Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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...

  • Relationships Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Millionaire entrepreneur Yossi Vardi credited his success in start-ups to his Jewish mother continuously pushing him to do better, Daily Mail reported on Thursday. “Jewish mothers are never satisfied and nothing is ever good enough,” he said, adding that his mother, who died 15 years ago, used to compare him with his cousins and say he was “an idiot.” “For most of my life I have been trying to show her I’m not,” he continued. “I keep on trying even now.” Vardi, […]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →