This book is about a journey. It is about the migration journey of Ethiopian Jews to Israel via Sudan. It focuses on the experience of the journey, its meaning for the people who made it, and its relation to the encounter with Israeli society.
The migration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel since 1977 is a small yet dramatic movement, with unique features. It is interesting not only in its own right, but also because it shares, and often highlights, many features which are common to migratory movements throughout the world in the later twentieth century. It is a migration from the South to the North (the Third World to the West) 1 of black people into a predominantly white society; a movement primarily of the young and the fit, inspired by a Utopian dream of life fulfilment; a dream sorely tested, if not shattered, by the experience of arrival in the 'Promised Land'. The migration dream of Ethiopian Jews has, as we shall see, exceptionally deep roots in their traditional culture. However, their heightened expectations are similar to the experience of other migrants inspired by more secular dreams.
During the period of 1977-85, some 20,000 Ethiopian Jews left their homes in Ethiopia and-motivated by an ancient dream of returning to the land of their ancestors, to 'Yerussalem'-embarked on a secret, illegal and highly traumatic exodus to Israel. Due to various political circumstances, they had to leave their homes in haste, go a long way by foot through unknown country towards Sudan, and stay for a period of one to two years in refugee camps there until they were brought to Israel. The conditions of the journey were extremely difficult, including torture, incarcerations, bandit attacks, walking at night, crossing mountains, hunger and thirst, illness and death. A fifth of these migrants/ refugees 2 -4,000 people-did not survive the journey. The migrants/refugees also faced problems that were connected to their Jewish identity and to the fact that they were heading for Israel.
Once in Israel, the immigrants were first put in absorption centres and then settled in different towns and villages. The adaptation process of these immi-grants/refugees was complicated by their 'anomalous' Jewish identity. Religious authorities questioned the authenticity of their Jewish identity, and their physical appearance (e.g. skin colour) set them apart from 'mainstream' Israeli society.