Kissing the Ground, Hundreds of Ethiopian Immigrants Welcomed to Israel
Stuart Winer and Times of Israel staff
Times of Israel, Dec. 3, 2020
Waving Israeli flags as they came down the steps of the aircraft, over 300 members of Ethiopia’s Jewish community arrived in Israel on Thursday in a special airlift from Gondar headed by Absorption and Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata. The celebratory arrival, attended by several of Israel’s leaders, marked the opening phase of a plan to bring some 2,000 members of the community to Israel from Ethiopia in what has been dubbed Operation Tzur Israel. Critics have urged the government to speed the arrival of all 2,000, as well as thousands more community members estimated to be waiting to emigrate from the war-torn country.
The first of the 316 immigrants to emerge from the Ethiopian Airlines jet led a young girl with one hand and with his other blew a ram’s horn, or shofar, that in Jewish tradition is used to signal a moment of redemption. Some of the passengers kissed the ground as soon as they reached the tarmac, another tradition for those arriving for their first time in the Holy Land. Many were dressed in traditional Ethiopian robes, and many women held babies in their arms. Festive Hebrew songs were blasted over loudspeakers.
The arrivals, some of whom have waited 15 years or more to emigrate and many of whom have family here, will not be able to be reunited with their relatives immediately, due to coronavirus guidelines that require all arrivals to isolate for two weeks. They are slated to spend their first several months in Israel at an absorption center in the north, where they will learn Hebrew. Another plane is set to arrive on Friday, bringing the number of new immigrants to 500. The rest are expected to arrive by the end of January.
The new arrivals were greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other senior government figures at an emotional welcome ceremony, reminiscent of the fanfare surrounding airlifts of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s and 90s.“I don’t remember having been so moved for many years in such a clear image of Zionism,” Netanyahu said. “I had tears in my eyes.”
“This is the purpose of the Zionist story, the Jewish story,” he said.
The story of the Ethiopian immigration to Israel, with all its lethal dangers and hardships, will be taught to all Israeli schoolchildren, Netanyahu vowed, referring to journeys made by some immigrants by foot across Sudan and Egypt to reach Israel. Israel’s determination to bring home all of the Ethiopian community also extends to Avera Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli citizen believed held captive by the Hamas terror group after crossing into the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu said. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
The Importance of Celebrating the Ethiopian Jewish Holiday of Sigd
Isranet, Jan. 7, 2021Today, over 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. As a community, Beta Israel (House of Israel) has been often overlooked and misunderstood. The Jews (and non-Jews) living in the Diaspora know extraordinarily little about the dynamic traditions and history of these Jews. This lack of awareness is slowly changing, arguably due to the greater exposure of the unique Ethiopian Jewish holiday called Sigd.
In 2008, the Knesset declared Sigd a national holiday in Israel. Over the years, many Israelis have started to embrace and join in its celebration; a holiday observed exclusively by the Ethiopian Jewish community for thousands of years. Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan recently encouraged all Jews to celebrate Sigd. “The chief rabbis and anyone who deals with the issue of Israeli and historical Jewish identity should understand that this holiday is a holiday of the people of Israel,” he said.
Derived from the Hebrew word for prostration, “sigda,” the holiday takes place 50 days after Yom Kippur, which is the 29th of the Jewish month of Cheshvan. The holiday recognizes the Jewish covenant with G-d created on receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai and the Torah’s reacceptance upon returning to Judah from exile in 538 B.C.E led by Ezra the Scribe before the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Ethiopian Jewry’s origins are somewhat obscure. Historians speculate that a community of Jews forcibly emigrated from ancient Israel between the 1st and 6th centuries and settled in what is known today as Ethiopia. For thousands of years, Ethiopian Jews prayed to return to the Land of Israel, with especial focus during the holiday of Sigd. During the 19th and 20th centuries, while many Ethiopian Jews forcibly converted to Christianity, many of them secretly continued to observe Jewish traditions and holidays and adhere to their Jewish faith.
The importance of educating people about the rich history of the Ethiopian Jewish community cannot be overstated, especially in the context of diversity among Jews and the definite need for greater societal unity. Naftali Aklum, an Ethiopian Jew, made Aliyah on his mother’s back when he was six months old. His family was one of the first to escape Ethiopia via Sudan in 1984. He uses his voice and compelling story to educate people about the Ethiopian Jewish community. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
______________________________________________________Israel’s Absorption of Bnei Menashe Jews from India
ORF, Jan. 30, 2020In the late 1970s, a few individuals from a small group located in North East India, began to research the origins of their religious traditions and their ancestry. Their research led them to discover an ancestral connection to Israel. This particular group, known as Bnei Menashe or ‘sons of Menashe’ are believed to be the descendants from the lost tribe of Menashe. In the early 1980s, members of the group made contact with an organization in Israel expressing an interest in returning to their ancient homeland.
On request of this tribe, the chief Rabbis of Israel investigated these people and found that they still observe Shabbat, maintain Kosher dietary laws, celebrate biblical fests, marry within their tribe and are clinging for a hope of returning one day to the land of Israel. After almost two decades of their recognition as ‘Jews’ from one of the lost tribes of Israel, they are still struggling to be accepted fully as members of the mainstream Israeli society.
Their story and struggles are not any different from the Jewish community from Ethiopia, called as Beta Israel. Although, the Beta Israel are large in proportion, they continue to face similar issues such as that of Bnei Menashe Jews. This particular Indian Jewish community is termed not only as ‘impure’, but continue to face discrimination on the basis of their religious identity and demographic background. Out of almost 11,000 Bnei Menashe Jews, only around 4,000 Jews have been able to immigrate to Israel, while about 7,000 of them are said to be waiting for immigration to the Jewish state. Bnei Menashe Jews in Israel have been allocated areas of highly unstable lands of West Bank where education, security and employment remains a major concern. A fair assumption can be made that the spatial segregation of the Bnei Menashe in West Bank was a result of their low socio-economic and educational status in contrast to the larger Israeli society.
Israel’s policies addressing issues of immigration, absorption and diaspora affairs have often placed the Jews coming from developing countries such as India and Ethiopia in the underdeveloped periphery, where scanty economic and inferior education opportunities have always been a bone of contention. Israel has witnessed several protests by vocal minority groups where demonstrators were found insisting greater equality and an end to discrimination by the Israeli government and wider society as a whole. A major question that arises is that are Bnei Menashe Jews like Beta Israel are only a tool to fulfill political agendas and for boosting the Jewish population, especially in the disputed territories of West Bank?
Jews of the Bnei Menashe community left India, hoping to unite with their ancestral homeland and with their Jewish brothers and sisters. For them, Israel is more than just a land of ‘milk’ and ‘honey’, but an opportunity to get immersed into the life of a Jewish state. Despite their expectations of a better life, they have been subjected to discrimination by other Jews in Israel’s society. They are racially discriminated and often separated from the mainstream Jewry by being categorized as ‘Chinese’. They are also religiously discriminated by other Jews due to the skepticism that still surrounds their claims of a past Jewish connection.… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
_____________________________________________________Homeland Bound: American-Israelis Reflect on Making Aliyah
Baltimore Jewish Times, July 15, 2020Thinking of making a move to Israel? You’re not alone, as more American Jews applied for or inquired about making aliyah in May of 2020 than in any single previous month during the last 20 years, according to an article by The Forward.
“With applications we’re seeing about a 100% rise in interest in aliyah,” said Yael Katsman, vice president of communications for Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit that assists North American Jews with immigrating to Israel. Describing the upswing in applications as a “dramatic spike,” she emphasized that “if you look at May 2020, for instance, [it] was a record month in … the 18-year history of Nefesh B’Nefesh.”
Katsman suggested the increased interest in moving to Israel might have to do with a change in how people are perceiving their living situations, partly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “A lot of people have had a lot of time now, at home, to kind of recalibrate their plans now,” Katsman said, “and to do a lot of thinking about their priorities, and where they want to be in the long term. And people that thought about making aliyah in the past may not have thought it was possible for them, but COVID shifted a lot of perceptions.”
For instance, Katsman explained, American-based workers who once thought it impossible to do their jobs remotely now see things in a different light. Also, American Jews reluctant to move far away from family members have now spent months becoming accustomed to communicating with loved ones over the phone or the internet. In short, many of the things that previously barred American Jews from seriously considering aliyah have been made moot points by the novel coronavirus.
So, is a move to Israel right for you? The answer depends on what you’re looking for. “I was not reaching my full potential in the United States,” said Alexander Borschel, a business developer who made aliyah in 2016, “and I felt that perhaps I could find myself if I began working to help improve the world.”
Born in West Germany to American officers, Borschel spent much of his life in Springfield, Va., though he lived in the Baltimore area during 2015 and was active in Harford Chabad. Joining an Israeli volunteer program in 2015 that focused on Bedouin education reforms, he decided he did not wish to return to the U.S. and went through the aliyah administrative process while staying with his father in Hungary. With a desire to pursue tikkun olam, Borschel has spent his time in Israel teaching English, recruiting for nonprofits, and working in technology development.
Currently living in Beersheva, Borshel noted the hospitality he has consistently received from his Israeli social circle. “You will not starve here, unless you really want to,” he said. “Any day of the week I could message someone and I guarantee I would be invited to a meal.
“My grandfather just passed, so I got invited to 10 dinners,” Borschel continued. “I didn’t even make a post about it yet. It was very perceptive. They care. They seem like they don’t, but they actually do.”
Borschel also mentioned that the application process went relatively smoothly, estimating it took him three weeks to begin and complete it. Categorizing it as a “painless” process, he explained that reaching out to family connections as well as directly calling the appropriate embassies and agencies kept things running smoothly. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
______________________________________________________For Further Reference:
Did 2020 See Massive Aliyah Despite COVID, Or Because of It?: Yori Yalon, Israel Hayom, Dec. 28, 2020 — Global pandemic notwithstanding, over 20,000 Jews from 70 countries made aliyah over the course of 2020, the Jewish Agency reported this week as the year draws to a close.
252 Indian Jews from the Bnei Menashe community immigrate to Israel: DH Deccan Herald, Dec. 15, 2020 — A total of 252 Jews, including infants and elderly, from India’s north-eastern Bnei Menashe community on Tuesday landed at the Ben-Gurion airport here as immigrants and to start a new life in Israel.
Searching for Israelite Origins in Religious and Secular Sources: Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh, Brewminate, Feb. 17, 2020 — The Israelites, as described in the Hebrew Bible, were the descendants of the patriarch Jacob, later known as Israel. Jacob’s 12 sons formed the 12 tribes of Israel after emigrating to Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses, they left Egypt and conquered the land of Canaan, forming the nations of Israel and Judah.
Israel Now Requires FBI Checks Of Would-Be Immigrants. Why’s That Controversial?: Simona Weinglass, Times of Israel, Sept. 22, 2020 — Since Israel’s inception, thousands of Jews from around the world have immigrated each year in a process known as aliya.