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May 21, 2020 3:56 pm

Rivlin Pays Tribute to Ethiopian Jews Who Died on Way to Israel

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at an official memorial ceremony for Ethiopian Jews who died on the way to Israel, May 21, 2020. Photo: GPO.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin paid tribute to the Ethiopian Jews who died on their way to Israel on Thursday, saying, “Those who came up to Jerusalem did not bring only their longing for Zion, but also the heavy price of longing for Zion.”

Rivlin spoke at an official memorial ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, also attended by the Minister of Immigration and Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata, Israel’s first Ethiopian-born cabinet member.

The ancient Ethiopian Jewish community was brought to Israel in several waves of mass aliyah, some of which involved making a perilous journey by foot to the Sudan, where they could be airlifted to the Jewish state. Thousands died during the journey.

“Beta Israel left a country they knew, land, property, and embarked on an exhausting exodus holding only the yearning that had been passed down the generations: Yerusalem, Jerusalem,” Rivlin said. “Those who came up to Jerusalem did not bring only their longing for Zion, but also the heavy price of longing for Zion.”

Rivlin quoted from a book by Ethiopian-Israeli journalist Danny-Adino Abeba about one woman’s journey to Israel: “I had a baby who was born in Ethiopia a few months before we set out. She had beautiful eyes and a gentle face. She managed fine on the trek to Sudan. At the camp she was a little sick, but recovered. I prayed that we would get through the difficult days at the camp and quickly all get to Israel.”

“And then, one day, our turn came,” Rivlin recited. “There was great joy. I dressed the baby in several layers and put her on my back, as they do in Ethiopia. But when I came off the plane, I felt my back was cold. A few minutes later, I was given the most dreadful news that a mother can hear: my baby had died. I did everything I could to bring her here safely, and on what was supposed to be the happiest moment in my life, I carried her dead body on my back.’”

“Not everyone came home to Jerusalem,” Rivlin noted. “Fathers and sons, sisters and brothers, grandchildren and grandparents, did not survive the journey. They could not survive the exhausting trek, the robbers along the way, the hunger, the diseases, the terrible conditions in the transit camps.”

“We hold their memory in our hearts forever,” he stated. “Jerusalem holds their memory in its heart forever. Your love of Jerusalem is an eternal torch, whose top touches the heavens. A pillar of fire that shows all Israelis the way.”

“May the memories of those who lost their lives on the way to Jerusalem and Israel, our brothers and sisters, be forever in our hearts,” the president said.

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