Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke at the national memorial ceremony for Ethiopian Jewry who died on their way to Israel on Sunday.

“Honored guests, and first among them our brothers and sisters who came from Ethiopia. To the family of Abraa Mangisto, I want to tell you that we will not rest until we bring Abraa back home again. For generations upon generations, you lived on the horn of Africa and you prayed to raise the horn of Israel. You prayed for independence, freedom, and salvation. From the place where you lives, you exposed yourself in an effort to come to Israel, our home of  milk and honey. When Israel was created a fire was kindled inside of you.

Sadly, the immigration of the tens of thousands from Ethiopia was not possible at that time for various reasons. But 40 years ago it began to happen in a flow that kept getting stronger. A stormy and moving chapter in the history of the return to Zion began. Overnight you began an arduous journey, just as our ancestors did when they left Egypt. You marched through paths of fear. The thousands who died on the way you buried by the side of the road in deep sorrow. Perhaps the entire story is told by one small note left on one of the graves, which read: “My body lies here but my soul is in Jerusalem.” That very much sums up the message of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi.”

Netanyahu’s speech continued to evoke deep emotions from those gathered. He then turned to the lesson behind the march. “The entire nation of Israel could learn an important lesson from you [The Ethiopian community]. We can learn about the love of Jerusalem, about fortitude and willpower, and about caring for one another. That caring was evident even in the meeting between you and the Israeli emissaries sent to meet you, those who were in uniform and those who were not in uniform. They proffered a helping hand and a hug on rubber dinghies of the Shayetet and the planes of the air force. Those hugs, more than anything else, represented the depth of brotherhood that characterizes our nation. That is always our goal, to be as one person with one heart.”

Netanyahu then moved ahead in his speech to the future and current times. “Your aliyah story involved a lot of hardships even when you came to Israel and tried to acclimate to society, as all stories of immigration do… I have supported and continue to support the incorporation of the Ethiopian community within Israeli society. This does not mean to say that all the problems have gone away. There are very real issues and problems that we still need to deal with, but we are working on them. Here to we will not abandon the task until it is completed.

Three years ago I established a special committee which I requested to sit at the head of in order to deal with the inclusion of the Ethiopian community within Israeli society. We meet every few weeks and we work together with representatives from the community, some of whom I see here, and everything we do is with their full cooperation. We talk, we make things happen and we follow up to see that they are carried out. Changes are happening in many areas of society, but the important thing is that you look at your own story and take pride. Not just as it is a heroic story for your community, but for the entire nation of Israel…

Who would have believed that in Israel, in the country of the Jews there would be racism? But sadly, it exists. I have just received the first report of the governmental task force to coordinate the fight against racism in Israel. We set up this task force and it works. It is working to get at the root of the problems and uproot them in a serious way. Each and every complaint of racism is investigated and dealt with. Simultaneously, the task force is working to uproot educational trends that lead towards preconceived notions and stereotypes and allow these to influence decisions. This too is a lengthy journey, but we will not give up on our goal, which is equal and fair treatment and respect for all and especially for you, the Ethiopian community.”

Netanyahu said that he personally is moved everytime he sees a soldier with Ethiopian heritage be honored as an exemplary soldier and each time he sees an example of members from this community make strides in the fields of culture. “There is here a juxtaposition to embrace the Israeli identity while still gleaning strength and pride from your special traditions. “The names of Ethiopian Jewry have garnered fame for your unwavering faith and loyalty to our country, our traditions, and our city. We will always remember those who sacrificed themselves on the way to come to Israel, and we hope that they find comfort in the building of Jerusalem our capital. May their memories be forever blessed.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)

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