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I Wanted to Be More than an Israeli, I Wanted to Be a Jew

Aharon Korn

Endalkachew Mamo led a relatively pampered childhood in Ethiopia, but he was thirsting for “something.” A chain of mishaps following a violent revolution that shook his native land resulted in his imprisonment, but eventually led to him receiving asylum in Israel. Once there, Endalkachew – now Ephraim ben Avraham – felt a magnetic attraction to the religious community, and he eventually followed his heart and converted to the religion that his soul had thirsted for since it joined the rest of us at Sinai.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The seasoned flight attendants watched the scene unfolding before them in surprise. An African man, who had just disembarked from their plane to Eretz Yisrael, had immediately prostrated himself on the ground, his entire body trembling. They quickly discerned that the man was in good health and that he was simply expressing his yearning for the land by prostrating himself. But why was he quivering?

“Falash Mura,” one of the flight attendants said knowingly.

“Beta Israel,” another one argued.

The third flight attendant, who had become privy to the true story, negated their guesses. The man was an African refugee, a tribesman who had fled in fear of the new democratic regime in his country. As history had shown, and as it continues to show again and again, democracy is a markedly antidemocratic weapon when it arrives in a totalitarian country, particularly one in which the inhabitants are Arab or African. This particular refugee had been chased out of his country due to political upheaval — and the State of Israel had mercifully agreed to grant him asylum.

The sight of the man prostrated on the asphalt tarmac was reminiscent of Operation Magic Carpet, in which Yemenite Jews who had been born and raised on the dream of emigrating to the Promised Land had been “magically” transported in a machine they never knew existed. Their emotional reaction to seeing the land was understood by even the most cynical spectators. But why was this man from Africa, who didn’t even claim to be a scion of some lost Jewish tribe, so overwhelmed with emotion upon arriving in Eretz Yisrael?

Endalkachew — who has long since become known as Ephraim — cannot explain, to this day, why his arrival in Eretz Yisrael was such an emotional moment for him. Nevertheless, it was a moment that was destined to change his life, and not only because he had succeeded in escaping the threats looming over him back in Ethiopa. The moment of his arrival in Eretz Yisrael spurred him to embark on a dramatic inner journey that began between the seven rivers of Debre Zeit and Addis Ababa and culminated in Jerusalem.

 

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