The city of Gondar in Ethiopia is home to only one synagogue, used by the Falash Mura community. As Cnaan Lipshiz explains, its members identify as the descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity around 200 years ago, sometimes under duress. In recent weeks, two flights brought a total of 300 members of the Falash Mura to settle in Israel, in an operation organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel and funded by a wide range of Jewish organizations.
Over the past 40 years, Israel has haltingly allowed thousands of Falash Mura to immigrate, with the aim of reuniting families of Ethiopian Jews in Israel and ultimately leaving none behind in Ethiopia, a poor African nation where the average life expectancy is 67 years. [Last week’s] flight is one of the first since Israel re-opened immigration for a small number of Falash Mura last year.
Kefale Tayachew Damtie, a father of six from Gondar, [and one of the expectant immigrants], has not seen his mother in years but has not told her that he’s coming. “I’ll do it right before I board the plane to Israel. I don’t want to disappoint her,” said Damtie, fifty-six, who lives with his wife and children in a rented 300-square-feet room with no running water.
“I have been waiting to leave because this is not my home. These are not my people. I am Jewish and Zion is my country,” said Damtie. [He] and his whole family wore their best clothes as they loaded their only possessions—a serving dish and some clothing—onto a pickup truck bound for Gondar airport, en route to Addis Ababa ahead of the final flight to Israel.