Reuniting Ethiopian Jewish Families in Israel

Last week, ICEJ staff was on hand at Ben-Gurion Airport to welcome a specially chartered flight bringing 160 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants home to Israel. While we knew these newcomers were excited to reunite with family members they had not seen in years, witnessing the raw emotions of this moment in person was deeply moving, especially in the case of a father who finally embraced his two oldest children after enduring 20 painful years of separation while waiting for them to arrive in Israel.

ICEJ Staff Welcome Ethiopian Jews

The ICEJ-sponsored flight on Tuesday, June 21st was part of the resumed airlift operation Tzur Yisrael (“Rock of Israel”), which aims to bring as many as 3,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel this year. With this week’s flight, the Christian Embassy has now supported the Aliyah of more than half of the Ethiopian Jews (2,750 out of 5,197) who have immigrated to Israel since 2015, when the Israeli cabinet decided to resume Ethiopian immigration on the basis of family reunification.

The plane load of new immigrants on ranged in age from young babies in arm to grandparents on walking canes. Our first impressions on meeting this sea of faces swung from the readily apparent joy of the young children to the often anxious looks on many parents.

David Parsons Interviews Ye’alem

After ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman David Parsons greeted the group on behalf of our Christian donors worldwide, we had the chance to speak to one family with translation help from Liat Demosa of the Jewish Agency, who made Aliyah herself from Ethiopia in 1985 at age 4. Amid smiles and tears, the father, Ye’alem Bayech, began to tell us of his 20-year battle to reunite with his eldest son and daughter here in the Land of Israel. An administrator with Israel’s health ministry, he had somehow arranged rare permission to greet his children in the special lounge where brand new immigrants fill out their final paperwork before meeting their Israeli relatives in the main Arrivals Hall. Perhaps it helped that this was his birthday. In any event, they had just hugged for the first time only minutes before and everyone was still overwhelmed by emotions.

Ye’alem first received approval from Israel to make Aliyah 20 years ago, but he was going through a divorce at the time and the court in Ethiopia still had not ruled on the custody of his children. He did not want to lose his chance to reach Israel, so he left his son Abraram, aged 10, and daughter Kenubish, aged 8, under the watchful care of his own parents and siblings, trusting they all would soon follow him on Aliyah. Yet, when his parents and brother were able to come to Israel four years later, his two children were not allowed to join them. Meantime, their mother had died. So sadly, the son and daughter, now ages 14 and 12, were left to fend for themselves. That was 16 years ago!

Since then, Ye’alem has kept in constant touch with his children by phone and sent them money to help them survive what has turned into a long ordeal to convince Israeli authorities they belong with him in Israel. With the love and support of his new wife of ten years, Maya Iadesa, he has waged a grueling campaign that took him all the way to the office of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After so many years apart, they were even asked at one point to take DNA tests to prove he was their biological father.

But the arduous journey is finally over. With his now-grown children, ages 30 and 28, sitting beside him, Ye’alim teared up yet again and thanked God for giving him “this true gift” of looking straight into their smiling faces.

Abraram told us that he was so overcome about finally being with his father in the Holy Land, it is hard to think clearly about his future plans.

“For now, my wish is for good health for all the family and to continue studying for my second degree in business management so that I can pursue a career in the field,” he said.

Kenubish agreed that she also was too shocked right now to consider her dreams. But she assured, “I am looking forward to my new life and getting to know my family better.”

Both children were very grateful for the endless efforts their father went through to get them here, and how their new mother was so encouraging all along the way. They also wanted to thank the many Christians who helped make their long-awaited flight to Israel possible.

Please continue supporting the Aliyah efforts of the ICEJ and let other Jewish immigrant families know that they are cared for and covered by Christian love in action