The history of Operation Moses, the airlift of thousands of members of the Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel, comes to life in Danny Adeno Abebe’s new book, From Africa to Zion. Originally published in Hebrew as HaMasa Lo Tam, The Journey is Not Over, his memoir offers a personal reflection on the challenges of his childhood journey from the village of Tilamado, through Sudan, and to the Jewish State. It also shares the complex, painful, and ultimately inspiring struggle the author has fought for integration and acceptance into Israeli society. Even as Israel’s first Ethiopian-born journalist, Abebe confirms that the challenge to live as a full member of Israeli society continues over thirty-five years later. The memoir shares many painful moments, such as the challenges his Israel-born children faced as the only black children in their classes. Abebe recalls finding his son trying to straighten his hair and asking “Daddy, why don’t we look good?”
A defining moment in the author’s career came in 1996, when, as the immigration and absorption correspondent for Davar Rishon, he was asked to write a reflection on the blood donation scandal that exposed Israel’s systemic racism against a deeply Zionist community. The success of this report led to an opportunity to join 7 Days, Yediot Aharonot’s investigative supplement focused on exposing Israel’s most painful truths. From here, Abebe would continue to develop as a journalist, at times using the color of his skin to gain access to stories where established, recognized journalists could not. He posed as a janitor at the wedding of Noa Netanyahu to take a photograph of Bibi, Sara, and Noa. The event was closed to the press.
From Africa to Zion opens with Abebe in conversation with his parents as he gathers the courage to write his family’s memoir. “For years, I had no strength to confront the past,” the author writes in his introduction. “As an outsider, my will to succeed and to prove myself came above all. I tried to find my place in wider Israeli society…I wanted to be the most Israeli Israeli ever.” That changed when the Ethiopian community began to find its voice and demand equality. After this moment, the author and his family were invited by the editor-in-chief of Yediot Aharonot to return to Ethiopia. The significance of this trip was retold in a feature article titled “This Was Home.” Its publication sparked further interest to “tell the young generation of native-born Israelis with frizzy hair: Be proud of who you are.”
From Africa to Zion tells an astonishing story of personal triumph. At the same time, it challenges us to reconsider how Israeli society, so proud of serving as a homeland for all Jews, has failed to live up to this obligation in both public and private ways. Abebe’s book is an important read for anything seeking to understand Ethiopian Jewry’s continuing struggle for acceptance in a place they have longed to return for thousands of years.
Jonathan Fass is the Managing Director of Educational Technology and Strategy at The Jewish Education Project of New York.