Historic anniversary and historic opportunity in the Rescue and Return Home of Ethiopian Jews

By Jonathan Feldstein

Special to The Jerusalem Channel

This week in 1984, the Israeli government and Mossad, in conjunction with the CIA, began a secret mission to rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews, the first instance of black Africans being taken out of oppression in Africa and brought home to safety in Israel.

For centuries, the Jews of Ethiopia lived in such remote isolation that they believed they were the only remaining descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.. They suffered tremendous persecution and physical threats, including murder.  Despite this, they remained committed to their faith and prayed that they would return to Jerusalem eventually, as distant a dream as that seemed.

So it was no wonder that in the 1980s, facing particular threats, that thousands made their way by foot to refugee camps in Sudan, a trek that took weeks while entrusting their lives to smugglers who often took advantage of the fleeing Jews, raping and robbing them. Many died along the way.  But their faith was not broken.

Because Sudan is an Arab country that was openly hostile to Israel, the entire 1984 operation known as Operation Moses was covert, and aided by the CIA. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted from Sudan to Europe, and then to Israel, until the operation became public when it was abruptly halted leaving tens of thousands in anguish. Many families were separated, not knowing if or when they would see one another again. 

In May 1991, also facing increased anti-Semitism and renewed threats for their physical safety, Israel launched Operation Solomon, a miraculous airlift shuttling planes back and forth from Israel to Ethiopia, bringing home nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in a single weekend.

Today the remnant of the Ethiopian Jewish community faces renewed physical threats as well as increased anti-Semitism.  There are several thousand people, of whom the Israeli government plans to bring home some 2000 who are scheduled to arrive this year. But the urgency to bring them all may become an imperative to save their lives due to rebel and cross-border fighting, and threatening the Jewish community, physically.  Again. 

Most of the community lives in an isolated mountainous area.  Even before the pandemic, most were impoverished, and many suffered malnourishment.  Now, their situation is more perilous.  On top of the poverty and isolation, they fear deadly threats with nowhere to go.  

Despite the risk and threats, there’s an historic opportunity.  In addition to bringing home 2000 this year, the completion of the rescue and bringing home of the remnants of Ethiopia’s ancient Jewish community is and must be a top priority.  This is an opportunity of prophetic proportions, literally bringing home an ancient diaspora community from one of the most remote of the four corners of the world to where the Jewish people were exiled.  It’s not “just” another return of some of the Jewish people.  This is historic, indeed Biblical, with the opportunity to close the book once and for all on one of the most ancient communities in which Jews have lived in exile.  Never before has that opportunity presented itself, to literally have all the remaining Jews from a whole community return to Israel permanently.  

Bishop Glenn Plummer, Prelate of the COGIC (Church of God in Christ) Israel Jurisdiction noted the significance, “The rescue and absorption of the Ethiopian Jews by Israel is one of the most significant global events of our time. I’m not aware of any other time in human history where Black Africans (by the thousands) were taken from Africa out of an oppressive and primitive environment and into a modern and free society where they are celebrated for who they are. Israel should be honored and commended for this. The Genesis 123 Foundation should also be recognized for aggregating diverse international partners to join in helping bring the final Ethiopian Jews to Israel. We are honored to be asked to participate.”

Especially amid a pandemic, realizing this requires tremendous resources, to physically bring them to Israel along with their successful absorption and integration into Israeli society.  The needs are as great as the opportunity is historic. 

In response, the Genesis 123 Foundation has announced a multi-faceted plan to for a broad based campaign to provide the most urgent needs; from actually bringing Jews out of Ethiopia to Israel, setting up their new homes, supporting children’s acculturation and academic success, and giving millennials the resources needed to succeed in college programs. Ultimately, the best “investment” in their future to give them the tools to become self-sufficient. 

Genesis 123 Foundation advisory board member Christine Darg commented on the imperative for Jews and Christians to join together to support this campaign. “We are standing on the cusp of a tidal wave of immigration and return (of Ethiopian Jews) back to the Land.  This has been an ongoing prophetic drama and there’s an urgency (today) to bring them home.” Referencing Psalm 68:31, that Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God, she added, “Poetically, they are reaching for Zion, and we are reaching toward them, taking their hand prophetically, and pulling them up to Zion.  It’s going to take some work and some giving, but we know that it’s something we are compelled to do.  God could do this all by Himself but we are being given the opportunity to shoulder the responsibility and participate (with God).  It’s just time.” 

Prayers as well as financial support are needed.  Churches, synagogues and other ministries and organizations are invited to join the growing list of partners undertaking specific projects.  Donations can be made here, and potential partners are invited to contact the Genesis 123 Foundation at [email protected].