From Ethiopia to Yerusalem: We Came Bearing Gifts

NOTE: The full videos from the 2-day event can be watched below, at the bottom of the page.

By Maxyne Finkelstein, President of the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation

On Sunday July 26th and Monday July 27th a unique and first-of-its-kind online Academic Conference took place, co-organized by Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. The conference marked the 30th year anniversary (plus 2 months) of Operation Solomon, when 14,000 men, women and children made the arduous journey from Ethiopia to Yerusalem (the name by which Ethiopian Jews call the whole land of Israel).

One of the outstanding keynote speakers was University of Haifa sociologist Dr. Shelly Engdau who recently received her Doctorate from Hebrew University. Dr. Engdau spoke of the resilience of the community and their capacities and contributions in the context of an Aliyah with an extraordinary story. The theme of the conference was the gifts that Ethiopians brought with them to Israel and their contributions to the Jewish people as a whole: their culture and traditions, their sacred texts, and the unique qualities and characteristics that emerged from their unique Jewish experience.

Dr. Shelly Engdau, a still from a film by Amit Dekel

Dr. Shelly Engdau, a still from a film by Amit Dekel

Challenges were also addressed. Barriers and opportunities were contextualized in a powerful discussion – between four students from both universities, moderated by Adv. Shlomit Bukaya, CEO of the Association of Ethiopian Jews – of the intolerance, low expectations and outright racism that face community members.

Adv. Shlomit Bukaya (right) interviews students (from left) Teje Asfau Daniel, Yiftachel Reta, Aharon Pakado and Merav Asres, a still from a film by Amit Dekel.

Adv. Shlomit Bukaya (right) interviews students (from left) Teje Asfau Daniel, Yiftachel Reta, Aharon Pakado and Merav Asres, a still from a film by Amit Dekel.

The Conference was sponsored by the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Foundation (based in Canada). The Foundation is engaged in supporting a positive narrative about the Ethiopian community, one which is worthy of their heritage and in providing financial support to ease access to higher education at the two universities. Shawna Goodman Sone, at the opening of the conference, explained that her brother Jonathan, who leads this initiative, has embarked on a journey to help Israeli Ethiopians achieve sustained success, which will over time create more equity in Israeli society. To walk in someone’s shoes is to feel empathy. The Foundation has taken this maxim further and wants to walk in Ethiopia in the winter of 2023 with a coalition of the willing; to put on their sneakers and loosely replicate the walking path taken by thousands of our Ethiopian brothers and sisters.

The objectives of the journey are:

  1. To raise awareness about the considerable issues still facing Ethiopian Israelis.
  2. To raise needed funds to support merit scholarships at two of Israel’s best institutions, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.
  3. To have a meaningful and incredibly fun experience on this walk with Ethiopian activists, educators and Israeli opinion leaders.

For more information on The Journey or for supporting Ethiopian Students at the Hebrew University, contact Debbie Dankoff at ddankoff@cfhu.org or 514-932-2133.

Click here for a recent Toronto Star Article by Canadian conference presenter, human rights advocate Yaffa Tegegne:
When it comes to antisemitism, there is more than meets the eye