119 immigrants from Ethiopia arrive in Israel
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119 immigrants from Ethiopia arrive in Israel

‘They have been waiting a long time to fulfill the dream of aliyah,’ Ethiopian-born immigration minister says; country commemorates Ethiopian Jews who died en route to Israel

In this photo from the Jewish Agency, Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (left) and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog (center) greet 119 new immigrants from Ethiopia at Ben Gurion Airoport, May 21, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem)
In this photo from the Jewish Agency, Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (left) and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog (center) greet 119 new immigrants from Ethiopia at Ben Gurion Airoport, May 21, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem)

A plane carrying 119 immigrants from Ethiopia landed in Israel on Thursday, as the country marked the annual memorial day for Ethiopian Jews who died en route to the Jewish state.

The immigrants were greeted by the new Immigration Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first female Ethiopian-born minister in Israel’s history, and Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog.

Both masked due to the coronavirus, Tamano-Shata and Herzog stood at the entrance of the plane and handed roses to the new Israelis.

“It’s a huge privilege to welcome these 119 wonderful [immigrants] from Ethiopia just as I begin my position,” Tamano-Shata was quoted as saying in a statement from the Jewish Agency.

“They have been waiting a long time to fulfill the dream of aliyah. Now they’ve made it home and I’m extremely moved,” she added, using the Hebrew term for Jewish immigration to Israel.

Herzog noted the significance of the date the new immigrants made aliyah.

“We will remember the thousands who dreamed of Jerusalem and perished along the way and are working tirelessly to facilitate aliyah for members of the community who are still waiting to fulfill the dream of moving to Israel,” he said.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, some immigration to Israel has continued, including a group of new immigrants from Ethiopia who arrived in late March.

Also Thursday, the ceremony for Ethiopian Jews who died while trying to make it to Israel was held at Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem.

The annual ceremony was attended by bereaved family members, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, Supreme Court Justice David Mintz and Tamano-Shata

President Reuven Rivlin (L) greets Ethiopian community leaders at the official ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery for Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel, May 21, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

“Not everyone came home, to Jerusalem,” Rivlin said. “Fathers and sons, sisters and brothers, grandchildren and grandparents did not survive the journey. They could not survive the exhausting trek, the robbers along the way, the hunger, the diseases, the terrible conditions in the transit camps.”

He added: “Jerusalem holds their memory in its heart forever. Your love of Jerusalem is an eternal torch, whose top touches the heavens. A pillar of fire that shows all Israelis the way. May the memories of those who lost their lives on the way to Jerusalem and Israel, our brothers and sisters, be forever in our hearts.”

Between 1979 and 1990, Israel organized several transports of Ethiopian Jews to Israel via Sudan. Hundreds or, by some estimates, thousands of people died on the trip from Ethiopia to the Sudanese camps from where they left to Israel.

Some 1,500 names of those who died en route are engraved on a monument at the site where the ceremony was held.

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