Last night, the HaNoar HaOved youth movement associated with Dror Israel was honored to host in Netanya the annual national ceremony in commemoration of the Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel. Unlike last year, this year’s ceremony was able to be held in person with hundreds of attendees from the Ethiopian-Israeli community, the youth movement, the greater Netanya community, and more.
For hundreds of years, the community dreamt of reaching Jerusalem and taught their children to be “gobez” – a word in Amharic which is a symbol of leadership and heroism, and includes also characteristics of intelligence, resourcefulness, courage and responsibility.
The combination of the longing for Jerusalem and education towards these values are what led the community to take the brave and dangerous path of setting out on foot towards Jerusalem, led by hundreds of youth.
The moving ceremony included an original play written by the youth actors, musical performances, a prayer delivered by a Kess (Ethiopian Jewish religious leader), speeches and a ceremony lighting four torches to commemorate the 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who perished on the way to Israel. The torches were lit by family members of those who perished, together with youth leaders from HaNoar HaOved.
Unfortunately, many Israelis (and Jews throughout the world) are still unaware of this amazing story of courage, Zionism and tragedy, and the myth persists that the Ethiopian Jewish community was brought to Israel through no agency of their own. Dror Israel honors the community and its leaders past and present, and commemorates those who perished with this ceremony and other educational programs throughout the year, including workshops, a mobile exhibit, Sigd holiday celebrations, and the children’s book Yerus Goes to Yerusalem.
“I am writing this letter to people who will never read it. This is a despairing attempt to raise the forgotten memories out of a sea of sad memories in this catastrophe-stricken land. I am afraid that you will be forgotten without anyone noticing. You are not 100, and not 200, but 4,000 women and men, elders and children who believed that your rightful place was here [in Israel]. You tried to fulfill your dreams, and set out on a grueling journey by foot through jungles, rivers and deserts, full of murderers, rapists, terrorizers and heartless people. But you remained there, in that endless space, buried in a strange land in unmarked graves. For many of you, nobody even placed earth over your bodies. Despite the dangers, you continued en masse, on a journey of a kind not seen since the Exodus from Egypt. You walked through night and day, until you reached the cursed land of Sudan.”
May their memories be for a blessing. Yehi zichram baruch.