By Michael Kogon
Why am I in Gondor, Ethiopia with Jewish Federation board members, Federation leadership from Europe and Canada, members of the Jewish Agency leadership, and community CEOs? Why is the Jewish Agency bringing us here to this place now?
Newly arrived in Ethiopia, it is still not altogether clear. Yes, I’m sure there is a Jewish family or 10 that want to get to Israel. Dollars are needed to make sure that while we rescue lives in Ukraine, we don’t leave the remnants behind in Ethiopia.
Walking In — I arrive for services bright and early; after a long flight, a long day before, no AC in our hotel, no tv, and no internet. Why? To see the few remaining Jews, to see another place that Jews USED to be, a handful of orphans and some elderly?
Walking In — I cannot believe my eyes, not a handful, not a few dozen, not even a few hundred, but 1,000, 1,500, maybe 2,000 people! Men, women, children, old, young, teenagers, mothers and fathers. There is an ark, a bimah, a mechitzah (partition separating men and women in prayer), tallitot, (prayer shawls), tefillin (small black leather boxes with leather straps containing scrolls with verses from the Torah), prayers that are as familiar as a day school and synagogue prayers. The tune may be different, but words of praise of our G-d hit all of us.
If you want to be in the presence of Zionists who love Israel with their soul, fly to Gondor and sing Hatikvah with Ethiopian Jews who pray with their hearts to one day be allowed to go to Israel, to step foot in the old city, to pray at the Kotel, to kiss the wall!
This is not a dying community. There are more kids here than most of our day schools back home have enrolled. There are more young mothers and fathers attending services and raising Jewish kids here in Gondor than in Sandy Springs, or Dunwoody, John’s Creek, or Intown. This community is working to be more Jewish, and we want to make sure that there is a Jewish Future for them. For a glimpse of a Jewish Community of Tomorrow, Jewish Continuity, look to Gondor.
It is surprising and delightful. Now I get why we are here and why we need to help get this community to the promised land. I am excited now to visit with this community and hear their story and talk about getting to Israel, packing, making plans, and their future in our Promised land.
Walking In…as we enter the courtyard that 8 families share; it hits you!
The poverty, the dirt, the unclean lavatory conditions. The eight one-room “apartments” or “human self-storage bays” — four to eight or more family members living on a shared mattress, footstools for chairs, a single light bulb, no privacy, no cleanliness. What we are seeing is the day-to-day reality for the Community of Waiting in Ethiopia.
5 years, 10 years, 15 and 23 and more — years of waiting and longing and yearning. Not only to be in Israel but wanting, praying to be reunified with parents, siblings, children, cousins, and others that made it out. They are our Jewish family; our Community in Waiting. There are 15,000 – 20,000 left behind Jews, separated Jews, some born after their families had already been separated, others that stayed to care for elderly, sick, or young.
These are the Ethiopian Jews of today. They have been waiting. They do not have reliable work. They are living in poverty. And they want to be reunited with family members in Israel—some they never forget and others that they have never met.
This is why we are here! To help finish the work we have done. To allow mothers to hug their children again. For parents, to see that their children are alive and made it to Israel. To close the hole in thousands of families’ lives.