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Completing the Journey Mission

Mariel Honigman

April, 2011

In late March of this year, a unique mission called Completing the Journey travelled to Ethiopia and Israel. The mission, arranged by JFNA, was true to its name. There were multiple journeys that were completed on this mission, between time and space, parent and child and most importantly, between Ethiopia and Israel, a journey of aliya which began over 30 years ago.

The Jews of Ethiopia, subject to persecution and the ravages of civil war, made their way to Israel against all odds. With the help of JFNA and its historic partner the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Israeli government engaged in two unique rescue missions to bring the Ethiopian Jews to Israel; Operation Moses in the 1980’s, followed by Operation Solomon in 1991.  However, there are still currently around 8,700 Ethiopians with Jewish ancestry (known as the Falas Mura) living in Gondar, who are waiting to make aliya. Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked the Federation movement to partner with the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency to “complete the mission.”

According to current plans, the emigration of the 8,700 Ethiopians will take place over 3 years. The Jewish Agency is managing a community center for the Olim in Gondar, and has asked the Federation movement to secure the $7.5 million in funding needed for feeding centers, educational activities, staff, administration, security, communication, and extensive aliya preparation. The International Fellowship for Christians and Jews has already committed $2 million, and Federations will raise the remaining funds.

The Completing the Journey mission was part of JFNA’s special effort to raise the necessary $5.5 million for this third and final wave of aliya.  Representatives from 25 different Federations in the USA and Canada participated in this journey.  

The mission was chaired by Brian Tauber, a prominent business leader and layperson for the United Jewish Federation of San Diego. Tauber represents a generational chain of Federation involvement in Ethiopian aliya, as his father Joel Tauber served as chair for the United Jewish Appeal (a JFNA predecessor) and was heavily involved in Operation Solomon.  There was significant next generation involvement in this trip, as several of the donors brought their children (aged 13 – 20) along with them.

The mission first traveled to Ethiopia, where they saw the lifestyle of Ethiopian families in the countryside, and understood first-hand the 1000 year jump that Ethiopian olim have to make during a four hour flight to Israel. The mission visited the JAFI-run community center in Gondar, walked through shanty towns in Addis Ababa, and met with foreign dignitaries. Ethiopian women taught several mission participants the technique of Ethiopian knitting, and more importantly, had the opportunity to sell their handicrafts.

The mission then flew back to Israel on a JAFI chartered flight with 100 Ethiopian olim. Once in Israel, the group saw the challenges faced by these olim in beginning a new life in Israel.  The participants visited the JDC-run Parents and Children Together program (PACT), a literacy course for Ethiopian children and their parents, who very often, do not know how to read and write in their native language. They also visited a JAFI-run  Ethiopian absorption center in Kiryat Gat, as well as a JAFI after-school educational program, Yesodot.

A final journey was completed at the mission’s farewell dinner, where Brigadier General Eden Atias addressed the group. Atias was captain of several flights to and from Ethiopia during Operation Solomon. Today he commands the Navatim airforce base. Present at the dinner were several Ethiopian Israeli IDF soldiers who are currently serving at the air base under his command.  The Brigadier General pointed out that these soldiers had been passengers on his plane as small children during Operation Solomon.  For him and for them, the journey from Ethiopia is now complete.

 With the generosity of its supporters, the Federation movement has been able to participate from the very beginning in an immigration effort that has brought a unique group of people to take their place in the global Jewish community and help build the State of Israel. 

For more information on the Completing the Journey effort, please contact Danyelle Neuman