Falashmura immigrants celebrate first Passover in Israel
By Dana Weiler-Polak
Over a thousand new immigrants from the Ethiopian region of Falashmura will celebrate their first Passover in Israel.
The newly Israeli citizens will either celebrate the Jewish exodus at home with their families, or alongside thousands of Ethiopians at seders organized by the Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, to be held at 16 absorption centers throughout the country.
"I have no words to describe the magnitude of my emotions," said Macrau Tia, a Falashmura man who moved to Israel two months ago and is currently residing in a Nahariya absorption center.
"I have been waiting for this moment for six years," Tia gushed, " Just the thought of a seder in the Holy Land makes me cry."
In November of 2009 the Israeli government committed to bringing over 8,000 Jews from the Ethiopian Falashmura Jewish community to Israel. The government charged the Jewish Agency with the responsibility of bringing over the immigrants within three years.
The Jewish Agency assisted the Falashmura immigrants in conjunction with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization that invests hundreds of millions of shekels in immigration and absorption to Israel, with an emphasis on Ethiopian immigrants.
Last week, a mock seder was held in Mevaseret Tzion, a suburb on the periphery of Jerusalem, in which the immigrants were taught about the customs and laws of Passover.
"There was a very unique atmosphere, for many this was a very special moment that they had been waiting for for years," said Attlin Matiko, Macrau and Zabish Tia's nephew, who attended the event with his aunt and uncle.
Attlin, who moved to Israel in 2007 after a nine-year wait, has organized a seder in Beit Shemesh for his entire family, including cousins he has not seen for four years until they moved to Israel.
"After all these years, we will be together as a family in Israel. And this is a holy feeling that is exciting for all of us," Attlin said.
Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, attended the mock seder, along with Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, head of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and Minister of Absorption Sofa Landver.
"I had the honor of being involved with two waves of immigration that were both exoduses in the own right, " Rabbi Eckstein said, referring to the mass immigration from Russia and Ethiopia.
"Our goal is to bring Jews here [to Israel] and to ensure that they are absorbed into Israeli society in the best way possible, allowing them to eventually help other Jews adapt in the future," the rabbi added.
Sharansky addressed the attendees as well, saying " I commit to actively pursuing the continued immigration of the Ethiopian community to Israel and bringing over the remainder of the Falashmura."
Never mind that their children will have their Jewish identity doubted by the rest of Israeli citizens (the government invited the first wave to "community meetings" to re-circumcize the men "in case it wasn't done right the first time"), will be ostracized in the schoolyard from kindergarden up, and will be viewed as leeches on the system for collecting welfare because... no one will hire them. It's a heartbreaking situation, snark aside.
If you're interested in learning more about the life of the Falashmura's in Israel, I highly recommend the movie Live and Become, which you can get on Netflix in the US. I think it captures the difficulty of an immigrant's life very well, and not just in the Israeli context.
For those of you celebrating tonight, Chag sameach!