Explore Ethiopian Jews’ trials, triumphs in virtual program on Feb. 13


A decade ago, I visited the Israeli absorption center for Ethiopian Jews that is located in the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s partnership region of Afula/Gilboa to see how the Alliance’s allocations were being spent. I attended some classes where the Alliance, at the time, was providing some special education services, and met with staff, students and parents.

Now everyone has the opportunity to visit the absorption center on Feb. 13, thanks to the miracles of technology. The free Zoom program, “The Journey from Ethiopia to Afula-Gilboa” will also explore Jewish community life in Ethiopia and the journey to Israel.

Ethiopian Jews endure a lot just to get to the Promised Land. I recall a song, and stories that people told me, of how Ethiopian Jews died in the desert in the 1980s trying to get to Israel.

Last year, an Alliance program featured Gad Shimron, one of the Mossad agents who helped smuggle Ethiopian Jews from Sudan to Israel and on whose book the Netflix series “Red Sea Diving Resort” was partially based. I also remember a film that the Alliance showed a few years ago about an Israeli army officer going back to Ethiopia to see the village where he grew up and visit his father’s grave, which was followed by an impressive talk from an Ethiopian post-doc student at Harvard.

I also recall meeting with Ethiopian teens at a youth center funded by the Alliance, where they discussed some of the challenges of integrating into Israeli life.

Now, newspapers occasionally inform us of another Ethiopian civil war, which is driving home the necessity of getting the remaining Jews out of the country.

But all of these exposures to Ethiopian culture and challenges still have not given me a complete picture. The one thing I know for sure is that it takes a lot of courage to endure what this ancient community has faced, and then come to a strange new land where they must learn new technologies, a new language and new customs.

Therefore, I am looking forward to the Feb. 13 program, which will virtually explore Jewish community life in Ethiopia, as well as the dangerous journey to Israel, and what life is like at the absorption center that the Alliance helps support.

Following the virtual tour, a panel of Ethiopian-Israelis and Jewish Agency professionals will discuss the process that brought Ethiopian Jewry to Israel, and the successes and challenges of absorbing the new immigrants into Israeli society.

This program is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Hartford, Connecticut, the Alliance’s Community Relations Council, and the Jewish Agency for Israel. It will take place on Feb. 13 at 11 a.m. Register at https://bit.ly/Ethiopia2Afula.

LARRY KATZ is the director of Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.