WATCHMAN ON THE WALL: Relocation Center

Loraine Joy | Community Columnist

Aliyah is the Hebrew word meaning to “go up.” Today, it refers to the return of the Jewish people to their homeland in Israel. Often it is the result of brutality and threat of annihilation. Israel helps any who want to return. 

Operation Magic Carpet – May 1949: The Imam of Yemen agreed to let 45,000 Jews in his country leave, and Israeli, British and American planes flew them “home” in Operation Magic Carpet with 380 flights.

Operations Moses and Joshua – 1984: A six-week operation rescued almost 8,000 Jews, and Operation Joshua helped another 800 Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel.

Operation Solomon: On Friday, May 24, 1991, and continuing non-stop for 36 hours, a total of 34 El Al jumbo jets and Hercules C-130’s – seats removed to accommodate the maximum number of Ethiopians. Within 36 hours, 14,324 Ethiopian Jews were rescued and resettled in Israel. 

These are just statistics until you look into the faces of gratitude and hear their stories. Raised as Jewish descendants of the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopia) and King Solomon, these farmers and craftsmen had lived for centuries in wooden huts without electricity, but a love for far-away Israel, the home of their faith. With threat of annihilation, having never been on an airplane nor having seen many modern conveniences, their harrowing adventure began. Many would disembark from the jumbo jets and kiss the ground of their homeland. 

I met these brave families at the Ethiopian Relocation Center in Israel where each family of four or five had one bedroom. Having come with few belongings, they each had a neatly-folded blanket and pad with a change of clothes placed in neat rows on the floor. They took classes in Hebrew, so they would be able to assimilate into the Israeli culture. They were given training to help them find a job so different from the life they had left. There was a wooden structure built on the premises where they could rest when homesickness overwhelmed them. 

When the Second Intifada of 2000 began, the center director explained to the Ethiopian refugees that Israel was going to war. The Palestinians were once again attacking. They must stay inside the compound for their protection. He was being called up to active duty and would return when he could. Upon hearing this, the men met him at the gate with spears and shields and said they would go to fight alongside the Israelis. They would protect their homeland which was sheltering them. The director, concealing a smile and touched by their sincerity, asked them to stay with the compound and protect the women and children (knowing they had no idea of modern warfare). 

What courage! What joy! As they served me rich, black Ethiopian coffee with homemade bread, it was hard to imagine the stories behind their beautiful smiles.■

— Loraine Joy is a small business owner and Arbuckle resident. Contact Loraine at musicandmore@mac.com.

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