Until Their Return to Israel, Ethiopian Jews Did Not Know the Temple Had Been Destroyed

July 20 2018

This Sunday, Jews around the world will observe Tisha b’Av, the ancient day of mourning over the destruction of the two Temples. While Ethiopian Jews also observed the month of Av as a time of mourning, due to their centuries-long isolation from the rest of world Jewry they had never learned that the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, was no longer standing. Michal Avera Samuel, who came to Israel from Ethiopia at the age of nine, recounts making this discovery:

Like my parents and teachers, [as a child] I believed that the Second Temple stood in its place in Jerusalem and was literally made of pure gold. I grew up hearing about the kohanim, or priests. I fell asleep listening to stories about the halo hovering over Jerusalem, and about Jews who merited to dwell in the Holy City cloaked in white garments—people blessed with pure hearts, clean thoughts, and devoid of sin. . . .

Deep within Ethiopia, my family and I, along with our neighbors from the Beta Israel community, hoped to merit to return to Jerusalem one day. We prayed and performed customs that expressed our yearning for Zion. When we slaughtered livestock, we would turn the animals’ heads toward Jerusalem, and whenever we noticed a flock of storks above our fields, we would chant a song in which we requested that the birds deliver our prayers [for] return to our homeland.

We knew that the First Temple had been destroyed. During the first seventeen days of the month of Av, we would fast during the daytime. We chanted special lamentations in Amharic and practiced other customs of mourning prevalent among many Jewish communities. We even continued ritual sacrifices as a distant memory of the Temple times. . . .

The ideal of Jerusalem was the force that provided us with the stamina to persevere during the arduous trek through the desert. . . . Then we arrived and discovered that the Temple had been destroyed. Jerusalem did not appear as the place I had so badly yearned to reach. Learning about the destruction of the Temple only as I reached the gates of the Old City was an earth-shattering disappointment. . . .

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More about: Ethiopian Jews, Israel & Zionism, Religion & Holidays, Second Temple, Tisha b'Av

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations