Primary Sources & Lesson Plans
Jews lived in Ethiopia for centuries, referring to themselves as Beita Yisrael, House of Israel. Other Ethiopians used the term falasha which means exiled or one who does not own land in Amharic, their ancient language. Due to persecution and prohibitions against land ownership, the number of Jews in the country had dropped considerably by the start of the twentieth century. The Socialist revolution of 1974 resulted in even harsher conditions, as Jews found themselves caught between the pro-Soviet government, the rebels, and the counter-revolutionaries. They remained poor tenant farmers, forbidden to emigrate although many desired to live in Israel.
The Soviet regime did not single out the Ethiopian Jews as targets, but the governor of the Gondar province, where most Ethiopian Jews lived, was known for his anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. He closed Jewish villages to outsiders and imprisoned and tortured religious leaders. The first Jewish mission to Ethiopia, in October 1981, raised international awareness of the plight of Ethiopian Jews, while activists such as Barbara Gaffin alerted American lawmakers to their problems. In 1984, the Israeli government took direct action and airlifted approximately 7,500 people to Israel in Operation Moses. Between 1985 and 1991, Israeli agents brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Addis Ababa in preparation for their emigration to Israel. In May 1991, as the regime of the Ethiopian ruler Mengista collapsed, Israel (with the help of the US) flew over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Today, virtually no Jews remain in the country.
1. What topics does this newsletter cover? Why does it emphasize these points?
2. Why does the newsletter report on activities in so many different locations?
3. Which article moved you the most?
4. Is there a problem in our time that you feel is equal to that of the Ethiopian Jews?
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