“We’re going ‘home’ — we’re going to the land of Israel!”
The joyful shouts of Ethiopian Jews Maritu and her husband Ayalew reverberated throughout their humble home in Quara, a village near the Sudanese border of Ethiopia. They had dreamed of the day when they would make aliyah (immigration to Israel), and the long-awaited day had come at last. Clutching their meager luggage, they gazed around the small dwelling for the last time and left for Zion.
As soon as their flight landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, Maritu and Ayalew kissed the ground, just like other Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) would do. Although they were uncertain of what lay ahead, their travel-weary bodies tingled with a sense of excitement. They were “home.”
That was 10 years ago.
Maritu and Ayalew lived a reasonably satisfactory life with their three young children, ages 5, 7, and 9, in the Mevaseret Zion Absorption Center near Jerusalem, one of the largest centers in Israel for Ethiopian immigrants. Ayalew, who worked on a farm and as a blacksmith back in Ethiopia, found work as a street cleaner in Jerusalem, while Maritu stayed home caring for the children.
In the last two years, however, the government evacuated its Ethiopian tenants at Mevaseret Zion to the center at Be’er Sheva, the second-largest city in Israel, 44 miles southwest of Jerusalem in the Negev desert. Things in their new location immediately took a turn for the worse for Maritu and her family. Ayalew could not find a job, and after a year, he died suddenly. A life of uncertainty and financial insecurity faced the young widow. Without a support system, she struggled and worked hard to survive. She took on a part-time job cleaning in the local mall to make both ends meet.
Early this year, Maritu’s hardships intensified. Her workplace and the children’s school shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She found herself isolated in her tiny apartment, together with her three children, day in and day out. Maritu felt miserable, and her cloistered life overwhelmed her, like an enormous wave hurtling toward the shore. She became very depressed.
But Maritu had a neighbor who is a believer and a part of the network of Pillar of Fire (Amud Ha Esh), a partner ministry of ANM in Jerusalem. Seeing Maritu’s sad plight, the neighbor took compassion on her. She reached out to Maritu and told her about Jesus. The good news touched Maritu’s heart, and she accepted Yeshua as her personal savior.
Maritu’s neighbor connected her with Pillar of Fire’s Jerusalem congregation, led by Ethiopian Jewish Rabbi Kokeb Gedamu. Because of the continuous generosity of ANM donors, Rabbi Kokeb and his ministry were able to show God’s love to Maritu in practical ways by extending her material help.
Paul Robbins, ANM’s Regional Director for Israel, says, “The Ethiopian Jews come to Israel from tribal backgrounds and have a great difficulty becoming part of the culture in Israel. They are freed from their persecution but remain on the outskirts.” Maritu and her family’s case is a typical example of the fate that befalls many Ethiopian Jewish immigrants.
Because of your sacrificial giving to ANM, not only does Maritu have food on the table to feed her family, but most of all, she has the hope of Yeshua in her heart. She can’t stop thanking Rabbi Kokeb and Pillar of Fire for all the blessings she has received.
Maritu continues to fight for justice for her relatives still in Ethiopia and prays that, one day, they too will be able to make aliyah.
* Photograph © Zion Ozeri (See: http://www.jewishlens.org/photos/absorption-center-mevaseret-zion-israel-2008/).