Operation Moses: Rescuing Ethiopian Jews

I’ve been reading a lot of Ethiopia-themed books lately (I was pleasantly surprised at how well stocked our library was for kids’ books), as I’m trying to thoroughly embrace our family’s new heritage. One of the books I came across is called The Return by Sonia Levitin and it tells the incredible story of Operation Moses.

Operation Moses was a covert evacuation of Ethiopian Jews (also known as Beta Israel) in 1984. Facing religious persecution and famine in Ethiopia under the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, some 13,000 Jews escaped Ethiopia on foot and made for Sudan. Israel then airlifted the refugees to safety with the secret cooperation of the Sudanese government. It’s estimated that 4,000 died on the way trek to Sudan and another 1,000 were left behind when operation became public and other Arab nations pressured Sudan to stop the secret evacuations.

Many of those left behind in Sudan were later brought to Israel as part of the U.S.-lead follow-up mission, Operation Joshua, in 1985.

The situation didn’t change until 1991 and the Ethiopian revolution when Israel took advantage of the political instability to evacuate the remaining Ethiopian Jews as part of Operation Solomon. More than 14,000 were evacuated in a 36-hour period on 34 different flights. Today there are still several thousand Ethiopian Jews remaining in Ethiopia.

It’s an incredible story and bit of history you don’t really hear about. The Return tells the story from the perspective of a teenage girl who evacuates Ethiopia. The book gives a pretty detailed portrayal of the life of a rural Ethiopian Jew. You actually don’t get much of sense of what was actually happening with Operation Moses until the very end, which for me just prompted more research (and I’d love to do more beyond Wikipedia and a few random articles).

It’s another layer to the incredible history and people of Ethiopia.

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