forget the images in my head. The one piece of bread and potato, egg and banana as a meal each day. The torn shirts, the dirty shoes. The crowded ‘transit camp’, the cold outdoors, the way the children looked at me each time I took out a bottle of water, which is normal to me. The way we volunteers felt so uncomfortable riding back to our hotel, even though it cost just 2 cents. Because the rest of the youth walked back by foot, also in the cold rain. How we would feel bad coming back to a good Shabbat meal, with food and goodies, immediately after participating in the ‘kiddush’ at the synagogue, where every child received only one piece of challah. How they were so appreciative of every little thing, each t-shirt from Israel, each notebook, pen or paper. How the starvation for Torah lessons was greater than for food.

When I returned to Israel my life wasn’t the same as it was before I left to Ethiopia. It could not be.    I started to appreciate much more everything I had. My room, my comfortable house. I was so thankful to my parents, so grateful to G-d. Being able to live together with my entire family, after seeing those who have been separated from their loved ones for over 15 years. From now on, any visit to the Western Wall, to Jerusalem, to any trip in Israel, is different. I think about the children’s faces in every step I take. How they would feel if they were here instead of me.  I remember thinking to myself how spoiled I am for having so much back home. Too much food, too much clothing. Many of us are so used to high standards while so many others are starving and are sick, with no money for medical care. And not any Africans, these are our fellow Jewish brothers and sisters. And it is our obligation to help them. We cannot keep our eyes closed and watch them suffer alone. They need our help.

21-year-old Melkamu Fenta from Gondar, who recently arrived in Israel for a half-year leadership program in a Yeshiva, posted this on Facebook:

‘Do you know what the meaning of life is?

Do you know what it means to you?

Do you know how it feels like living alone without your family?

I always think about being with my siblings

When they are happy and when they are sad.

I have a question for you-

Do you know when the last time I saw all my family was?

Without those kids I love so much.

Do you remember the last time this happened to you?

Do you people know where we cry

Because we all miss our family so much?

Our mother, father, uncles and aunts

cousins and grandparents.

Do you know where this is taking place?

In Ethiopia.

There are 8000 people who have not met their family yet.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister, do you remember your obligation to us,

To bring all those 8000 Jews here?

Do you know how many came to Israel?

You said to bring 1000 more now.

What does that even mean?

Do you know how many people died on their way here?

They didn’t succeed in coming to the promised land.

I’m not telling you to be in their place.

I just want you to understand

That this year should be in Jerusalem,

Not next…’


you have returned from an intensive week at the GA where you discussed important issues on the agenda of World Jewry and what steps you will take in the coming months to implement programs and strategies to benefit Jewish communities worldwide. I hope that the remaining Jewish community of Ethiopia will not be left off your agenda.

According to the JFNA website, “Because no matter where we live, we are all part of one global Jewish family.” Hopefully hearing these stories and taking a look at these authentic pictures will help to capture your attention about these Jews who have been left behind!

About the Author
Avital Lisker recently returned from volunteering and traveling in Ethiopia. She is pursuing a degree in Social Sciences from Bar Ilan University. She can be reached at
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