coming home

Operation Tzur Israel delivers 340 Ethiopians


Three-hundred-forty Ethiopian immigrants landed in Israel on two flights that were part of “Operation Tzur Israel” (“Rock of Israel”). Since it began in December 2020, it’s reunited 3,000 new immigrants with first-degree relatives who previously immigrated to Israel. The project will continue.

Ahead of last week’s flights, journalists and Federation leaders met with the Jewish community of Gondar, where the Ethiopian Jews are concentrated. Despite their harsh living conditions, they maintained a strong Jewish identity and carried on Jewish communal traditions.

On Sunday, journalists sat with several families preparing to immigrate. They packed their food, clothing and baskets to make traditional injera bread abandoning nostalgic belongings. On arrival in Israel, the Ethiopians, who had been living in one-room mud, wood and stone huts with without flooring, electricity or running water, were moved into absorption centers where they are expected to stay for two to three years as they learn Hebrew, acclimate to Israeli society, begin working, enter the education system and undergo a conversion process.

“It is our responsibility to help them as they take their first steps in Israel,” said Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and acting chairman of the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency has 20 staff based in Ethiopia to prepare families and organize flights to Israel in coordination with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, and cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On Monday, the group visited an old synagogue in Ataya (a Jewish community that has since made aliyah) and heard from Micha Feldmann, a former Jewish agency shaliach and scholar in residence. They traveled to Kossoye, hearing personal stories from Operation Moses in which 14,000 Ethiopian Jews traveled for months by foot to Sudanese refugee camps before immigrating to Israel in the late 1970s and through the mid-1980s. Almost half didn’t reach the Sudanese refugee camps, some turning back and another 4,000 people losing their lives during imprisonment by Ethiopian and Sudanese authorities, as well as by hunger, thirst, disease and asphyxiation from the cramped trucks that drove the group to the Hercules Airfield in Sudan.

On the Wednesday flight from Addis Ababa to Israel, the group was accompanied by Hagoel and Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born woman to enter the Knesset.

Tamano-Shata’s advocacy efforts led to the government’s decision in October 2020 that launched Operation Tzur Israel.

The operation has reunited 2,000 Ethiopians with their families in Israel, with another 3,000 planned. Oneman, Yeshorok, who made aliyah with his wife and son in February 2021 after waiting for 12 years to immigrate, said, “Everything that has happened to us since immigrating is the fulfillment of a years-long dream and beyond our expectations,” the Jewish Agency reported.

Speaking to the group the night before the flight, Tamano-Shata acknowledged that “we have a big responsibility to do the right thing. … [The Ethiopian Jewish] struggle is my struggle, and it must be the struggle of Israel and the Diaspora. … The people of Gondar have been waiting to come home after many years, and now they know they have friends in Israel.”