Black Jews, Jews, and Oth­er Heroes: How Grass­roots Activism Led to the Res­cue of the Ethiopi­an Jews

Howard M. Lenhoff
  • Review
By – November 14, 2011

One of the great­est mir­a­cles of the past twen­ty years is the exo­dus of the Jews of Ethiopia and their return to their bib­li­cal home, to Israel. 

These books, each in its own way, pay trib­ute to that remark­able exo­dus and to the new home­land of Ethiopi­an Jewry.

Black Jews, Jews, and Oth­er Heroes is about an unsung grass­roots group that bucked the sys­tem and put the issue of Ethiopi­an Jews on the agen­da in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and in the gov­ern­ment of Israel. 

There is lit­tle doubt that with­out the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion for Ethiopi­an Jews, the Jews of Ethiopia would still be oppressed in Africa. The small group pushed and pushed against all odds and heavy bureau­cra­cies and man­aged to move moun­tains and save thou­sands upon thou­sands of lives. None of these movers and shak­ers were pro­fes­sion­als, they were all car­ing lay lead­ers. Their quest was made all the more dif­fi­cult because these future immi­grants to Israel did not fit the mold. Ethiopi­an Jews were black and were nei­ther Euro­pean nor educated. 

But this lit­tle group suc­ceed­ed. And in the end, when their mis­sion was accom­plished, they dis­band­ed. The suc­cess of the orga­ni­za­tion is vis­i­ble on Israeli streets and in Israel’s towns and cities.

The Ethiopi­an Jews of Israel is a cof­fee table book. It is a pic­ture book filled with remark­able shots of beau­ti­ful men, women, and chil­dren — Ethiopi­an Jew­ish Israelis liv­ing their lives. There are over fifty inter­views and por­traits of Ethiopi­an Jews cov­er­ing all walks of life. The read­er sees the faces and reads the tales of old, young, reli­gious, tra­di­tion­al, civil­ian and sol­dier Ethiopi­an Israelis. The pho­tos and biogra­phies have a warmth and a vital­i­ty about them. There is even a pic­ture of a Kes, an Ethiopi­an Jew­ish reli­gious leader, sit­ting next to an Ethiopi­an rab­bi dressed like a hassid. 

The redemp­tion of cap­tives and the ingath­er­ing of the exiles is part and par­cel of the new Jew­ish real­i­ty in the Jew­ish state. These two books high­light and empha­size the great mir­a­cle of our time and remind us of the respon­si­bil­i­ty that the State of Israel has for all Jews in dis­tress every­where in the world.

Addi­tion­al books fea­tured in this review:

Mic­ah D. Halpern is a colum­nist and a social and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. He is the author of What You Need To Know About: Ter­ror, and main­tains The Mic­ah Report at www​.mic​ah​halpern​.com.

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