The Last Flight of Ethiopian Airlift–Phase II Has Arrived
Israel declared an end to Phase II of the “Operation Tzur Israel” (“Rock of Israel”) airlift on Wednesday, July 12, when a group of 130 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on an Aliyah flight sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, among other donors.
The Rock of Israel airlift was first launched in December 2020, and in two phases now, the operation has managed to bring over 5,000 Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia to reunite with close family already in Israel. The second phase of the airlift started in June 2022 and has brought 3,113 of those Ethiopian Olim (newcomers), many of whom have not seen their families in Israel for over two decades.
The Israeli government resumed the historic Ethiopian Aliyah in 2015, committing to bring another 9,000 members of the ancient Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel. Since that decision, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) has brought a total of 7,514 Jewish immigrants from the East African country home to the promised land, with the ICEJ sponsoring flights for 3,225 of these new arrivals.
Operation Rock of Israel was launched to speed up the Ethiopian Aliyah, as many families have been separated from close relatives who made it to Israel as far back as the 1980s. So far in 2023, the ICEJ has sponsored Aliyah flights for 375 Ethiopian Jews as part of this special airlift.
“We thank the Christian Embassy for playing such a crucial role in the Tzur Israel airlift of Ethiopian Jews over recent years and for being among the sponsors of today’s Aliyah flight,” said Danielle Mor of JAFI.
Besides wanting to reunite these Ethiopian Olim with family members already in Israel, JAFI officials also made sure most of the immigrants who arrived this week were from Gondar, a region that has been battered in recent months by widespread Muslim rioting.
One immigrant family we met this week embodied the long, painful separation these Ethiopian Jewish families have endured over recent decades. Their little two-year-old daughter, Miriam, first captured my attention as I waited on the hot tarmac at the bottom of the stairs leading down from the plane. She was half asleep in her father’s arms, no doubt exhausted from the long bus ride from Gondar to Addis Ababa and then a four-hour flight to Tel Aviv. But when I offered her an Israeli flag, she perked up with a smile and we became instant buddies.
Once we were in the welcome center where new immigrants are processed, the family was the first called to meet with a clerk to sort out their immigration papers. I happened to be standing next to the door as they entered the clerk’s office and felt a tug on my hand. Miriam was looking up with that same captivating smile, happy to see me again.
After they finished processing their entry documents, I spoke to the father, Ajik Tzera, through a translator. He was only 12 years old when his mother left Gondar for Israel some 20 years ago. He was left behind with close relatives who all expected to be making the same journey to Israel soon enough. But here he was now arriving in the Land a grown man at 32, with a wife and young daughter in tow, anxious to finally see his mother again after all these many years.
“I don’t know if she has come to the airport to greet me,” he said. “My mother is now 80 and has been very sick, and I have not had a phone to check if she is here.”
Like so many other community members left in Ethiopia, Ajik could only find temporary work because no one wants to hire Jews waiting to move to Israel. I asked him what sort of work he hopes to do once he gets settled in Israel; he replied that for now, he is focused on “becoming more a part of our religious community.”
When I asked what were his hopes for his daughter Miriam now that they had reached the promised land, the father lowered his head and began weeping. After a few minutes, it was clear he was too overcome with emotions to answer. So I offered my handkerchief and ended the interview.
At that moment, Miriam came and handed me a bottle of water that I had set down on a nearby table before talking with her father. It was clear that this little Ethiopian girl is bright, observant, thoughtful, and will do well in her new homeland.
An hour later, we watched as the group of new Ethiopian immigrants emerged with their luggage into the Arrivals Hall, where family and friends were eagerly waiting with decades of pent-up tears and emotions. When Ajik and his daughter came into sight, they were swarmed by dozens of relatives, including a dear mother of 80.
The family will now settle into an absorption center for more Hebrew and Judaism classes. Thankfully, with so many relatives already accustomed to life in Israel, their landing will be softer than those who came in the mass Ethiopian airlifts of the 1980s and 90s.
Meanwhile, there are many more such Jewish families still waiting in Ethiopia to be reunited with relatives in Israel after years of separation. With Phase II of the latest Ethiopian airlift now over, Israeli authorities hope to resume the Ethiopian Aliyah flights soon, perhaps even before summer is over.
So far this year, the ICEJ has sponsored Aliyah flights for over 1,000 Jewish Olim from Ethiopia, Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic States. Adding in our support for other Jews making the move to Israel this year, we have currently helped over 4,000 Jews with Aliyah assistance in 2023, and many more are still to come.
Please consider being a part of this prophetic ingathering of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Over the coming months, the ICEJ will be engaged in a range of Aliyah activities in numerous countries worldwide. So make sure to give toward the ICEJ’s urgent Aliyah efforts today!
Send a gift today to support the ICEJ’s Aliyah efforts with Ethiopian Jews.