Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Chasdei HaShem- Getting things right with the Ethiopians in Israel

For most of my life, my connection to Tehillim has been tenuous. Of course, I am familiar with sections of it due to the fact that I daven three times a day. Still, perhaps partially due to my discomfort with Tehillim being recited in ways that seem, to me at least, more magical than theological, I have spent little time studying, or even considering most of the perakim of Tehillim. Recently, for reasons I can’t explain, or perhaps, won’t share, that has begun to change. So when I had the opportunity to take part in a project spearheaded by Yeshivat Har Etzion to study all of Tanach and Shas by the shloshim of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l, I decided to sign up to study a perek of Tehillim. Given the available perakim, and the desire to study a perek where I lacked familiarity, I ended up with perek 107.

This perek discusses those who have been saved by God and invites them to praise Him. After a brief general introduction, the Psalmist discusses those who have crossed the desert:

2 So let the redeemed of the LORD say, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the adversary.

3 And gathered them out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the sea.

4 They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way; they found no city of habitation.

5 Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.

6 Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses.

7 And He led them by a straight way, that they might go to a city of habitation.
8 Let them give thanks unto the LORD for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!

9 For He hath satisfied the longing soul, and the hungry soul He hath filled with good.

As I read these pesukim, I immediately thought of the Ethiopians who were brought to Israel decades ago, in what felt like the latest demonstration of  the gathering of the exiles. I recalled reading of the dangerous trek that the Ethiopian Jews had to make to get to Adis Abbaba, where they were flown to safety in Israel. It was not hard to imagine the joy they would experience in living in the land of their dreams.The Psalmist seemed to be discussing the very experience of the Ethiopian Jews. Of course, once the Ethiopian Jews came to mind, I began to think of the protests currently taking place in Israel, where Ethiopian Jews are protesting against police brutality and the general inequality of how they have been treated by their fellow Jews.

One of the big things that I have taken away from the eulogies for Rav Aharon, is the focus he placed on humanism. When he saw suffering of any kind in the world, it pained him. Although I am not aware of anything he said or wrote about the Ethiopians, it is not hard for me to imagine that he would have identified with the pain they are feeling.

Perhaps it was naive to believe that Kibbutz Galuyot would happen smoothly, and bump-free. Still, even if I move past my naive dreaming, I am saddened as, once again, a group of Jews miraculously brought to Israel, are mistreated. It seems like the lessons that should have been learned from how the various Sefaradi communities, and the Teimanim were treated, have not been learned.

At the same time, it is heartening to see that protests are not being ignored, and that the Ethiopians are being heard. Perhaps, now is the time to when a major step will be taken in creating the type of community that can truly be a lesson to the nations of the world. If we can finally take steps in that direction, we will be able to join with the Psalmist and say

42 The upright see it, and are glad; and all iniquity stoppeth her mouth.

43 Whoso is wise, let him observe these things, and let them consider the mercies of the LORD.


  1. I think you overstate it in "Perhaps, now is the time to when a major step will be taken in creating the type of community that can truly be a lesson to the nations of the world."

    Operation Solomon was a lesson to the world. Were we then flawed in how we subsequently integrated the Ethiopian population? Yes. But to look only at the flaws and say the whole welcoming and integration effort was a moral failure is selling the gov't and people of Israel short.

    1. I also wonder how much can be done within less than a generation for an immigrant population that lacked the education in skills that provide decent pay.