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The following was written by Stanley Stone, Executive Vice President of Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, after witnessing the arrival of the first airplane from Ethiopia being funded by Operation Promise, on August 10th, 2005.  Below are pictures from the arrival.


It's Friday afternoon two hours before Shabbat and 24 hours before Tisha B'Av – the anniversary of the destruction of the Holy Temple and a Jewish day of mourning.  My family and I have been in Israel for the past few weeks.  This year, the disengagement brings added meaning and emotion to the commemoration of Tisha B'av.  In an address to the nation last week, Israeli President Katsav asked for forgiveness from the residents of Gaza and the communities in Samara that are being uprooted. He noted that they were the pioneers whose spirit the nation admired. However, he said, the political process is now going in a different direction.  He asked that all Israeli citizens respect each other and the law.  Throughout the country there are posters and commercials by groups such as Gesher reminding everyone of the importance of staying united, even in these difficult circumstances.

Last Wednesday, my family and I focused on a different kind of challenge which Israel is about to face; one that has the potential to bring new hardships to Israeli society, but also a new kind of hope.  My entire family woke up at 5:15 AM and made our way to the old Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport. There we greeted 61 new olim (Israeli immigrants) from Ethiopia.  These Ethiopian Jews, or Falas Mura, were brought into Israel by the government, and are the first of up to 20,000 more that will be brought in by 2007.  The initiative to bring the remaining Ethiopian Jews into Israel and to help mainstream them into Israel society is in part, being funded by North American Federations’ “Operation Promise.”  The Federations, including Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, determined that “Operation Promise” had to be launched as part of our commitment to ensure the safety and security of Jews throughout the world.

Watching these Falas Mura enter the Jewish homeland, their new home, was an experience I will always remember.  The late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin once noted that for country to survive and flourish it must be based on justice and rightness.  It was these words that were resonating as I watched how officials from the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), one of Federation’s overseas partner agencies, welcomed these very scared new olim to their new country. In one hour these bewildered Ethiopian Jews were made citizens.  Each one was given 1,000 shekels and was asked if there was anyone they wanted to call in Ethiopia.

The highlight of this event was witnessing the family reunions that took place.  For some, this was the first time in ten years that they were seeing their own family members.  But what really struck me as my family and I looked on, was that it was not only the new Israeli immigrants who will be facing challenges, such as learning a new language, finding work, and acclimating into a new culture.  It was all Israeli citizens who were facing a challenge.  The people of Israel will have to be patient and understanding.  They must do their utmost not to become frustrated with these new immigrants.  In essence, the Ethiopians entering Israel are jumping from one century to another in a matter of days, even minutes.  Simple things we take for granted are completely new experiences for them.  For example, a sandwich and drink were given to the olim as they waited to be processed. The sandwich was wrapped in cellophane; many of the Ethiopians had no idea what this covering was, or what to do with it.  Our children brought candy to give to the children.  It was the first time many of these innocent youngsters ever tasted a candy bar, let alone unwrapped one.  Mothers with infants were provided a room to change their babies.  It was the first time most of them saw a disposable diaper.  My children were also struck by how little they came with.  The most any one person brought was two suitcases.  My family is here for a month and brought a total of 12 bags.

The new olim were taken to different absorption centers throughout Israel.  Each one has already begun the process of learning to be Israelis.  In the next two weeks the school-age children will be taken to Office Depot, where they will purchase their first-ever school supplies.

These are challenging times for the State of Israel and the Jewish people.  Yet, seeing the care and commitment that the people of Israel have already shown these olim gives me reassurance for the future.  I feel proud and privileged to be playing, through “Operation Promise,” a small role in this extraordinary Aliya to Israel.

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