Andrew Keene, a member of the Management Committee of the World Union travelled to Ethiopia as part of a mission by the Jewish Agency for Israel bringing new olim (immigrants making Aliyah) to Israel.
Andrew was one of 80 Jewish leaders from around the world on this historic trip, which had representation from the three constituent bodies of the Jewish Agency: WZO, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Federations of North America.
The purpose was to restart Operation Zur Yisrael – a decision of the Israeli Government before COVID to bring 3,000 people from Gondar, Ethiopia to Israel for family reunification.
The operation was paused due to COVID and legal challenges in the Israeli courts, but this mission marked the resumption of the effort, bringing the first 180 olim to Israel on a charter Ethiopian Airlines flight.
Andrew said: “This mission to Ethiopia was a powerful reminder of the importance of Jewish Peoplehood as well as the critical role of the Jewish Agency and the centrality of the modern state of Israel.
“It also underscored the importance of our international Reform and Progressive Movement’s participation in the leadership of the National Institutions, especially during discussions of conversion and ‘who is a Jew?’
“Meeting with families who have longed to go to Jerusalem, some for over 20 years, and have been separated from family who have already made Aliyah, reaffirmed the importance of fulfilling the commitment of the Jewish People to bring the entire Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel.”
After arriving in Israel, the new olim will spend up to two years in a Jewish Agency Absorption Center where they will finish their conversion process and gain important skills to integrate successfully into Israeli society and workforce.
Andrew added: “Landing in Israel this time was unlike any other arrival – the leadership mission participants and olim alike were overcome with emotion, excitement and joy.
“We look forward to witnessing the next phase of their journey and the positive impacts they will make on Israeli society.”
The mission was undertaken with the guidance of Micha Feldmann, the former Jewish Agency representative to Ethiopia and architect of Operation Solomon, adding additional significance and depth to this chapter of the story of the Ethiopian Jewish community.