“I will give you the land of Israel,” says the Lord

Twenty years ago, Estibel, his wife Mulaken, and her family moved to a makeshift village near Gondar. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews — all part of the Lost Tribe of Dan that was found at the turn of the last century — came with the promise that they would leave for Israel imminently. Many were able to make the trip. However, negotiations between the Ethiopian and Israeli governments then broke down, stranding Estibel, Mulaken, and so many more, beginning a cascade of unimaginable issues.

The village was never designed to be permanent, or to hold so many people for so long. Estibel and Mulaken, along with their four children, lived in a small hut built of clay and thin bamboo pillars, with no water pipes, electricity, or gas. They shared a toilet with numerous other households. When it rained, their floors and bedding always flooded.

Yael stands with a family outside their home in Ethiopia.
Yael meets with Estibel, Mulaken, and their family in Gondar.

As if these circumstances weren’t difficult enough, the locals knew this Jewish population had no long-term plans to remain in the country, and so finding work other than day labor was difficult. The landlords continuously increased their rent, assuming that their “wealthy” extended family in Israel would pay the extra cost. The poverty was palpable. According to nonprofit agencies that serve these Ethiopian Jews, almost half of the children are chronically malnourished, with very little hope in sight.

And yet, Gondar is the only place from which Jews in Ethiopia can make aliyah (immigrate to Israel). When we met them before their flight, the family had been doing their best to simply survive, and keep their faith. Estibel described their priorities, “One of the most important things for us is to preserve our Jewish identity. Every Saturday, the entire family goes to the community center for the Sabbath prayers.”

Ethopian man and two women sit outside of a mud building, looking toward the camera.
The community is rife with poverty, filled with Ethiopians Jews waiting to leave.

He continued, “I cannot really believe that I am going to see Israel. I am used to imagining Israel as a dream, and now it is becoming true.” Since the aliyah program began in the 1980s, there have been a few periods of time that open up and allow some Ethiopian Jews to leave. Right now, one of these windows of opportunity, called the Rock of Israel Operation, is open. Finally, after years of waiting, Estibel and Mulaken were preparing to leave.

However, for any family leaving Ethiopia to make aliyah to Israel, the most dangerous time is after they get their flight date. Mulaken explained to us, “We are afraid to send the children to school because of the kidnappings. It is a very frequent occurrence here. Children are stolen mostly from the families that must fly in a short period, and the parents are forced to pay a lot of money to release them.”

Yael stands outside a mud building with the Star of David painted on the walls.
Yael stands outside the community center where Jews offer their prayers.

They were particularly concerned for their youngest, a four-year-old daughter named Meseret (pictured at the top), who received a doll from Yael. Estibel and Mulaken have put a lot of their hopes and dreams into her, as well as their other children, and feared they would be separated.

When the young family left for Israel, there was an air of excitement. The children crowded around the windows to view the world below. When they landed, families were reunited, laughter rang out, and tears of joy were shed.

Large group of Ethiopians walking down a wooded street.
Ethiopians Jews wait to leave Gondar and then fly to Israel.

Initially, Estibel, Mulaken, and their family moved into a home established for immigrating Ethiopians. For two years, they will be immersed in Hebrew language lessons and taught about Israeli culture to help make their transition as easy as possible. When they graduate from this program, the Israeli government will assist them as they move into long-term housing — housing that is a far cry from the mud huts of Gondar.

So far, 2,800 Ethiopian Jews have returned home through Operation Rock of Israel, and it is expected that a further 3,000 will join them. There are thousands more living in Gondar who are still waiting to hear whether they will be allowed to move during this operation, or have to wait for another.

Silhouette of children looking out the windows of an airplane.
Children crowd plane windows, hoping for a glimpse of Israel below.

As we finished our interview with the family, Mulaken wanted to speak directly to you. “We don’t really have any words to describe how thankful we are to the good people of The Fellowship who are fulfilling a 20-year-old dream for us. We would like to ask and encourage you to continue to help the Ethiopian Jews, so that we all can live in Israel one day. Thank you!”

We are faithful followers of God, just like you, and our work is not done until every family is reunited, and God’s prophecy is fulfilled. But there is joy in the journey together. We wanted to share Estibel and Mulaken’s joy with you, just as it was written in I John 1:3, We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us, for together we are The Fellowship.

A group of Ethiopians kneeling and kissing the ground after stepping off of a plane to Israel.
Ethiopian Jews kiss the ground in Tel Aviv after arriving in Israel.

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