Through dance and more, this year’s ceremony highlighted and honored the role of the Kes, the community’s spiritual leaders.
In a beautiful amphitheater overlooking the sea, hundreds gather each year, young and old alike, to pay their respects and honor the stories and memories of those who did not complete the arduous journey to Israel.
For the past 9 years, Dror Israel and its associated youth movement, HaNoar HaOved, have partnered with the Netanya municipality and local community leaders to host the official national ceremony commemorating the Memorial Day for the Ethiopian Jews who Perished on their Journey to Israel.
A group of high school aged participants from the HaNoar HaOved youth movement, themselves members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, take part each year in a months-long series of educational programs. They learn about the history of the Jews in Ethiopia, of the Zionist movement there, and of the stories of bravery and heroism of those who led the community. They then create original plays, dances, and speeches to present at the ceremony. This year, they chose to focus on the role of the Kes – the Ethiopian Jewish religious leader – and the importance of their leadership throughout history.
This year’s ceremony began with an artistic video which illuminated elements from the history and journey of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel and featured a short play and dance telling the story of Abba Mehari, a Kes who unsuccessfully tried to part a sea to lead his community from Ethiopia to Israel in 1862. Community elders took to the stage to light memorial torches honoring those who were lost.
The event concluded with a touching speech from Tamasgan Balacho from Rishon LeTzion and Aviva Balata from Petach Tikva, two 12th grade youth movement participants, highlighting the importance of their educational process.
“The dream of Yerusalem is a dream of home and so, when the path to Israel opened, the community’s leaders, the Kessim, led thousands of men, women and children towards their true home on a journey undertaken with heart-wrenchingly high costs, still calling for Yerusalem.
Our educational process over the past few months helped us to understand many things: That we need to raise awareness about the importance of the role of the Kessim, so that the younger generation can know and appreciate them, their leadership, and the spiritual strength they can bring to our lives.
For forty years the Kessim were leaders of the big and important struggles of our community here in Israel, and that they were always there to fight for us. We are part of a community that was always guided by its principles, who knew how to fight for what they believe in. We have a legacy that we can be proud of. The Kessim can be a light for the whole Jewish people.
Imagining and dreaming of a society without racism is like believing that the sea will part, but so what? I want to believe. Maybe one day it will.”