From Ethiopia to the Knesset: Shlomo Molla Lives the Israeli Dream

September 30, 2012 4:40 am 3 comments

eputy Speaker of the Knesset Shlomo Molla (right) shares a moment of humor with Kenneth Bialkin, Chairman of the America Israel Friendship League, sponsor of Molla's four-city east coast tour. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

NEW YORK—In July 2012, the Israeli government announced its decision to allow the aliyah of the last remnants of the Ethiopian Jewish community.

Each month, 250 Falash Mura (Ethiopian Christians of Jewish ancestry) will complete legal immigration until the entire community has been relocated to Israel. A new immigrant absorption center will be developed to accommodate their special needs. Following their arrival in Israel, they are expected to complete a conversion process to traditional Judaism.

Few can understand the power of immigrants’ transition from life in Ethiopia to the promise and opportunity of Israel as well as Member of Knesset Shlomo Neguese Molla (Kadima). Growing up in a Jewish village in Ethiopia, where Molla studied at a school sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), “next year in Jerusalem” was merely a lifelong dream. Now it is a reality, and then some. Many would call his story extraordinary, but Molla says it is simply a story of Israel—typifying what determination, reason and tolerance can accomplish.

At age 16, Molla said goodbye to all he knew, leaving home and family to begin the saga of his future in Israel. A 740-kilometer journey through unknown deserts to reach the first stopover on a trip to a destination he had only imagined, he faced the real possibilities of death (his best friend was killed) and imprisonment (he was jailed for 91 days). These experiences were not imaginationary, no tale of adventure. Rather, they were a prelude to his aliyah to the Jewish state. He completed high school in Haifa, served as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, earned a law degree and became director of the Ethiopian Immigration and Absorption section of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).

Fast-forward several decades to 2012: The shoeless 16-year-old immigrant, now 46, has been the deputy speaker of the Knesset since August 2011. When elected to the Knesset in 2008, he became the second member of Ethiopian ancestry in the legislative body’s history. If President Shimon Peres and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin were both out of Israel at the same time, Molla would act as interim president of Israel.

This month, Molla toured New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago under the sponsorship of the America Israel Friendship League (AIFL), in a trip aimed at strengthening U.S.-Israel ties. The deputy speaker delivered the message of his transformative Israeli experience at meetings with African-American leaders, Christian and Jewish clergy, jurists, students, and a wide spectrum of Americans.

Molla’s Kadima party currently classifies itself as “the opposition.” Although it recently joined the Likud government, it almost as quickly withdrew from the coalition.

“When we are talking about Israel, ‘opposition’ is only when you are speaking about how to govern,” Molla said in an interview in New York with JNS.org. “As deputy speaker, at the end of the day, I am presenting the majority viewpoint. Our democracy is based on our differences.”

Molla said his dream is for Israel “to be at peace with our neighbors.”

“I think that it is possible,” he said. “We need brave leaders on both sides. With peace, we can solve the problems of Yehuda and Shomrom. As a democracy, our responsibility as [Members of Knesset] is to keep the dignity of our citizens, to treat them well… Our prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) is doing a wonderful job. I believe there is a solution in the future.”

AIFL Chairman Kenneth Bialkin told JNS.org during Molla’s New York visit, “We believe in the message of Deputy Speaker Molla and take strength in the fact that we can meet as lovers of freedom.”

The deputy speaker noted that Israel is “distressed by the actions of Iran.” He hopes the international community will act to stop its development of nuclear weapons. “If they do not, we [in Israel] have to take actions ourselves,” Molla said. “At the end of the day, the Nazis did what they said they would do.  History is not coming back, not while we have our independent state. We must stop the fanatic Iranian leadership from building a nuclear bomb. Time is not working for us.”

Asked to comment about Israel’s position regarding the upcoming American elections, Molla stressed that as an Israeli—and specifically an Israeli politician—he takes no position regarding either candidate.

“We don’t get involved in any election—the American people must make the choice,” he said. Molla said the U.S. has been and continues to be supportive of Israel.

“As Israelis, we do not care whether it’s the Republican or Democratic candidate who is elected,” he said. “Israel must work with any president. Our relationship must be on a people-to-people basis… We appreciate any president that is the American people’s choice.”

Molla added that American Jews, as voters, “have to choose what they believe is good for America, not what is good for Israel.”

Questioned about the sometimes-sharp controversy surrounding the thousands of illegal African migrants who have entered or are attempting to enter Israel, Molla said there is “no reason to give them the right of citizenship.”

“It is a major challenge to the immigration process,” he said. “Israel is the Jewish homeland. Color is not a reason for people to be allowed to come. We have to ask if they are Jews. We need to know their roots, to assure that would-be immigrants are in fact Jews. If the people are, in fact, Jews, there is no question about bringing them home. Others must follow an ordinary legal process.”

Israel, Molla said, “is a privilege.”

“Jewish people came [to Israel] from 120 countries,” he said. “The idea of Israel as the Jewish homeland, Jews living together is creating a nefesh hadasha—a new soul. Israel is a country of colors—a mosaic society. What connects us is that we are all Jewish.”

Following his New York visit, Molla met with officials in Philadelphia on the second stop of his tour, then traveled to Atlanta and Chicago.

At his initial meeting with Molla, Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony H. Williams related a bit of humor.

“While waiting to clear security at the [Ben Gurion] airport, I noticed a group of black men waltzing through,” the senator said, according to the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia. Told they were Israelis, the senator responded, “That’s impossible. Jews don’t look like that.

Molla told virtually the same story to JNS.org—in reverse. As a 16-year-old immigrant to Israel, his first encounter with Ashkenazy Jews evoked a similar reaction.

“I had never seen a white Jew!” he said.

3 Comments

  • He is sell out!!!
    Why should any immigrant be a Jew in order to be considered for an Israeli citizenship!!!!
    He probably had an Ethiopian citizenship while he was living in Ethiopia with out his religion being questioned!!!

    • silly silly comments to make! Mr Molla was born in Ethiopia, grew up in Ethiopia and therefore was an Ethiopian citizen by birth BUT and this is a big BUT, he is Jewish by religion and that was how he was about to become an Israeli citizen. He does have a strong point- not all who decide to migrate to Israel should automatically become a Jewish citizen

  • Shalom, Peace be on Israel what a wonderful thing to See Mr. Molla representing Israel. I hope Ethiopian Jew relationship will strength even better we are from same ancestors.

    God bring peace to both countries!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    JNS.org – Many young Jewish artists struggle to define who they are personally, artistically, and religiously. Against the backdrop of that struggle, the recent Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat provided a space for some 70 young Jewish artists to explore Jewish ideas, to build community and a culture of reciprocity, and to learn skills to assist their career development. “We are trying to encourage and excite people to engage in Jewish themes,” says Rebecca Guber, director of Asylum Arts. [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    JNS.org – Has the era of large-scale biblical epics returned? Not since “The Ten Commandments” has there been so much torrential water on the big screen (not counting weather-related disaster films such as “The Impossible”) than in “Noah,” the latest blockbuster from writer and director Darren Aronofsky. “Noah” takes the traditional tale and splices it in an eco-friendly and psychologically driven plot. After Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden of Eden and after Cain killed Abel, mankind [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Israel Israeli Arab Microbiologist Wins on Israel’s ‘MasterChef’ Reality Show

    Israeli Arab Microbiologist Wins on Israel’s ‘MasterChef’ Reality Show

    JNS.org – An Israeli-Arab microbiologist and mother of three won the fourth season of Israel’s most popular reality TV show, “MasterChef.” Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, 32, who holds a PhD in microbiology and is from the Israeli-Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, described winning as the “the most exciting moment in her life.” She said she plans to use the prize money to open up an Arab-Jewish cooking school. MasterChef is a popular reality TV show that originated in the U.K. It is [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Theater Play About Muslim Man Who Discovers His Parents Are Jewish Seeking Funds

    Play About Muslim Man Who Discovers His Parents Are Jewish Seeking Funds

    Jewish comedian and writer David Baddiel is seeking public support to help produce a musical based on his film about a British Muslim man who discovers his parents are Jewish. London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East is in development to premiere The Infidel in October, London’s Evening Standard reported on Wednesday. However, the theater needs another £55,000 on top of around £200,000 already raised in order to produce the show. Baddiel, 49, retained the stage rights to the story when he wrote the [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Relationships Love Guru Says Kaballah Practitioners Tend to Have ‘Less Satisfactory’ Relationships

    Love Guru Says Kaballah Practitioners Tend to Have ‘Less Satisfactory’ Relationships

    British relationship expert Andrew Wallas said Kaballah practitioners are likely to be less satisfied in their personal relationships than other couples, Britain’s Daily Mail reported Wednesday. “All the research is that individuals who have an interest in psychology or spirituality or who practice something like Kaballah (the branch of Jewish mysticism popularized by Madonna) are less likely to have satisfactory relationships,” he said. “A lifetime spent doing self-improvement workshops can just be a case of someone running away from reality.” [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Meet New York’s 6’7″ Jew Who Will Rap for You (VIDEO)

    Meet New York’s 6’7″ Jew Who Will Rap for You (VIDEO)

    He’s a 6’7″ Jewish freestyle rapper who roams the streets of New York delivering his rhymes to unsuspecting passersby. Te’Devan, who calls himself the “6’7″ Jew who will rap for you” was recently profiled by the Gothamist blog. In a video posted Monday on YouTube, as part of the website’s No Your City eight-part series created by Nicolas Heller, Te’Devan is seen rapping about “not trying to conform to the status quo” and his mission to “be what I’m supposed to be.” [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.