13 May 2015
Pnina Gaday-Agenyahu, The Federation’s Community Schlicha and leading advocate for the Israeli Ethiopian community, shares her personal experiences commemorating Jerusalem Day by honoring the fallen Ethiopian Jews.
Celebrating Jerusalem Day
On June 7, 1967, one day into The Six-Day War, Israeli forces captured the old city of Jerusalem. This resulted in the reunification of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) is celebrated with a range of events such as recitations of the Hallel prayer of praise and thanksgiving in synagogues, street parades, singing and dancing, special meals and lectures on the history and future of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is also host to a public reception by the mayor of Jerusalem, state ceremonies and memorial services for those who died in The Six-Day War.
For many Ethiopian Jews living in Israel, Yom Yerushalayim is also a day of remembrance for the 2,000 Ethiopian Jews who died of disease, starvation and at the hands of murderous thieves while crossing Sudan by foot in the 1980’s to reach to the Promised Land (Jerusalem). Haim Adisis describes the treacherous journey in his song “Hayare’ach” (The Moon):
“The moon is watching from above
On my back is a light bag of food
The desert beneath me has no end ahead
And my mother promises my little brothers
A little more, a little more
Lift up your legs, a last push
(Here a link to listen to the song)
עין לציון צופיהAyin l’tzion tzofiyah, Looking toward Zion
My parents and other members of our Ethiopian village had a vision of a holy Jerusalem that was their Zion. That vision is what kept hope alive as they journeyed all the way from Ethiopia to Israel, mostly on foot. That was their Zionism, without even knowing about the Zionist movement or calling themselves Zionist.
Making Jerusalem Day a day of remembrance is a meaningful way to honor my parent’s beloved family and friends who died in this journey, and to honor their own courage of taking the risk to fulfill an ancient dream. It also gives hope that the next generation will not need to face this plight because they are born in Israel.
In stark contrast to the festive mood throughout the capital on Jerusalem Day, thousands of Ethiopian Israelis from across the nation gather on Mount Herzl to mourn the men, women and children who died during their mass exodus to Israel. Lighting candles and sharing stories, with no actual grave we can visit, this day is the only time in the year when we can remember and honor those we lost.
This national memorial ceremony is observed near the Ethiopian Monument, at Har Herzl every year on Jerusalem Day. The monument was designed by architect Gabriel Kertesz in cooperation with artists and authors of Ethiopian origin. It includes monologues by members of the community describing life in Ethiopian villages, their journey to Israel, waiting in the refugee camps in Sudan and their yearning for a better life in Jerusalem. The area surrounding the memorial is a gathering place for uniting with the loss and courage of thousands of Ethiopian Jews who perished on their journey to Israel. Their courage is an inspiration to all of us on Yom Yerushalayim.
Photos of Jerusalem’s Ethiopian Monument: Har Herzel