Today we commemorate the anniversary of Operation Solomon, the remarkable airlift to Israel and rescue of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews over one weekend in 1991. This included breaking a world record for the most airline passengers on one plane. 1086 Ethiopian Jews left Adis Ababa and were flown home on a single ELAL Boeing 747. During the flight two babies were born and the plane landed with 1088 new citizens!
It is important to acknowledge that with all of Israel’s incredible successes in many fields since its creation, there are issues that Israel is grappling with as it continues to stride in the 21st century. The problems that the Jewish State faces include topics as far ranging as: security, religion, society, environment, how to harmoniously co-exist with a minority population and immigrant absorption. Ethiopian immigrants have especially felt the last issue, immigrant absorption. It is very symbolic that Israel swore in, Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian–born Minister of Immigrant Absorption this week. It is important to acknowledge that following the dramatic rescue from certain death by Israel, which was a fine example of Zionism in action, many Ethiopian Jews still feel marginalised in society.
Whilst many of Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community can trace their roots in the country to the two dramatic airlifts of 1984 and 1991 (Operations Moses and Solomon), some of the community arrived independently. One such exceptional woman is Yityish (Titi) Aynaw, who was Miss Israel 2013. Ms. Aynaw is someone who is a role model for our youth, and indeed for all of us. Titi overcame tremendous adversity to reach the point of being a representative of her adopted country.
Titi’s journey from Ethiopia was quite different. Orphaned at the age of twelve, she came alone to Israel to live with her maternal grandparents. She came without the emotional, social, cultural, and linguistic skills necessary for an easy absorption. Instead of wallowing in self-pity for the harsh lot given to her by life she rose above it, and through sheer grit and determination arrived at the point where she is today. As Titi so expressively stated during an interview with the BBC:
My grandmother raised me. Nothing was handed to me on a plate. I had to work very hard and long to achieve things in my life. I felt a responsibility to prove myself in everything I did and to improve myself as well.
Ms. Aynaw has many role models in her life including Martin Luther King Junior. She stated in a recent interview that:
Martin Luther King fought for justice and equality, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here. I want to show that my community has many beautiful qualities that aren’t always represented in the media. Israel is a multicultural state. We’re diverse and we come from different countries, so we need to show that outwardly.
Imagine if you told a twelve-year-old orphan in a new country that she would overcome many of her absorption difficulties, serve as an officer in the IDF and be invited to meet with the President of the USA at a State gala, all within less than a decade after her arrival? Only in Israel!
Dr. Tuvia Book is the author of “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Education” (Koren, 2017). His forthcoming book on the Second Temple Period, from which parts of this article are excerpted, will be published by Koren later this year. He also is a Ministry of Tourism licensed Tour Guide and a Judaica artist. www.tuviabook.com