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Honoring the Ethiopian Jews who Perished on Their Journey to Israel

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

Dror Israel leads the national effort to honor the legacy of thousands of Ethiopian Jews who lost their lives seeking a way home to Zion. This year the annual ceremony was broadcast online for the first time ever, sharing this powerful story of hope and endurance with Jews across the world.

For nine years, Dror Israel has spearheaded and produced the annual ceremony for the Memorial Day for the Ethiopian Jews who Perished on Their Way to Israel. Now, for the first time, we broadcast the ceremony online in order to bring the incredible, tragic and inspiring Zionist story of the Ethiopian Jewish community to as many hearts and minds as possible. In addition, we offered an English translation of the ceremony for the first time ever so that Jews from the Diaspora, where this story is even less well known than in Israel, could connect.

This day commemorates the lives of the four thousand women, men and children who left their land out and their homes, driven by an ancient yearning for Zion and the Jewish people, but tragically never reached their destination in Israel.

In the lead up to the ceremony, youth movement members of Ethiopian background interviewed their parents and grandparents and posted the interviews on the youth movement website.

Malka, currently serving in the IDF, said about the experience:

“Interviewing my parents is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I knew about their story beforehand, but it wasn’t enough, and also every once in a while feelings and memories surface that they hadn’t told me about before. It also felt different when I said that it’s going to be written down and published – it gave it more significance. Remembering those who were lost in Sudan fills me with pride and reminds me that we are here thanks to the people who made the difficult decision to set out on the journey to Sudan and to Israel, and reminds me that we must keep telling the story. It’s part of what it means to be Israeli.”

Over the past week, youth movement members granted awards to 150 Ethiopian prisoners of Zion (Jews who were imprisoned or deported for Zionist activity) and other Ethiopian activists for aliyah. Each one has a fascinating story of incredible tenacity, loss and bravery.

Pictured are members of the Kiryat Ata youth movement branch near Haifa granting an award to Kaberet Malad

Kaberet comes from a small village near Gundar. From there, he set out on the arduous journey to Sudan along with thousands of other Ethiopian Jews. In Sudan, he found countless countrymen, fellow Jews, stuck with no way of continuing their journey to Israel. Under instruction of the Mossad, he began to work clandestinely towards bringing four hundred Jews to planes that would take them to Israel. He organized the families, bribed Sudanese soldiers, hid families, and organized trucks to take them all to the airplanes. But he did not get on the plane himself. He stayed in Sudan to ensure that every last Ethiopian Jew made it to Israel.

Unfortunately, he was caught by Sudanese police together with 13 other Jewish activists and taken out to the desert to be tried. The Sudanese officer ordered six of the activists executed, and Kaberet was not among them. Instead, he was taken to prison in Sudan where he was detained for two years, at the end of which he was deported back to Ethiopia. There he continued his Zionist work organizing aliyah, and led countless families on the journey from Ethiopia to Sudan. In 1989 – seven years after he began his journey – he flew to Israel with the last of the Jews remaining in Sudan.

Dror Israel expresses its utmost appreciation for Kaberet and each and every one of Ethiopia’s Zionist leaders for all they have done for the Jewish people and the Jews of Ethiopia. We will continue to tell your story – our story – for generations to come.

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