Reuniting Ethiopian Jewry in Israel: An Interview with Laura Cutler

As antisemitic incidents continue in our community and nationally, the safety and security of our Jewish community remains a top priority for Federation. I encourage you to join the June 16th webinar by our partners at Secure Community Network on steps you can take to protect yourself and our community. Register here.

Since 1977, Federation partner The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) has been instrumental in the Aliyah (immigration to Israel) of more than 92,000 Ethiopian Jews. Today, despite global complications, JAFI has continued to organize Aliyah for the thousands of Ethiopian olim (immigrants) still waiting to be reunited with their families — including some whose wait has lasted more than a decade. Federation has raised and allocated significant funding to support these efforts, including $200,000 for  Operation Zur Israel in 2021.

olim flight

Earlier this month, Federation Board Member Laura Cutler represented Jewish Greater Washington on an incomparable leadership mission to Ethiopia and Israel, guided by The Jewish Federations of North America and JAFI. After three days on the ground in Ethiopia for a special mission, Laura and other North American Jewish leaders accompanied 180 new Ethiopian olim on their long-awaited flight to Israel.

Upon her return, I connected with Laura to learn more about the experience, and I’m grateful for her permission to share her thoughts with you. Laura’s reflections capture the impact and importance of our work overseas, and how Jewish Greater Washington is making a significant difference around the world. Please read on for an excerpt of our conversation, and for more, visit

Gil: Was this your first visit to Ethiopia?

Laura: “Though my family and I have been involved in efforts to support the Ethiopian community for close to a decade, this was my first trip to Ethiopia, and it reinforced my commitment to this work.

Gil: Could you share a particular story that particularly stood out to you during your mission?

Laura: One family we met included a husband, wife, and four children who have been waiting 23 years to join the rest of their family in Israel. We also went to an absorption center in Be’er Sheva, Israel, where we met three Ethiopian olim who arrived 18 months ago with the first Operation Zur Israel. They were all between 19-20 years old, and all thriving, contributing citizens to society. Most had impeccable Hebrew and English language skills. They were living proof that JAFI is doing a fabulous job absorbing and resettling immigrants who have gone on to the highest levels of achievement in Israel.

Gil: Why is it important to you to support the Ethiopian Jewish community?

Laura: “No issue has captured my attention in the past several years as much as the plight of the 14,000 Ethiopian Jews who remain in Ethiopia, all of whom have first degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) in Israel. But my trip to Ethiopia was not just about this mission, but about the mission – to provide rescue and relief for Jews all over the world, and to make it possible for all Jews who wish to live in Israel to do so. As our tradition teaches, Kol Yisrael Aravim Ze B’ze – all Jews are responsible for one another. The Ethiopian Jewish community has Zion in its blood and memory, and have been praying for centuries for a return to Jerusalem.

My many thanks to Laura for representing our community and allowing me to share her reflections. I hope you will read our full conversation to learn more about her trip.

One of my favorite aspects of my work as CEO of Federation is the opportunity to engage meaningfully with passionate community leaders like Laura and so many of you. Together, we will continue to address the most crucial issues facing our community – locally, in Israel, and around the world – and I am honored to do this work alongside you.

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