This message comes to you from Tel Aviv where a group of us from the Temple are spending our first day. One of the highlights of our visit here will be a visit to a local Ethiopian Jewish Community. We will be presenting the community with a check for the renovation of a youth center which was destroyed by a flood. The “Chanukah gift” is from the people of our temple who have contributed to this cause.
In the 1980’s and 90’s Israel airlifted some 30,000 Ethiopian Jews and brought them to the “homeland” for which they had yearned for thousands of years. Scholars debate whether these people descend from the ancient Tribe of Dan, or perhaps from the time of King Solomon. But we know that this population held fast to the teachings of Torah, to Jewish observances, and to a dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors.
Their population has grown in excess of 100,000, and gradually they have been integrated into Israeli life. It is an incredible story of redemption and hope, and one of the incredible “achievements” of the State of Israel—to bring people from Africa, not for slavery, but for freedom.
Yes, there were those who questioned the “Jewish authenticity” of these dark-skinned people. But even the Orthodox Israeli rabbinate ruled them to be Jews. And yes, many of these people have flourished during their years in Israel, having come to learn not only a new language, but how to live and succeed in a modern, technological society.
But there is also that segment of the Ethiopian population that remains economically poor, and socially at risk, especially the young people. This Youth Center which we are contributing is located in one of those impoverished areas and will be a place for both recreation and the development of self-esteem and the ability to set worthy and fulfilling personal dreams.
The children of our Religious School will be doing some special learning sessions focused upon the Ethiopian Jews of Israel, becoming all the more aware that we Jews come from different places and with different customs and appearances. Also, we will be bringing this message to the adults of our congregation.
I conclude by saying “Shabbat Shalom from Tel Aviv.” This is a modern, beautiful city that is unique in the history of Jewish life; a city of life and vibrancy, fashion, technology, and modernity in every sense. You can see men walking in the street wearing a Tallis for prayer, and young people riding skateboards on the promenade by the beach.
I hope that you will think about joining me on our next Family Israel trip, scheduled for next December.
Rabbi David Greenberg