The Edmond Sun

December 17, 2013

Ethiopian Jews fly into Israel

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — Edie Roodman, who serves as the director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, recently gave a presentation on the African Jews of Ethiopia and their flight into Israel. The presentation took place at the Federation’s Oklahoma City Office, and Roodman explained that Ethiopian Jews, who are known as “Falashas,” believe that they are the descendants of the son born to the Ethiopian Princess Sheeba and fathered by  King Solomon’s palace and the Jewish princes who accompanied her on her journey back to Ethiopia after she left Solomon’s Kingdom.

Those princes married local Ethiopian woman, the Falasha’s maintain, and created a Jewish community in that African nation. But Roodman reported that scholars in Israel believe that the Falashas are in fact the descendants of the lost tribe of Israel known as “Dan.”

 The Falashas practiced a form of what Roodman described as “Biblical Judaism” that did not include the celebration of Jewish religious holidays, but did include a reverence for Jerusalem and the land of Israel. They lived in primitive conditions that did not include running water and electricity.  

In the early 1980s, the Falashas were facing hostility from the then Marxist government of Ethiopia and the Israeli government launched a secret mission in 1984 known as “Operation Moses” to bring some of them to Israel via air transport planes. Roodman told of how many of the Falashas had never seen a Jew who was not African and since they had never seen an airplane before were initially reluctant to board the planes.

After the Israeli’s reminded them about the Biblical passage about the bird whose wings would take the Israelites away from danger, they agreed to get on the aircrafts. That undertaking  brought approximately 6,000 Falashas to Israel and was followed by several other missions in 1991 that brought almost all of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Roodman spoke of how she has visited the absorption centers operated by the Israeli government and seen the efforts being made to integrate the Falashas into Israeli society. Younger members of the Falasha community who have done compulsory military service in the Israeli defense force, have adjusted well to their new homeland. Roodman reported that some members of the older generation of migrants have faced difficulties in adopting to Israeli society.

The Federation director spoke with feeling of the trip that she took with some Falashas to Ethiopia several years ago and were met by the Israeli Ambassador to that nation.

Belaynesh Zevadia is a Falasha who was brought to Israel as part of Operation Moses. Zevadia, Roodman explained, had formerly served in the Israeli consulate in Houston and had visited Oklahoma on several occasions as part of her official duties and she has many friends in Oklahoma as a result.

William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.