From Ethiopia to Israel: The Modern-Day Exodus

ICEJ Aliyah - Be a Part of Their Journey!

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Posted on: 
22 Jun 2017
From Ethiopia to Israel: The Modern-Day Exodus

The remaining 9,000 Jews in Ethiopia stand “on the edge of water,” waiting for God to part the sea before them and usher them into their promised land of Israel. The Israeli government has agreed to help the remaining Ethiopian Jews, also known as the Falash Mura, make Aliyah over the next five years.


Biblical Bond

The Ethiopian Jewish community, which helps make Israel so culturally rich and diverse, traces its roots to the Bible. Some claim the Jewish population spread into Ethiopia under the rule of King Solomon, through his encounter with the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1–13 and 2 Chronicles 9:1–12). Others reach further back, drawing a connection to Moses and his Ethiopian wife, or credit the expansion of the tribe of Dan. Whichever is the case, there is no doubt the Jewish practices and traditions maintained by this community in Gondar, Ethiopia, predate the rabbinical teachings from the first and second century of our era.

The first modern contact with the community came in 1769, when Scottish explorer James Bruce stumbled upon them while searching for the source of the Nile River. His estimates at the time placed the population of Ethiopian Jews, called also Beta Israel, at 100,000.Still relatively unknown to the western world until the 20th century, this small minority was brought to light in 1904 when French-Jewish historian Jacques Faitlovitch visited Ethiopia and realized he shared his Jewish beliefs and traditions with the community. At first, the Ethiopian Jewry were suspicious of Faitlovitch, not believing a Jew could have white skin. Nevertheless, a connection was soon established between Beta Israel and the rest of world Jewry.

Miraculous Journey Home

In 1975 the Israeli government officially recognized Beta Israel as Jews, and granted them the "Law of Return,” an Israeli act permitting Jews to immigrate to Israel. In 1977, the first 120 Ethiopian Jews successfully arrived in Israel only after Prime Minister Menachem Begin agreed to exchange weapons for the Jewish lives in Ethiopia. In the mid-1980s, Ethiopia was struck with famines, corruption escalated, and civil wars broke out. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians lost their lives and many of the survivors fled to neighboring Sudan for refuge.

To rescue this remnant, the Government of Israel made a covert agreement with the president of Sudan to exchange money for these people. The rescue mission, called “Operation Moses,” began on November 21, 1984, and lasted about six weeks. Approximately 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were successfully brought to Israel in 23 secret flights passing through Europe to Israel. Over the next decade, Israeli Intelligence Agency helped an estimated 17,000 Ethiopian Jews immigrate from Africa to Israel.

In May 1991, the second miraculous rescue mission took place. Through an arrangement with the Ethiopian dictatorship, Israel received a 36-hour window to transport as many people as possible. Israel reacted quickly, and “Operation Solomon” set some world records on the first day – an El Al flight carried 1,122 passengers, including five babies which were born aboard. In total, 34 passenger planes were used, with seats removed to maximize capacity; each flight lasted over five hours, with no bathrooms, food or water. This operation brought 14,325 more Ethiopian Jews to Israel and the Beta Israel community was grateful to finally come home.

Land of their Fathers

Once in their promised land, a whole new set of challenges arose for the new immigrants. The Ethiopian Jews have faced many obstacles integrating into the Israeli society. Transitioning from a third world country to a very advanced society, and in most cases also from rural to urban communities, the Ethiopian Jews had to overcome differences in education, language barriers, and racial prejudice. Because the community in Ethiopia was separated from other Jewish communities around the world for centuries, they developed a unique set of religious practices which differ from what is typically considered Jewish. In Israel, they had to adapt to the various common values, which unify the international Jewish community.

Over time, the growing Ethiopian community in Israel has gradually integrated into the Israeli society through religious life, military service, education, and politics. Serving with the Israeli Defense Forces turned out to be pivotal for young Beta Israelis to quickly find common ground with other Israelis – the shared passion to protect the nation they love.

Fulfilling Biblical Prophecy

The remaining Jews in Ethiopia today are endangered by tribal conflicts, severe droughts, floods, and famines. Now is the time to rescue them out of life-threatening conditions and reunite them with family members already in Israel. As a new wave of Ethiopian Jews arrives in Israel this May, we have a unique opportunity to support these descendants of Israel in their Aliyah; their ascent to the land of their fathers.

Beta Israel are leaving their “land of Egypt” and embracing a bright future in their promised land of Israel. Stand on the water’s edge with these remaining Ethiopian Jews and witness our miracle-making God do the impossible. Partner with the ICEJ today to see them come home!

Your contribution to the Aliyah work of the ICEJ will be used to cover the costs of the flights to Israel and absorption process in the land for the Ethiopian Jewry. Absorption includes housing and assistance in practical integration: Studies in Hebrew language, immersion in Israeli culture, and more.

Join the ICEJ today and pave the way for more Ethiopian Jews to return to Israel! Send your gift here: 


Share this: