When I was a young girl in Israel, Operation Moses came to Israel. I can still remember the electric atmosphere that took hold of our country and community. Kibbutz galuyot, people kept saying, an ingathering of the exiles.
The social pressure of my circle was who could knit the most kippas for the new Ethiopian immigrants. It was exciting. You felt like you were living Jewish history with a new tribe, so to speak, discovered and redeemed back to Israel.
Their harrowing superhuman stories of walking through the blistering Sudan for thousands of kilometers touched us all to the core. Here among us were living, breathing people who sacrificed so much, often heartwrenching separations from family left behind, just to come to the land. To say we were inspired would be an understatement.
Years later I moved to Israel as an adult. I became friendly with the especially warm and kind guards at the Western Wall that I frequented often, bringing them my home-baked challah if I visited on a Sabbath or holiday eve. I became familiar with Idan Raichel, an iconic Israeli singer who developed a particular affection for the Ethiopian Jews, his music a fusion of Hebrew and Amharic. I lived near the Ben Yehuda open market, The Souk, where an Ethiopian restaurant was open late, way past the time the souks doors were shuttered.
I knew there were some bumps along the road. There was the halachic debate about the Ethiopians Jewish status. But with time, it was all smoothed over. Or so I thought.