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Ethiopian Jews in Israel Today

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August 24th, 2021

The Ethiopian Jews in Israel have a fascinating history. With a challenging present, we can play a part in securing them a beautiful future.

Who are the Ethiopian Jews?

There are several theories about the origins of such a large Jewish community in Ethiopia. Many traditions of the Ethiopian Jewry connect to biblical times and don’t include rabbinical interpretations. This would indicate that the community must have formed in and out of the land of Israel before the 4th or 5th century when the Talmud was written.

The first significant connection between the Jewish and Ethiopian peoples is mentioned during Exodus. Moses’ wife was a Kushite (Numbers 12: 1), meaning that she was of Ethiopian background. Years later, according to the Bible, a friendship developed between Israel’s King Solomon and the Ethiopian Queen Sheba (1 Kings 10: 1-13; 2 Chronicles 9: 1-12).

Today, only God knows which origin story is true. What we do know, however, is the Ethiopian Jews of today. For hundreds of years, they read the Scriptures, kept their traditions and, above all, their faith. They still celebrate Biblical holidays and pray for Jerusalem. In Ethiopia, the tribe was called Falasha, an insult that meant ‘those with no land.’

But that offensive name became no longer true in the middle of the 20th century.

What is Ethiopian Aliyah?

The word ‘Aliyah’ literally means to ascend, and it commonly refers to Jewish people returning to the land of their fathers. After thousands of years praying for the Promised Land, the Jews of Ethiopia were given the green light to immigrate to Israel in the late 20th century.

Their return was nothing short of a miracle, as the political and economic situation in Ethiopia was grim. Thanks to several Israeli operations over the course of the 1980s and 90s, more than 40 thousand Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel. Most notably, massive airlifting of thousands of Jews from Ethiopia took place during Operation Moses in 1985 and Operation Solomon in 1991.

Finally, this unique Jewish tribe could settle in the land they were praying for!

Today, the majority of these immigrants are already parents and grandparents to new generations of Israelis. At the same time, more of their kin continue to make Aliyah to this day. Approximately 160,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today. And the numbers continue to grow.

A great majority of Ethiopian Jews have kept their faith and credit the miracle of their Aliyah to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What is more, some have recognized Yeshua (Jesus) as their promised Messiah and grow stronger in their faith every day. We are honored to introduced some of them to you!

Pillar of Fire in Jerusalem

The Amud HaEsh (Hebrew: “Pillar of Fire”) congregation in Jerusalem is a great testimony to the faithfulness of God. They are the first Hebrew- and Amharic-speaking Ethiopian community in the capital of Israel. Their desire is to train up the next generation of Ethiopian believers to walk out God’s calling and bring revival to the land.

Investing in strong families and healthy leadership, they have their community’s best at heart. The congregation provides vocational training to men and women, organizes outreaches and encourages their congregants to be productive citizens in the land of Israel.

Amud HaEsh strives to bring hope, guidance and encouragement to young Ethiopian Jews. Pastor Kokeb Gedamu of Amud HaEsh shared:

“[Many Ethiopian Jews] don’t have the means to compete with the European Jews or American Jews who have skills… So, they get involved with drugs and you see a lot of young people drinking. You cry when you see that. That is the reason [why] me and my wife started the congregation.”

Ethiopian Jews in Tel Aviv

Although Jerusalem is their Holy City and the capital of Israel, many new immigrants choose to settle on the coast. The greater Tel Aviv area is known for its tech accomplishments and wider job market. 

Nevertheless, the lives of the Ethiopian Jews in the city are not easy. Many young people can’t find work, and the older generations continue to struggle to adapt. It is not an easy transition from rural village life in Ethiopia to Israel’s high-tech, fast-moving metropolis. And far too many of the new immigrants fall by the wayside.

The months of lockdowns and restrictions due to the pandemic have made life even more difficult. While a large part of the Western world relied on the internet to continue their lives, for many Ethiopian Jews technology was a challenge. For many the shift happened with work, as well as school and social life. And on top of that, same thing happened to fellowship with other believers.

Hope for All Generations

When gatherings became impossible, congregations all over Israel swiftly switched to Zoom. A messianic congregation that serves the Ethiopian community in Tel Aviv, called House of Generation, had to think fast. How can we reach our community if they don’t know how to use a computer?

House of Generation came up with an idea. They asked the children and youth from the congregation to teach their moms and dads to use Zoom and social media. Soon enough more and more families were tuning in to weekly services streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Despite all the challenges of the past year, the congregational leaders saw great fruit of their efforts. Some people, who normally would not come to a congregational meeting, got to know the Lord by “passive participation”. For example, a family member tuned in to a service, and by being in the same household they were “forced” to listen. Soon enough they willingly joined in.

Today, House of Generation is grateful for what the Lord has done for them during the hardest times. They expanded on social media – they have channels that they never or hardly used before. Their followers continue to increase, and they share the Gospel with communities that they had no access to before.

What’s in store for the Ethiopian Jews in Israel?

We praise God for His faithfulness in all circumstances – in the good days, and the bad. He enabled small Israeli communities of believers to come out of a tough year stronger than they were before. Nevertheless, the people felt alienated, and they continue to struggle financially.

It may seem difficult at first to assess where to help and what to do. That is why FIRM partners with ministries like Amud HaEsh and House of Generation. We are grateful for the amazing work of FIRM Member Ministries who know the land of Israel and love her people.

We can help you get started in blessing Israel financially in a clear and direct way. Meet the Tribe – a passionate and faithful group of monthly donors on a mission. Our goal is to transform lives in Israel through the love of Jesus. Join the Tribe today: firmisrael.org/thetribe

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FIRM is a global fellowship of Biblically-grounded believers committed to cultivating Messiah-centered relationships that bless the inhabitants of Israel—Jews, Arabs, and others—and the Jewish community around the world.
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