Wednesday, August 6, 2008

From Joy To Despair For Ethiopian Jews

SOME DAYS a columnist’s work would appear easy. After all the two major stories the other morning concerned an earthquake hours before the opening of the Beijing Olympics. And then there was Eduardo churning towards Texas and Louisiana.
Both appeared to be suitable material to expound on.
However, that was before reading a small item in the Jerusalem Post: “The era of large-scale Ethiopian aliyah is over, the Jewish Agency for Israel said.”
It went on to explain that the last official airlift of Ethiopian Jews would land at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, and complete 30 years and some 120,000 people’s arduous journey from the utter despair of that African country. Then there was further hope, for the story indicated that about 1,400, which had been left behind, could possibly be “rescued” in the near future.
It appeared to be a miracle as Operation Moses and the subsequent Operation Solomon during the 1980s and 1990s and even in early 2000s had brought hope to those in desperate need.
These ancient people, known by the somewhat derogatory term, Falashas, had practised their Jewish heritage while enduring the wretched conditions in northern parts of Ethiopia and suffered through the temporary camps in The Sudan where murders, rapes, diseases, robberies and hunger were common occurrence.
As I’ve written on a number of occasions, the plight of the Ethiopian Jews had become almost a personal “mission” since 1990 when I had the privilege of meeting with a group of them when they celebrated Sigd, the Ethiopian Jews’ day of prayer to return to their homeland, Israel, and the freeing of the Jews from Babylonian captivity. It’s a celebration unlike any other in Ethiopian or Jewish history.
Although I had traveled throughout Ethiopia that year, it wasn’t until the last day in that nation that I finally met these forgotten peoples.
With my friend and business partner, the late Lyle Harron, we had explored the remote country, which was being battered by a civil war, however, we were almost ready to give up our search for the Ethiopian Jews.

CORBETT'S DIARY: Thursday, Nov. 15, 1990, ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia:
"As we drove through the weaving traffic, we reached the Asmera road, which seemed to be blocked off and Sherry Yano (with CPAR -- Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief) was told by one of the few traffic cops I'd seen in Addis, that the road was off-limits because of a celebration at the Israeli embassy.
So parking the land cruiser, we started walking along the road, filled with people going to and fro with many children in their Sunday best, along with women with great umbrellas and long, white dresses, and finely-robed men.
Everyone had a wide smile on their faces and there was an unexplainable glow.
Even the youngsters were different."I kept my vidcam recording this scene, and while the kids were curious, they allowed the three of us to be part of their celebration walk.
On the side of the hill, guarded by what I knew to be an Israeli agent, the white-robed throng poured through the gates from the embassy, well hidden in the trees."Their lilting voices lifted into heaven.
I felt a part of these radiant people.
Lyle and I were introduced to Andy, a tall, twentysomething man from just outside Washington, D.C., who was with the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry with their headquarters in New York City).
Then Andy No-Name asked me to sit down on a pile of leaves and we would talk, without the vidcam rolling.
He explained the hardships of the Ethiopian Jews from the war-torn areas of Gondar and Lake Tana, but there were survivors and they all wanted to go to Israel and they had, in small numbers.
Then it was a good thing I was sitting down, for when I asked how many Falasha Jews were in this one place in Addis, he replied:
About 22,000. There are between one and two thousand still remaining in Gondar.
Did he say 22,000? I had heard him correctly and no doubt within a couple of months' time, all the Falasha Jews -- Beta Israel -- in Ethiopia would be all in one place, ready to go home to Israel."

As I re-read those exhilarating words from the past, I decided to check on whether the Falashas had reached Israel Tuesday morning. Suddenly, any joy vanished.
Only 65 Ethiopian Falashmura families had actually reached Ben Gurion, according to one Jerusalem website, and thousands are still “housed” in transit camps because the Israeli government had decided to put a halt to the aliyah.
And still they wait, these forgotten people, who have suffered thousands of years of neglect and despair.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kay,

I just awoke from a dream about Lyle and then discovered your post. I was Lyle's investor liason to Switzerland. When Lyle had his NOEL office on 51 Ave in Edmonton, we discussed things a great deal.

Since I have not seen Lyle for 5 years or more, I find the dream I had last night most significant. Things were "moving" in the dream and, while many were in the dream, in addition to Lyle being the main character - which is most amazing, as I have not thought of him for years, the very last time was when we had a 4-hour breakfast on Edmonton's West side on 170 St. - there ws one other person who I would describe with short black hair and rather fine features who was the money person, in the flurry of excitement now happening in the dream...

Kay, if you get into Edmonton, just give me a call at 780-450-3847. I'll tell you all about the dream... and concerning further back, I'll tell you the whole story about where Lyle, due to Sam Yeske, went wrong. Many details. Also revelations concerning Stephens and Andy Sorrel.

Lyle mentioned you and he were on a train trip once. I think you were with The Toronto Star at the time.

God Bless. Of my 7 email addresses, is the most private. Lyle also knew me as a speaker and that's how we met. Of the 9 books I currently have marketed, you can find my NEW CREATIONS IN ISRAEL by Stephen Volk in hardcover or paperback at

One more thing. Whatever the source of the dream - the first one ever about Lyle - I do know how to bring up oil in Israel and where Lyle, through his confiding, went wrong.

Warmest Regards,
Stephen Volk, Author
Oct. 30, 2008 7 a.m.

October 30, 2008 at 5:44 AM  

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